Cheap Christmas Present: The Recipe Filer

To kick off the traditional Christmas-shopping season, here’s an idea for an inexpensive but thoughtful gift.

It’s useful. (Possibly even vital.)

It’s kind of “hand-made.” (At any rate, the recipient will know you were willing to put some time in-although no craft skills are required.)

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It’s the Recipe Filer, a convenient box where all of your favorite recipes are stored, easy to find and use.

Wouldn’t that be a nice change from this…

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The Recipe Filer is also ready for your new recipes, increasing the chance you’ll one day actually use that Grilled Pork Ragu recipe that you tore out of the paper but would otherwise just lose in the back of a drawer.


Here’s how you make your own Recipe Filer. (I’m sure you could guess pretty accurately already, but there are enough practical hints and innovations here that I think it will be worth your while to keep reading through “Notes On Use” at the end.)

You need these materials:

  • A couple packs of 5 x 8 index cards
  • A file box built for 5 X 8 index cards (the crafty among you can build an heirloom one out of salvaged cherry, using only 19th-century hand tools-that would actually be pretty sweet)
  • Scissors
  • Tape
  • The mess of recipes on all different kinds and sizes of scraps of paper wadded in the back of your kitchen drawers and old cookbooks you haven’t opened in 7 years
  • Technically, a xerox machine (could be optional)

Now, the basic idea here is that your recipes are going to end up on these index cards. You could do this any number of ways, but here is what I did:

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  1. Photocopy all my loose recipes. As I did, I looked for chances to make my photocopies fit, later, on a 5×8 index card, maybe by cutting a tall column of print in half and laying out the two halves side by side next to each other.
  2. Attach my recipes to the cards. To stand up to rough handling by generation after generation of my descendants (this will probably become a family heirloom), I taped the edges of the pieces of paper down (as opposed to using tape donuts on the backs of the papers). A glue stick would work, too.
  3. Write the name of the recipe in the upper left-hand corner (landscape view) of the card. This way you can flip through the cards and easily see what each recipe is.
  4. Important: write titles in a way that will help you actually find the recipe later. Don’t write: “Grandma’s Favorite Oatmeal Cookies” or “Grilled Pork Ragu.” Write: “Cookies, Grandma’s Favorite Oatmeal or “Pork, Grilled Ragu.” This way, you’ll be able to find all the relevant recipes when you feel like baking some cookies or have some pork to cook.
  5. Alphabetize, maybe by sorting the cards into piles on the floor (one for each letter of the alphabet), then sorting each pile.
  6. Place in box.
  7. Important: place blank index cards in back of box, behind filled recipe cards. A whole extra pack’s worth would be good.
  8. Make sure you have scissors and tape readily available in your kitchen. This is also important.
  9. That’s all. Now your Recipe Filer is finished and ready for wrapping.

    Notes On Use

    It should be pretty obvious how you use your Recipe Filer to retrieve recipes, but the point of the last two steps in the instructions above is to make it as easy as possible to add new recipes to the box.

    For example, if you like the sound of a recipe you find in the paper-or even on a can of soup-tear it out and slap it on a card.

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    What about the photocopying, you ask. As I said, photocopying is optional, and-while I think a one-time initial effort is a good idea, when you are first creating your Recipe Filer-it might be a counter-productive goal later on. If you’re like me, you’ll end up with a wad of scraps of paper with unfindable recipes on them, only, instead of just being in the back of the kitchen drawer, they’ll be in some drawer by the front door, waiting for you to remember to take them to work and copy them “some day.”

    So I think it’s better to sacrifice a little quality in favor of just getting that recipe into play.

    Enjoy. Let me know how it goes.

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