Are Family Recipe Cards
Becoming Orphan Heirlooms?
Stop by any estate sale and you will likely find a stash of stained and smudged handwritten recipe cards once carefully written and exchanged between cooks.
In my own family, I’ve found loose cards crammed in kitchen drawers and tucked between pages of cookbooks, but we weren’t big on maintaining a tidy little box of three-by-fives. My harvest gold recipe box (a wedding shower gift) met an early demise when left at the back of our old range — it melted into a disfigured blob. I rescued the cards and threw them in a drawer.
I could never find enough room to write an entire recipe on those tiny cards, so I graduated to full size sheets of 8 1/2 x 11 paper and left the cards in the drawer. I’ve tried, but I can’t throw those cards away.
I’ve never made Rhubarb Freezer Jam and probably never will. But every time I see that card with a big grease stain it reminds me of the three years we lived in Moscow, Idaho and all the nice women I met who shared recipes and advice with a young newlywed from Southern California.
Recipe card nostalgia might be the salvation for the family heirloom. An article in Slate highlights the emotional value of old cookbooks and “family traditions rendered in 3-by-5-inch index cards.” The author shared my pain. When her great-grandmother died, all she wanted from her possessions was her old recipe file.
Was is it about those little cards that carry even more sentiment than a well-loved cookbook? Maybe it’s the handwriting, beautiful flowing cursive growing shaky over time. Maybe it’s the food stains and notes that create a kind of living history of the recipe. Maybe it’s just knowing that someone you love held that card, wrote those words, and kept it just for you.
Technology has made it so convenient to keep our recipes on ever-handy tools like Evernote or printed and organized in tidy binders that we might be tempted to throw those cards in the trash.
A surprising number of cooks are turning back the clock determined that their children will inherit their own set of stained, dog-eared, marked family recipe cards. I was surprised to see a ripple here, here, and here from modern cooks determined to keep three-by-fives alive.
It’s inspired me to dig out those cards one more time; what about you?
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