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Inside a Recipe Box

Inside a Recipe Box

By Drew Bigelow, Library Aide, Kingstowne Library

People cherish recipe boxes. With their tattered notecards and magazine clippings, they help us forge a connection to the past through food. So, where did the idea of the recipe box come from?

Let’s look at the history of the recipe card. In her article “The Rise and Fall of the Recipe Card,” Katie Arnold-Ratliff mentions that before the 20th century, “women typically passed down recipes to younger generations by example.” There was no need for a written recipe when they could just demonstrate how to make a certain dish. Eventually, “as literacy became more widespread over the last 200 years,” as Arnold-Ratliff puts it, women began to write recipes down. At first, these recipes were bare bones. Arnold-Ratliff quotes Sandra Oliver that these instructions would be something along the lines of “enough flour to make it stiff,” “bake until done” or even just a list of ingredients.

In the 20th century, with the advent of nutrition science, people began wanting precision in their recipes. Beginning in the 1920s, as Cambria Bold notes in her article “A Brief History of the Recipe Card,” magazines began “offering home delivery recipe subscriptions – recipes printed on heavy cards.” According to the website Cookbook People, these recipes were marketed to housewives wanting to be “ideal wives and homemakers.” Soon, according to Arnold Ratliff, this evolved into people creating cards with their own personal recipes and “swapping with friends and sisters and daughters.”

As recipe card collections grew, people needed a place to keep them. Cookbook People notes that, initially, collectors would use “shoeboxes or household tins/containers,” until Betty Crocker, together with Gold Medal Flour, released the first commercially available recipe card container in 1920. Hence, the recipe box as we know it was born.

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