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The Recipe File: Old and New Tech

posted: 2.17.12 by archived

As usual, as my students start writing their first essays of the semester, I’ve been thinking about the essay I would write myself if given my own assignment. I’m in the brainstorming phase, with food my chosen theme and memoir the assignment, and I’ve been thinking about recipes.

1I haul out the cookbook from which I learned to cook and page through some recipes I remember following—Swedish rye bread, cream puffs, enchiladas—as my mother sat reading some convoluted mystery novel in the next room at a comfortable distance for any questions I might have. I rescued the book from her kitchen, and its musty smell still makes me a little sad four years after her death.

Nowadays, my nest is emptying with one daughter on her own and the other two in college, so I don’t cook very often. When I do, my sources for recipes have shifted from book to computer:

I think about how convenient technology has made it to find and follow recipes. The Epicurious app installed on my iPad allows me to search by main ingredient or course or dish type or season: I can call up a Mexican dessert with bananas to finish off my summer barbecue. I can read reviews of the dish and helpful suggestions from other cooks who have tried the recipe. I can even double-check the recipe on my cell phone as I walk up and down the grocery store aisles, or consider changing recipes in the middle of my shopping expedition at the sight of some luscious produce or amazing sale I can’t resist. As my mother kept saying in the last few years of her life, when her memory was fading and the trip from the assisted-living facility to my house seemed always new, “It’s a whole new world.”


For a few years I’ve been meaning to get together a file of family recipes for my daughters, and technology has made that easier as well. Apple’s new iBook Author, which I’d like to play around with for getting together some of my teaching materials, also seems to be a wonderful tool for creating personal texts such as family cookbooks, complete (potentially) with not only recipes but also photographs and videos (this is me at 2 a.m. making Christmas cookies; here is the Christmas Eve smorgasbord table with greetings from the family).

But beyond this flashy technology, what I value most are my recipe cards, jammed disorganized into three file boxes (one a present from my sister when I left home and the other two inherited from my mother). Here, for example, in my grandmother’s handwriting is the recipe for the wedding cake baked for her parents, also used at my own wedding and the weddings of my brother and sisters.


Some are generic index cards, others the purchased sort with cutesy cartoons or the backs of my mother’s discarded library catalog cards (another relic made obsolete by technology). They trace my family’s history in the handwriting of my grandmother, mother, sister, my father, cousins, neighbors, my younger self, and in doing so they preserve in some magical sense my memories of these people. They make tangible and poignant the ties between the generations. I think of my several students each semester who complain about the technology I require them to use in my composition classes, and despite my insistence that computers are a necessary and invaluable tool for the writer these days, I wonder about what we are losing in the process.

Categories: Holly Pappas, Teaching with Technology
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One Response to “The Recipe File: Old and New Tech”

  1. Traci Gardner Says:

    Holly, I love this entry. So close to my own experience. I transitioned from recipe cards, to a notebook of printouts, to a blog where I keep my recipes now. A couple of years ago I realized that I never went to cookbooks anymore, save in a very few cases. I always searched for what I wanted online. That’s when I realized that rather than piles of pages pulled from magazines, I needed to create my own online recipe collection. I bet 75% or more of the recipes are from other sites, but it narrows down the searching for me and puts my favorites in one place. It’s made my life easier, but I think it makes me cherish those old handwritten recipes in my mother’s and my grandmother’s handwriting even more because I realize how rare they are in the increasingly digital kitchen.