Guest columnist Marietta Pritchard: Recipe collections




Published: 03-31-2024 12:33 PM

Recently I decided I would face up to cleaning up my recipe collection. You know, those clippings and notes that most cooks accumulate over the years. My mother had a neat wooden box with handwritten notes on file cards. She would often include the date and the person she acquired it from. My collection, like much of my life, is much less tidy than hers.

I have some recipes found on the internet that I keep on my computer and sometimes print out, but I also have a loose-leaf notebook with decades worth of recipes, clippings glued onto pages or handwritten on other pages, clippings just stuffed into the front of the notebook. A number of those have been much used — a Julia Child paella, the famous Marian Burros plum torte — but many of them fall into what I think of the aspirational realm, recipes that look interesting but turn out to be too complicated, appealing but never used, or finally, on second or third thought, just not appealing. Then there are some that are more or less sentimental or historical. The best of them bring back moments and people from the past.

The trouble with my physical collection is that it’s messy. (The computerized version is less messy but also less often consulted.) When I take the notebook off the shelf it shares with regular cookbooks, clippings invariably fall out. A useful piece of paper with handwritten instructions for roasting a duck is buried somewhere among the rest. Once I locate it I will make use of it and find time to organize the rest — well, later.

In addition to the recipes I’ve neatly installed under categories — soups and starters, main dishes, desserts — it’s the stack of unsorted clippings and print-outs that I have to face up to. How many recipes for banana bread do I need? I just tried one from the New York Times that claimed to be terrific and turned out heavy and soggy. My fault? Too many bananas? Who knows? Get rid of it.

Some decades ago I put together a successful Christmas present for our sons, called the Three Guys Cookbook. It was a collection of some of the family’s favorite foods – apple crisp, a chocolate cake with sour cherries, fish chowder. My sons, with households and children of their own, still occasionally refer to it.

One recipe in my own notebook that I think of as both sentimental and historical is a clipping from the Gazette from the mid 1980s by Helen Smith, a good friend who was for a time the paper’s food writer. Like Helen, her columns were funny and sometimes irresponsible, featuring fictional (or fictionalized) characters. This one is a nice piece about pie crusts — something I’ve still not mastered. I hold onto this piece of culinary advice, because it reminds me of Helen and just in case I ever find the nerve to try my hand at a pie crust again. The piece is accompanied by a drawing of a cheerful guy wielding a rolling pin by Don Brunelle, a talented artist who did the graphics for our food column.

Helen begins, as she often did, from out in political left field, then gets to the point about crusts. “The Domino Theory,” she writes, “widely held by conservatives but discounted by liberals and radicals who may be deficient in historical perspective — certainly holds for pie crusts.” In somewhat of a non-sequitur, she then offers four versions of that elusive item, ending with Dropout’s Pastry, which should have been the one I tried, but never did.

As I write this column, my recipe notebook, bulging with clippings, sits reproachfully on my desk. I will surely get around to cleaning it up and organizing it better. Soon, for sure.

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Marietta Pritchard lives and cooks in Amherst. She can be reached at