Chow Town

March 23, 2014

Handwritten recipes, stored in recipe boxes, are a treasure

A helter-skelter box of scribbled recipes. Yellowed. Dog-eared. Handwritten. Notes about who shared that recipe with you or when it was served.

Chow Town

The daily dish on Kansas City's food and drink scene

A helter-skelter box of scribbled recipes. Yellowed. Dog-eared. Handwritten. Notes about who shared that recipe with you or when it was served.

On the other hand, recipes typed and filed in a computer document. Clear. Correct. Pristine. My work revolves around food and recipes so I have hundreds of recipes, typed in standard format, all saved in cross-referenced computer files.

Which recipe file system seems the most comfortable to you?

I have an old recipe box somewhere, but I do not use it any more. Neatly typed recipes, ready to access or email anytime is so much better. Or is it?

I just uncovered three recipe boxes that were locked away in a storage unit for about 40 years; recipe boxes that once belonged to my grandmother and great aunts. The boxes are stuffed to overflowing with those typical white (or what once were white) 3-inch-by-5-inch cards.

Hidden between the handwritten cards are yellowed newspaper clippings, one side with a recipe and the back featuring an ad for a modern washing machine — circa 1950 — or the latest fashions. Some were written on the back of envelopes, receipts and even one on the back of a letter from my great grandfather.

They were a mess, yet I was drawn to them. As I scanned the cards and unfolded the brittle sheets of paper, I was suddenly stuck with how very sterile my recipe files seem.

Gone are the people whose notes grace those cards, but they still had a story to tell. There on one corner of the punch recipe is a note, crediting the drink to Emery Bird Thayer’s tearoom, an early Kansas City department store, and a note about serving the punch at a shower.

There were handwritten recipes from many different individuals, some of whom sounded vaguely familiar. Some were long, forgotten relatives. There were recipes for cookies, rolls and a cake from a friend and neighbor, Luella Truman — President Harry Truman’s sister-in law. A salad recipe noted it was served at a family dinner in 1930.

I kept digging through history. Family history — and food history. A Depression era tomato soup recipe listed that it cost just five and one-half cents to serve. An apricot nut bread recipe was credited to

The Kansas City Star

in 1959. Early Pillsbury Bake Off winning recipes. Recipes credited to Betty Crocker, Swans Down Cake Flour, the local Gas Service Company, and so many popular magazines and companies.

Then I found two more recipes that took my breath away. On the bottom of a Pecan Praline candy is a note explaining that someone made and shipped the candies to my dad for Christmas when he was stationed in Italy in 1944 during World War II. Her name was not familiar to me, but I am grateful for her kindness.

The next recipe was for a cake. I saw that handwriting and knew whose it was long before I found her name. It was my mother’s. It was not a cake I ever remember her serving — but there it was. Undeniably hers, in her own script.

Somehow, my personal recipes now seem very sterile. There is not a handwritten one among them.

Maybe it is time for us to write down a recipe. Not type it, print it or text it — write it down.

Then, I challenge you to find a recipe file box. When was the last time you saw one, much less thought of purchasing one to use yourself or give as a gift?

Gone are the days when you are asked to bring a 3-inch-by-5-inch file card with a recipe written on it as a part of the festivities for a bridal shower. Gone are the days when one file box was filled to capacity and so it was time to begin another.

Maybe it is time to start those traditions again. Future generations will thank you.

Kathy Moore is one of two cookbook authors and food consultants that make up The Electrified Cooks. Her most recent cookbook is Triple Slow Cooker Entertaining. She develops the recipes for the “Eating for Life” column for The Kansas City Star and is a member of Les Dames d'Escoffier. She blogs at

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