1. Jonathan Kagan says

    This is a very nice article. I’ve never seen anyone write about this but I’m sure that many of us are doing this all the time. I just recently wrote to the NYT Cooking folks to ask if they would develop a feature that would allow users to annotate the recipes we save in their recipe box! Same point as you’re making here. Thanks!

  2. MaryK says

    If one makes several adjustments/notations, it might be a good idea to note the date of the adjustment. After 3 or more ‘changes’ on infrequently used recipes I was not sure which was the most current. So now I also date my notes! Hope this additional hint will help others.

  3. WPFreeman says

    Absolutely! I’ve been doing this for many years. I probably picked it up from my mother, and I suspect she developed that discipline as a research chemist during WWII. There’s always great info in this blog … I’m glad I discovered it last summer.

  4. Marla in AZ says

    I remember giving myself “permission” to write in my cookbooks, which went against everything I was taught as a child (do NOT write in your textbooks, young lady!). It was so freeing. Now, I use a combination of writing directly in the cookbook and on post-it notes. The post-its are for when I’ve not come to a conclusion that the alteration to the recipe was a good one.

  5. Kris says

    If you don’t want to mark up your cookbooks use lined Post-Its and stick them to the recipe page or use an erasable pen like the Pilot Frixion line. I actually use the pens and the Post-It, that way I can have clean edits on my mark ups. The ink seems to stay erasable for quite a while (I have yet to have a problem but the older the ink the harder it is and eventually the paper will give away due to the eraser anyway). If you have highly tuned a recipe I always find it more useful to add it to my recipe manager or write out a clean copy so I don’t have to take the cookbook into the kitchen. No point in avoiding mark ups on it if I am going to splatter sauce on it anyway…

  6. Gigi says

    I have been doing this exact thing for years. Frankly my friends think I am being self critical when I talk about the food- ask questions like is “A” better? Or is “B” better ?
    I make 2 cakes instead of 1 to compare the differences when I tweak recipes.
    I keep running notes on a recipe over time until I get the recipe the way I want it.
    I take other people’s recipes as a base then “fix” them by weight or at a minimum by cups, etc.

    I hate recipes that state -1 sweet potato or 1 head of cabbage – 1 small onion. I change all the recipes I cook.

    I make comparison sheets of different recipes in columns.

    Now I am baking gluten free which is like a free for all – most “authors” know nothing about food science or cooking techniques. But at least all the experimentation has made me a much better cook.
    I own thermapens & it’s a joke that I have to check my food’s temperature.

  7. Pete Koenig says

    Wonderful article. Many people, including myself, refuse to “deface” a book because that is what we were taught as young people. Mortimer Adler, The University of Chicago philosopher, taught the opposite. Ownership of a book allows one to personalize it.

    Early on (I’m 75) I created a work around with my cookbook collection, spawned much by the fact that I was losing recipes in the collection. Within the covers of a large 3-ring binder with appropriate dividers I created a personal cookbook. I initially copied recipes by hand and later started using a copier. On those separate recipe sheets I made and continue to make comments and suggestions and each dish, in my estimation, is improved because of it. Furthermore, as I gain a greater understanding of nutrition I am able to modify recipes to increase their health benefits.

    I’m often called upon to cook when visiting family and friends. It is easy to take the book along and use it for inspiration as needed.

  8. Mary says

    If you just can’t bear to write in your cookbooks do what I do. Stick a post it note on the page. Then, because I have a tiny kitchen and prefer to put the recipe I’m currently using on a clipboard hung out of the way but still accessible from a pretty hook on a cabinet door, use a recipe program to write up and print out recipes that are “tried and true”. In that format future annotations are easy to jot down in real time and edit later.

    • Martin says


      Unfortunately, I don’t have one I like. A good databasing program should do it, but I haven’t found anything I like. I rely on a clipboard, a notebook, and about 3 file folders to keep my recipes “organized.”

      • Chriswriter says

        I’m with Mary, I want to know what program you recommend. I’ve tried so many I can’t count that high, and still can’t find exactly what I want. Until then, I’ll keep writing in my cookbooks. If you could maybe find a programmer, I’d chip in to pay for the work!

        • Martin says


          If I could find one I liked, I would share the info with you! Does anyone have a recipe-saving program that they like? Comment!

    • Mary M says

      I use “Living Cookbook” from Radium Technologies, Inc. It works pretty well and is fairly easy to use. You can create your own cookbooks and set up your chapters and subchapters in whatever manner works best for you and it’s easy to go back in and edit as often as you want to make changes.

  9. J T says

    As a person who has lived all over the country, I can vouch that altitude annotations are important for reproducibility, and for meringue, humidity measurements are needed. Several ingredients in Grandma ‘s pound cake recipe will need to be heavily adjusted if she lived in Boston and you live in Denver. Oven temperature and cooking time will probably also vary between the two locations.

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