6 Tips to Make the Most of Your Cookbook Collection

Notice how English titles are printed in reverse direction from French titles. It's good for stretching your neck when browsing.

I’m sure your cookbook shelves are groaning as heavily as mine, and if I were to ask you how often you cook from them you might look away, embarrassed, and try to change the subject. Especially if your spouse, who regularly comments on the extent of your collection, is within earshot.

It’s not that you don’t want to cook from all these books; you do. It’s just that it’s impossible to remember what’s in them. And however well built their indexes (or indices), it would be pretty cumbersome to open every single one of them to look up, say, “Brussels sprouts” when you come home from the greenmarket on a chilly but sunny Saturday morning.

6 Easy tips to make the most of your cookbooks

It does seem a shame to let so much knowledge and inspiration go untapped, and here are six ways to avoid that:

  1. Sticky-tab appealing recipes, and regularly leaf through your collection to refresh your memory.
  2. In each of your cookbooks, list all the recipes you want to try, with page number, on an index card. Place that custom-made index in the front of the book for quick reference. (This also serves as a good decision tool to see whether you should really keep that book.)
  3. Take photos of (or scan) the recipes you want to try, and keep the image files, grouped together by book or dish type as you prefer, in a dedicated folder on your computer. (I use the application Tiny Scanner on my phone, and generate a separate pdf for each book.)
  4. Keep a top 10 list of dishes you want to try right here right now, referencing the cookbook(s) they come from. You could maintain a list without setting any kind of limit, but in my experience, the list grows too long and stops being useful.
  5. Pick a different cookbook every month or so, and challenge yourself to cook X number of recipes from it (make X realistic) before moving on to the next.
  6. Sign up for Eat Your Books, a cookbook recipe database that lists over 125,000 cookbooks, plus food magazines and blogs (you’ll find an index of C&Z recipes in particular). EYB allows you to replicate your cookbook collection online, so you can run searches for recipes, bookmark the ones you want to try, or have already cooked and enjoyed. It’s a brilliant service, and I’m only sorry it doesn’t cover the French half of my cookbook collection.

Join the conversation!

Tell me how you make the most of your cookbook collection: what’s your system? Do you even have a system? If not, what’s your greatest challenge?

Disclosure: The founder of Eat Your Books, Jane Kelly, converted my trial membership to a complimentary lifetime membership back when I first joined in 2010. When this post first appeared, it was a membership giveaway that I had arranged at my initiative. All opinions expressed are my own.

This post was first published in March 2014 and updated in January 2016.

  • arfflowes

    I don’t have a system yet but I do enjoy regularly going through the cookbooks to refresh my memory of their particular contents. Sometimes I’ll just select a few (5 or so books) that I think might have what I’m looking for and go through each index, look at the photos, etc. I generally give up if I’m looking for something I’m trying to make without going grocery shopping, and then jump online to find some recipe that will better incorporate what I have on hand. It sounds like I need to plan my meals better!

  • I forget about some of the cookbooks I own, especially when they have plainer spines (America’s Test Kitchen books). I generally leave Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything on the counter, since I reference it so often. I want to utilize my cookbooks more, but I have trouble remembering what’s in them. What a great new tool to be able to search when I’m at work, so I can make a shopping list before I get home to make dinner!

  • Susan Coe

    I use the same few cookbooks a lot, with recipes noted on the inside cover (hey, it’s my book so I can write in, right?) plus a notebook of clipped recipes that I made an alphabetical cross index for (can you tell I’m an engineer?). In a couple of the books, the pages fall open to the most used recipes

  • Jaclyn K

    Every week when I do my meal planning, I go to my cookbook shelf and pull out 3 books (preferably ones I haven’t used in a while). I pick 1 entree from each. I also pick one from my Pinterest favorites. Those are the 4 meals I make during the week, and we eat leftovers the rest of the time. It has really made me use my cookbooks (some of which I had never used before!) I think it’s a good system, but I still never use the recipes for side dishes, appetizers, desserts. I just rely on the internet for all of those since it’s easier to search. Eat YOur Books would make life so much easier!

    • This is a great idea! You’ve inspired me to do the same. :)

  • Jessica Volz

    As a food stylist who has spent much of recent history abroad, I have managed to champion the drawbacks of being a cookbook fanatic by scanning / photographing my favorite recipes and categorizing them accordingly. This method is a recipe for success for foodies on the go!

  • Tracy Bohrer

    I have close to 100 cookbooks in my collection. Every week I plan the meals, and I have a hard time remembering where I saw a particular recipe and end up spending a lot of time searching for it…time I don’t have with 2 little boys to feed! This service would be awesome!

  • wendryn

    We just boxed up a lot of cookbooks we don’t use much for our impending move. We go through the remaining ones for inspiration, usually looking for a general ideas, and then we tag them with post its.

  • Emily

    I love to cook, but I hate “stuff” including shelves full of cookbooks. We have a few that are special to us, a few that are “topic” cookbooks, but mostly we use online resources or just wing it when making a dish!

  • Honorine Lalor

    I obsessively cook from books for about a month and ten abandon them, moving on to the next one. Recently I have started sticky notes and the little flags waving at me from the bookshelf have helped to get me back to otherwise forgotten books.

  • Dina K.

    No system, so the biggest challenge is usually, “Now which one of those was that in…..”

  • Kerry Franzetta

    I try to pick a cookbook and make new recipes from it for a week. Alternatively, I pick an ingredient I want to use and then look through all of my books to find appealing recipies

  • This site sounds amazing!! Currently I keep a notebook with each page dedicated to a cookbook and I list out each recipe I would like to try in the book. I don’t think it’s a terrible system, but I still don’t cook from them!

  • Joana Correia

    I try to pick a cookbook every week and choose a recipe from it, in order to actually use my books instead of just being inspired by it. I would love to have a system like EYB, I have tried the test version and it works really well for most of my book collection (the one from Portugal cannot be found, but that’s a minor setback as most of my books do have a correspondence in english).

  • Emily

    We rarely buy cookbooks for precisely this reason! Recipes we find online go into a folder, books only get bought if they’re very technique specific (we know which book to pull if we want to use the wok, or the slow cooker, etc).

  • Leonie Taylor

    these days my biggest challenge is making sure I pull from the books (all bristling with little tabs of paper!), instead of heading to the internet! Eat your books sounds ideal for me!

  • Kayenne So

    I use a blank sheet of bond paper folded in half as mousepad… it is great for noting down interesting recipes(I usually just write down the ingredient list, and with my own symbols/shorthand for procedure for more complicated recipes) when I browse blogs and websites. The same is used as bookmarks for cookbooks where I note down the recipe for something I want to make. Easy to stick on my fridge with a handy magnet as I cook/bake and write notes on as I go along. It has kept my cookbooks and laptop clean, and out of the way in my small kitchen.

    After cooking/baking and I find that it is a recipe that I would like to do again, I then transfer the recipe with any changes I make to a notebook or index card of frequently made foods, and tagging the upper right corner with the name of the blog/cookbook/author where I found the original recipe from for easy referencing.

  • Lisa

    I’m impressed that so many people have systems. Usually I can remember which books the recipes I use often are in–it’s the ones I stumble across and never get around to making that I misplace.

  • Mary-Ellen Wessinger

    Each week I choose one recipe from my ‘general’ cookbook collection, and one recipe from my ‘favorite’ cookbooks (currently Yves Camdeborde’s Simplement Bistro, The Moosewood Collective’s Lowfat Vegetarian Cookbook, Self magazine’s Drop10 Cookbook and Clotilde’s French Market Cookbook. To avoid the ‘now where did I find that recipe?’ conundrum, I use Master Cook. When I find a recipe I know I will want to make again, I take the time to enter it into Master Cook, which allows me to search all my personal favorites by name, ingredient, etc. It’s not necessarily fast and easy, but since food and cooking is kind of a hobby it works for me. I do limit my cookbook collection: one new book in, one old book out.

  • I don’t gave much off a system but that I like to cook for others and I let people choose recipes. I pick two to four books that I feel like and than we look at them together. Than I just add some sticky notes to those that people seem to like. Like this I filter recipes that I than will later try.

    Else I just like to read em together with my girlfriend and than add notes again…

  • Guilty. I have way too many beautiful, wonderful and underused cookbooks. Eat the Books sounds like a great remedy to the situation. On a weeknight, a quick online search seems a million times faster than perusing my cookbook shelf for a meal.

  • Daniela Donati

    I have two a4 notepads in which I write all the recipes I want to try under the book’s title and when I draw up my family’s weekly menu I aim to make two new recipes per week. This came about because my partner would complain about my book collection growing larger but the menu remaining the same.

  • Sprats

    oh argh, I don’t have a system – I’m definitely one of those looking away in shame. My “system” is to quickly Google up a recipe, be dismayed when I realize I’m going to have to modify it heavily and then later kick myself when I realize the perfect recipe was hiding out in one of my print cookbooks all along….

  • souliere

    Some cook books are goto for certain seasons. For example my New Orleans cookbooks are great around Mardi Gras. The most used books are on the kitchen counter, the dirtiest stained ones are the most popular. The rest have their own (slim) book case, that I visit when I am looking for a change. Something perhaps odd I do, when I travel I like to get a cook book for the area I was at, like New Orleans, Boston, Amana Colonies.

  • Meghan

    I already do #2 above, and sometimes #5. I need to give #1 a shot, though; it seems like something that would work for me.

  • andiette

    My cookbooks aren’t even in my kitchen – they’re stored in a bookcase in the basement. So, I honestly don’t use them as I should. Unfortunately, this does not stop me from purchasing more! This sounds like a great solution!

  • Sarah

    Amazing idea! Never heard of the service. I’m a sticky note person, but still need to improve. Love your suggestions and will definitely sign up for the service if I don’t win.

  • Agnès Powers

    With new books I make a list of all the recipes I want to try and keep the list in the book. If the list is too long I categorize it by subject (appetizer, entrée, dessert…). For magazines I try to organize them by season so in the winter I am not tempted to make recipe with tomatoes. For recipes that I use very frequently I photocopy them and keep them in a binder. All that said I have no idea what we are going to eat tonight!!

  • Maureen Brady Moran

    I have started using post-it stickers to flag recipes I particularly want to try. I also have a good memory for the location of recipes. Sometimes I challenge myself by taking an ingredient acquired on sale or at the farmers market and searching several target cookbooks for a recipe that might be fun to try. (This week it is cauliflower, last week it was cookie recipes requiring 1/2 cup butter).

  • KJB

    I am a librarian by training and wish that I was using those skills to organize my cookbooks better. A form of classificaiton is better than nothing: the cookbooks are all filed in the kitchen, alphabetically by author. Except. Except for cookbooks on specific appliances, so the slow cooker cookbook is beside the slow cooker. Best I could do. And don’t get me started on the loose-leaf recipes.

    Sure would be nice to have a handy index like Eat Your Books!


  • Emily

    I was just discussing with a colleague how I wish there was a service like this! I used to do sticky tabs, but that wasn’t super effective. I find it easiest to concentrate on a certain cookbook for a few weeks, then try and rotate. If I haven’t made a single recipe in over a year, I (should) donate it, but I haven’t been great about following that rule. Great giveaway!

  • Suman Varadaraj

    I’m a sticky-notes person myself – even so, looking for a recipe in my collection of over a 100 cookbooks is a major pain. What a brilliant idea ‘Eat Your Books’ is! I would love to try it so I can make better use of my cookbooks!

  • martic

    I have no system other than occasionally pulling a book off and finding a recipe to make.

  • Helena

    I rely on a combination of my memory, handwritten lists and post-it notes.

  • Stacey Moreno

    I generally use a cookbook a lot for the first couple of weeks after I get it. Flipping through the pages marking recipes and trying out 1 or 2. Then to the shelf it goes to be forgotten with all of the rest. This service sounds fantastic since I generally search the internet for recipes based on ingredients. I love the indexed magazines as well. I am always forgetting which magazine had that one recipe in it.

  • Alexis Barton

    We try to make 1 new recipe a week and the ones we really like get added to our regular rotation — the ones we don’t get forgotten.

  • Joanna

    Ugh. I’m horrible at making good use of my cookbooks. It’s so much easier to just search online for a recipe, rather than dig through my books.

  • Jenn

    This sounds brilliant! You totally described my problem, and it sounds like others have it, too. Only thing is that this was my one excuse for not buying cookbooks. If I can actually use them, then it may be time to stock up!

  • Annabel Smyth

    I’m not good at cookbooks – I tend to use them more for ideas than anything else. And “food porn” – the lovely pictures.

  • Jennifer Siegel

    First and foremost, I always begin with looking at your cookbooks, Clotilde! But, then, I have been trying to force myself to cook something from each of my cookbooks in bookshelf order. (It hasn’t really been working all that well, but hope springs eternal.)

  • Meg

    oh i love this idea! i do put sticky flags in my cookbooks for the recipes I want to try, and write the recipe name on the flag so it’s easy to see what’s I’ve marked. When I plan my meals for the week I try to incorporate two new recipes. It’s a fun way to flip through my cookbooks on a regular basis, and when I am dedicated about it I do try new recipes and they usually become weekly (or at least monthly) staples.

  • NancyB

    I’m not making great use of my overflowing shelves of cookbooks, as I’m doing a lot of saving of recipes digitally in Paprika. About the only thing I am doing with the physical books is pick one cookbook to work from, and keep it out on the counter so I turn to it first. When I’m not finding things to try it in, it goes back to the shelves and I grab a different one. I probably need a lifetime Eat Your Books membership…

  • Debs

    In the index at the chicken section I write against the entry whether it is for skinless fillets, thighs, bone in, with skin, whole chicken, drumsticks etc. This initial work has saved me a lot of flicking backwards and forwards.

  • Megan C.

    I do not do a good job of using my cookbooks. This would be a huge help to me!

  • Emily @ Life on Food

    I use sticky notes to mark favorite recipes or recipes I want to try out. I love just looking through my cookbooks for inspiration too.

  • Lauren

    Each month, I pick a few cookbooks and only cook from those for the month. I love Debs idea of specifying cuts of meat in the index section!

  • I use the sticky-note method, and I tend to fixate on one book for a while, then change to another. I’ve been trying to menu plan every week, so I’ll grab a few books off the shelf and flip through them for ideas and inspiration.

  • Robyn

    Over the years have used notebooks, then spreadsheets, more recently Evernote has come to the rescue, the tags help a lot. Always write in my cookbooks and wonder if my notes will be of use/entertaining to my family in future (as my mother’s, aunts’ and grandmothers’ have been for me), or whether they’ll be completely online, my books treated as quaint. Eat your Books looks like a wonderful resource and may even make my books accessible to those youngsters one day! Bringing something fresh from the market I will often think I’d like to eat this XXXX (cookbook author) style or I will think I want to eat xxxxx(cuisine), selecting which cookbook I’ll use, in a manner similar to choosing either a chef/restaurant or a cuisine when eating out.

  • Kathleen Lis Dean

    I have a large collection of cookbooks that I’ve gotten to know pretty well. I generally know where to turn when I’m looking for a certain cuisine or idea. But, every once in a while I will take the opportunity to sit down and peruse a book and find some old favorites or new discoveries. I also use Evernote for “clipped” recipes, which is great for weekday dinners and “what do I do with those egg whites” searches. Which is why Eat Your Books is such a great “why didn’t I think of that?!” idea.

  • Hilde Kaiser

    I have no real system other than to occasionally pull a few books from the shelf on a Sunday afternoon and meal-plan for the week. What an intriguing give away!

  • What an excellent idea! I once created a searchable Excel spreadsheet with about 2 years’ worth of bookmarked recipes from Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food magazine, but it took forever and represents only about 10% of all the bookmarked recipes in all the cookbooks I own! I love the idea of choosing a cookbook a month to explore, but I like this Eat Your Book service idea even more!!

  • Michaela

    I have so many cookbooks and don’t really have a system other than spending an afternoon going through and writing down recipes with page numbers and what cookbook they’re from. Then I sort in various ways (ingredient, entree, etc.)…but all with pen and paper

  • okatrlinu

    I have no system! Unfortunately I am one of those people that don’t use the cookbooks all that often. Every once in awhile I will go on a cookbook spree and make several things from one book. I definitely need a better system.

  • Emilye

    I usually just use sticky tabs to keep track of recipes I want to try but with limited effect and improvement. Thank you for sharing your ideas, they are just what I need!

  • Robin Jeffries

    My struggle is between paper cookbooks and online recipes. I collect online recipes with ziplist, so I have them in one place, but it doesn’t let me search for things by ingredient. And I use my tablet to read the recipe as I cook. But when it comes to cookbooks, I find them not fun to read on a tablet, so I still buy them on paper, and then again, I can’t search by ingredient. But I find myself wanting something that will use up that half cup of creme fraiche and that kale and the chorizo this week. If this would let me at least search my cookbooks by ingredient, that would be a wonderful thing, and would encourage me to buy more cookbooks (even though I have no space and collecting only the recipes I want is really much more efficient).

  • Elene Farkona

    My cookbook collection is just under 100 and growing. I have about ten really favourites that I cook from most often, but on a weekly basis, I pick one or two similarly themed (eg. vegetarian, middle eastern, french etc.) cookbooks from my collection and leave them on the kitchen counter for browsing. This, along with the odd variety of ingredients lurking in my fridge and cupboards, patiently waiting to be noticed, is my inspiration. My goal is at least one new recipe per week, except when I’m having guests, well, then I go nuts. “Eat your books” would be great for someone like me!!

  • I also have no system at all! I even stopped buying cookbooks, because with so many food blogs, online sites, etc. it was simply quicker to search for specific recipes or ingredients.However, recently I got back into bread baking again and bought two books and it would really be a shame if they just get lost among all the other books on my shelves. Thanks for the ‘eat my food’ recommendation, cause it seems to be one way of keeping on top of things!

  • Ivana Juraga

    That sounds like an awesome service, I’ll definitely be trying it out!
    I prefer to work with paper. I have an office folder (organised into meal types) where I keep recipes found online in a printed form. On top of that, I use some of the advice you give above (like sticky flags for recipes high on my to-try list). But still, I think what works best for me is deciding to stick with one cookbook for a period of time and trying to only look there when I am brainstorming for meal ideas. Then I’m not overwhelmed with too many choices.

  • guglielmo

    well I have maaaaaany problems.
    first. I have books not only in paris but at also at “home” (where I was born in italy)
    second. both in paris and at home my books are in part in the self in part in some boxes (due to my many relocations)

    so what I do: I force myself from time to time to bring some “new” book in paris to try it, then when I try a recipe I (usually) try also to copy it in my personal recipe list google doc, so that I have it there, searchable and I also can modify it, or add some hints, if I find them useful

    last problem: everytime I go in a library I would like to buy some new book… and I have to force myself not to do it (but i m not always successful :D )

  • Tamsin

    I’m hopeless at organizing my recipes but every few weeks I take some time to browse 2 or 3 books and pick a few recipes to try. This would be much easier if the majority of my cookbooks weren’t stored in the attic while we are renovating!

  • Julie Saidenberg

    I use sticky notes, but sometimes it gets a little ridiculous (Too many). I need to limit myself to just a few, and then make them!

  • Anne Jensen Holmes

    My cookbooks have so many sticky notes they look like they have grown hair! It’s not an effective method for me although it does let me weed out the “bald” books. Mainly I just pick a book and work through it. Eat Your Books sounds like a great service.

  • Palmira

    Pas facile effectivement de s’y repérer dans autant de propositions et dans plusieurs langues!
    A la maison on note sur le tableau de la cuisine au fur et à mesure la recette + livre +page et on pioche dedans regulièrement…
    Et rien ne vaut les refeuilleter regulièrement car les goûts changent avec le temps!
    Bon week end!

  • Sonia Ahooja Malik

    It sounds like an awesome service ! I have hundreds of cookbooks and always struggle on how to keep track of recipes from within them and actually use them. I do use the sticky notes system as recommended by you but it’s not always effective as you would need to open the book to identify what you want to try :-)

  • edenz713

    I photo copy recipes that I really want to try and put them in with the pile of recipes from the internet

  • Tracey Callison

    I browse through them when I’m looking for party ideas, but I definitely need a new system!

  • Neil Stang

    I use random little pieces of paper to mark recipes I want to try. If I am in a hurry I will use Eat Your Books to search my indexed cookbooks and magazines for a recipe.

  • Gail Leinweber

    To keep the collection from getting out-of-control I’ve taken to auditioning books from the library, if three recipes turn out worth repeating and there are more in the book I want to try, I buy it. The last few that I bought I deliberately went with the e-book versions where the electronic bookmarks jump right to the tagged recipes. For paper books, it’s still bookmarks sticking up, and the more bookmarks, the more beloved the book.

  • Guest

    I have no system at all unfortunately – every once in a while I run through them and throw away all books I don’t deem worthy anymore. It surprises me every time that some books look more outdated than others – especially the ‘hip and happening’ ones.

  • Psuke Bariah

    I’ve tried Pepperplate, which is useful for all the online recipes I want to try, too…but now it’s getting too big! I’ve also tried going through for weekly menu ideas, writing down page numbers and cookbooks, but that takes awhile and gets bypassed on busy weeks.

  • Patricia Robertson

    I use notebooks (by subject), ZipList, Pinterest, PDF files of online recipes organized by source and Eat Your Books…
    It’s an involving system, but I try to keep track of recipes that i like or want to try.
    EYB has been a huge help in using some of my older cookbooks, and for finding online recipes.

  • For internet recipes, I use Pinterest and starred favorites, plus foodgawker and tastespotting. My own cookbook collection is so well used that I can usually find anything quickly. But I love all of your suggestions.

  • Eliza

    I use the tried and true sticky-note-on-page system to flag recipes I like. I do try to cook from a different cookbook every few weeks. I also look for reviews of cookbooks I own on blogs, and find specific recipe recommendations that way.

  • Pamela Lincoln

    Having tried most things, I’m now just dreaming of an EYB service .

  • Maddy

    I’ve tried to make the most of my collection by scouring for recipes there first when I want to make a new dish. But in all honesty, this would be a great and better way to get me to do it!

  • Christina

    I would love a way to organize recipes by category. So often I have a certain main ingredient I would like to use, and I am looking for inspiration, but don’t know where to start. This database would be so helpful in providing inspiration, and allowing me to share with others!

  • Rita

    I don’t really have a system! I browse my cookbooks for inspiration sometimes, and then forget to make anything from them– I don’t usually have the ingredients on hand to make any of them, and then I forget to pick them up at the grocery.

  • Amanda Nellist

    I take photos of the page in the cookbook, so I can do the shopping for a new dish. If we like it, the photo stays, and if we don’t…..bin it!

  • paola

    I have no system – but for certain books I don’t even need to look at the index… they just open at the right page :) I sometimes use the random method, and it can be fun! Here it is: close your eyes, pick a book from the shelf (there are about 200 cookery books or more on my bookshelf) and then open it – again randomly – the recipe on the page is what is going to be made – either the same day if I have the ingredients or the following one… Logically if you are looking for a main course and get a dessert you can try again ;)

  • Alison Henry

    Ha! Like KJB, I am a librarian, but my cookbooks are more in subject order, not alphabetized by author. So, vegetarian tomes together, seafood together, weeknight meals separate from “entertaining,” etc. I don’t have any sort of system for making sure all are used, though. I tend to cook several recipes from each book when they are new, which gives me a sense of the content, then I turn back to those books that have proven themselves to be most reliable. I would love to try an indexing system like Eat Your Books!

  • Melanie D

    I tend to pick a cookbook and go through it, leaving flags on the ones I want to try. If it’s a cookbook dedicated to a specific cuisine, often it’s a good way I can justify the price of specialty ingredients that I can use over several meals.

  • Joanna Palmer

    I don’t need a life time membership, I already have one. I just want to endorse Eat Your Books because there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t consult EYB to make sure I have the right recipe from the right book that I want to cook for dinner. Or to see what recipes there are in my cookbooks for the ingredient I want to use. The site is a great culinary asset.

  • Melissa

    I don’t have a system! I just have way too many bookmarks and unorganized cookbooks :(

  • Lily A

    Short version: OneNote or Evernote.

    Here’s an idea if you have Microsoft Office with OneNote: Take photos (or scans) of the cover and index pages for each book, and put them into a notebook dedicated to recipes, one page per cookbook. OneNote’s search function searches the text in photos too. So then when you search eg “fennel” it will take you to every mention of fennel in all the books. I did this with the various supplemental books in my classroom, so for example if I need some extra worksheets about fractions or some activities related to Thanksgiving I can just do a quick search. It didn’t even take very long to set up, I think I organized them on my laptop while waiting at the airport.

    I’m about to move to another continent so I’m not sure how many of my cookbooks will be with me when I get there (thus not sure any such system including Eat Your Books would help me). I find though that what I use is about half hand-written recipes (from my mom/ancestors, friends, or the internet) and half simply looking things up online. Very few from actual cookbooks anymore, though my copy of Joy of Cooking from when I finished college is pretty beat up from a decade+ of use. It would be nice to have a system to keep me using the ones I have. Then again, I like to read cookbooks for fun, so some I don’t mind if I don’t actually cook from them if I enjoyed them and learned something! :)

    When a friend asked for recipes for a new cookbook she wants to publish and I started typing them up, I realized I should keep them in Evernote or something like that – again, searchable, plus it’s available on my phone whereas OneNote doesn’t play nice with Apple.

  • rachelsloan79

    My ‘system’ (if you could call it that) is extremely low-tech – I just browse through my collection on a fairly regular basis. No sticky tabs, no photographs, I just rely on my memory, and as I’m lucky to have a good one (and my collection is relatively modest – around 30 I think?) I always have a good general idea of what’s in each book. That said, I’m really intrigued by the concept of Eat Your Books and would be up for giving it a try…

  • Megan

    I don’t have it organized at all!

  • Becca Burns

    I need a system! Love reading the comments on here. Would love to try Eat Your Books!!

  • Denise R.

    I have so many amazing cookbooks, but I do not have a system to go through all of them, and some are buried in my cabinet so I forget that they are there. I could use a good system as I would like to start exploring some new fresh recipes, instead of sticking to the same recipes in the same books. Eat Your Books sounds like the perfect way to make that happen. :-)

  • Suzanne Knibbs

    I try to flag the recipes I want to try with post-it tabs. I place the recipes I haven’t tried with the tab sticking up from the top of the page. Once I make a recipe, I take the tab and place it sticking out from the side of the page. It’s easy to tell which recipes I’ve tried and which ones are still on my wish list. But now I’m going to try the eatyourbooks service- it looks like it will be even better than my old-school system!

  • Amy Chaplin

    I use Pepperplate but it doesn’t solve the problem of my cookbooks! I am looking for something new and this might be a great option!

  • choralsinger

    I definitely need something like this. When we remodeled our kitchen, we added a whole shelf for just my cookbooks. It’s completely full and I don’t know where to put new cookbooks I’ve bought. I also use my iPad to scan in recipes from cookbooks I check out of the library. This keeps me from buying more books. Unless it’s a really great cookbook, then I buy it. I also bookmark recipes from blogs and recipe sites, but it’s hard to keep track of them all!

  • I have some sticky tabs marking some of my favorite recipes in my cookbooks, so not much of a “system”. I can usually remember which cookbooks have particular favorites in them, but I would like to use my cookbooks even more.

  • Angie R

    The best I’ve been able to do with my collection is writing them all down, and putting that list on the web so I can always access it to make sure I’m not buying duplicates, or so family/friends can reference it when buying me a present (which tends to be a vegan cookbook more often then naught). I also keep all my books in alphabetical order on my shelves.

  • owsla

    I have them organized by type and then I look through all the indexes. I don’t have a perfect system. This website sounds great if it actually has all of my cookbooks in the database.

  • Ashley

    The key to making the most of my collection is keeping my motivation high. There are times I feel when cooking is too much trouble — you see, I come from a family with little tradition in food and, because of it, turned to favor meals that are quick and fast over those full of love and flavor. The years have passed and I’m ready to move out and on with my life, but not before going through a period of reflection and realizing that I have little inside to carry on with me aside from… well, me. That’s why I’ve started to build my own recipe collection from thrift stores, other people’s hand-me-downs and websites. But I’ve gone off on a colorful tangent.
    I said before that sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the mere prospect of cooking. When this wave hits me I take a step back and like to spend 20-30m remembering why I fell in love with food in the first place. I try to, at least once per week, spend time looking over new cooking tips or recipes or ways to cut/decorate the food. I have plans, when I move out, to turn my kitchen into an immediate place of comfort and belonging rather than one of work and isolation. I also handle my cookbooks, often leaving the larger ones by my desk or bedside to flip through casually if I have a minute or can’t sleep. Because I have so many hand-me-downs I like to single out the pages with the most stains or thumb-prints and imagine them as someone’s favorite recipe. Lastly, I allow myself on my days off to wake up and not have a food schedule — it does wonders for my food motivation to know those are my exploration days and free myself from the guilt of unused ingredients. I look forward those days when I can merely wake up and say, “I feel like Thai food today!” or recognize that my stomach seeks comfort in greek chicken. The index taped to the front of each book was a project I had just started on, and searching for people with a similar experience, I found your site. :]

    • Ashley

      Accidentally upvoted my own post. I thought it was a minimizing icon. Got tired of seeing my big post while trying to read everyone else’s! :P

  • Maxine

    I have to admit I’m hopeless at remembering what is in each book, and there are hundreds of recipes that I forget about or never get around to cooking. I did use to type out my favourite recipes from each book and then put them in their own A4 file, but well, life gets in the way of doing this …

  • Wendy Koz

    I have a chaotic system (not sure it even deserves that title) of sticky tabs, bookmarks, photocopies of favorites, and even handwritten copies of the very very most used. This sounds like a neat idea – thanks for sharing it!

  • Lisa

    I need a system!! I think I’m going to try your challenge to grab a cookbook and pick 2 recipes from it each month.

  • I’ve made it apart of my Birthday Bucket List, I am trying to cook a new recipes from 26 of my cookery books in my 26th year. Nearly there but still have quite a few to go through!

    FoodNerd x


  • Angel

    I’ve tried the sticky note/post-it flag idea, but then I ended up with a mess of “flags” sticking out of books and still couldn’t remember what was where! I like the idea of picking 1-2 books per month to cook from, so I think I’m going to try that next!

  • Angel

    I tried the sticky note idea, but then just ended up with a mess of post-it flags sticking out of my books and still didn’t know what recipe was where. I do like the idea of picking 1-2 books per month to cook from. I think I’m going to try that next!

  • marysueh

    I’ve adopted the ‘cook as many recipes as possible from a single cookbook’ approach, especially for food traditions far removed from my own. It helps me learn the spices, methods, and key ingredients for different cuisines. The appeal of a cookbook goes beyond the recipes themselves. Learning about the author, the history of another place and time, and understanding the foods of an unfamiliar culture is a great way to explore the world. I love the idea of Eat Your Books – so glad that you’re sponsoring this contest! :)

  • I’m all about the stickies, floppy-eared all over the bookshelf. No system at all, just random browsing through the big pile of cookbooks, looking for interesting things. I love the idea of Eat Your Books, rather brilliant!

  • Deborah

    I don’t have much of a system, alas… many favorite recipes that get made again and again, a few sticky tabs and random bits of paper to mark dishes to try, and the occasional streak of trying a pile of new recipes from a particular book. I’d love to try this service!

  • Katrina Lexa

    I sort of juggle between all the systems – I use EverNote, DevonThink (another clipper application), e-copies or photos of recipes from my cookbooks, I’ve dog-eared, starred, or sticky-noted 3 to try from each cookbook, and I also love to sit down and flip through them. It’s not very efficient – I’ve used Eat Your Books a couple times, and I would love to have the full version.

  • Ann

    I need a better system. Right now I love looking at cookbooks, but usually search he Internet when it comes time to cook….

  • me

    I have marked recipes inside books – both ones I tried and liked and ones to try. I used 101cookbooks library to make lists of recipes I want to try from books but it pretty much doesn’t function anymore. I keep a “to try” folder on my computer but that’s for recipes I collect online.

  • Ruth Bell

    The sticky note method with a scribbled note on the top. Really need a better system

  • Norma

    I use some of the methods you’ve described including notes on the recipe page, and a piece of paper in the front of the cookbook with a list of recipes tried and recipes to try. When I have the luxury I sit down with a cup of tea and browse recipes when I’m creating my grocery list for the up coming week. I think Eat You Books would be a great way to compile my recipe collection.

  • Katharine Kunst

    In 2004 I decided to try at least one recipe from all of my 140 cookbooks. As I worked my way through them, I put a blue dot on the spine so I could remember that they were “done.” Well it took more than one year and meanwhile, I kept collecting more. I’m now up to about 640. And I still use the dot method, now white dots. Right now I’m using some of the books I bought at the end of last year and didn’t use much. I like to take a cookbook out for a “test drive” by cooking enough of the recipes (five or six) to determine if it is trustworthy. As I look through them, I mark the “recipes I want to try” with little tiny post-it notes. I also have a list of all my cookbooks and make a note of each date I’ve used it in a particular year. So I can quickly look over the sheet and see which ones have been “neglected.”

  • Oh my goodness, don’t let my husband read this. I am just like everyone else, and I suspect most food bloggers are—too many cookbooks and not enough time. But I can’t resist buying more! And then there are the magazines…my husband says we could live to be 1000 and never have time to cook all the recipes I’ve collected. But I forge on. I read every single cookbook that I buy and there are a handful that I go back to multiple times. But I definitely need a better system.

  • JillCenter

    I cut out appealing Weight Watchers (WW) recipes from weekly/membership materials and use as book marks for recipes I either want to try or refer to often in my cookbook collection. It’s kind of a 2-or 3-fer: the cookbook place is marked, I no longer lose those WW cards, and I have in front of me ideas on how to lighten similar recipes I may have tried in the past, but without altering so much that the dish fails.

  • HokieCarrie

    I have NO system and my husband hates it. I LOVE cookbooks, and recipes (I’m always pulling out recipes from magazines) and it drives everyone insane. Even me, actually, because I can never find what I want when I want it. I don’t remember which cookbook had the best version of that pie, or this chicken recipe, or what have you. I desperately need a system. The closest I’ve come is sticking random pieces of paper in the books at recipes I like or want to try.

  • Kate Behn

    Sadly I find that what I actually cook and my immense cookbook collection don’t have much in common

  • Lindsay-Jean

    Oh fingers crossed so hard for this! I definitely don’t make the most of my cookbook collection, but try to cook at least one recipe a week from a physical book.

  • xtallyn

    I gravitate towards whatever phase I’m in. Chinese. Vegetarian. Classic American. Greatest challenge is lining up a recipe with what I bought that is in season and on sale.

  • Vincci

    I put sticky tabs in my cookbooks, with different colours for ones that I have cooked and ones that I would like to cook. But I agree, I should flip through my books more often.

  • Jim Carmin

    My present system of book marks, sticky tabs, and memory not working all that well. Curious to know more about the Eat Your Books system. But I should add here that ALL cookbook publishers should include at least two ribbons in the bindings of their books; no books more than cookbooks use this age-old system more efficiently!

  • danarsab

    I put a bookmark or take photos but I’d love a better system. I don’t take advantage of my cookbooks!

  • Vanina W

    I only started this a month or so ago, but it has worked well so far – I have been going through my cookbooks one by one, and writing down (on a document on my iPad) all the recipes I want to try, including listing any unusual ingredients which I’ll have to buy on purpose e.g. spices, herbs, unusual vegetables, etc. I agree with the comment below about every book needs to have two ribbons though!

  • Madonna Ganier-Yancey

    My cookbook collection and its organization (or lack thereof) is a frequent topic of discussion at our house. I admit to being a bit impulsive when it comes to buying cookbooks (buying a Chilean cookbook in Spanish when we were in Chile, for example). We’ve been having a culinary trip around the world lately. I let my husband pick the type of food — French, Spanish, Chinese, whatever he’s in the mood to try — and I pick recipes from the appropriate cookbook. I also serve wine or beer from the same country we’re exploring on the plate. It’s been fun and very tasty so far.

  • Jaime Faus

    This post really resounded with me — especially the part about your spouse being in earshot! I constantly here “Why are you getting another cookbook…you never use the ones you have!” This system would be completely amazing to help me stay organized. In this digital world we live in, I always find myself wanting to do a “Control + F” of paper documents — here is the solution! :)

  • I don’t have a system. And that’s probably not a good thing, because it’s resulted in my using my not inconsiderable collection of cookbooks as inspiration. Most of the day-to-day recipes I use are on my iPad–either via Epicurious, Food52, or blogs. Even when I have the recipes in books, I tend to use versions of them that I find online. I think Eat Your Books might be a very good solution for me for that very reason!

  • SarahT

    No system… but I tend to have a cookbook on my kitchen table that I’ll browse while eating dinner. And I use a google search fairly often, too!

  • Brigita O

    I use the sticky tab trick. My cook books are full of them. I also often refer to three books that order the recipes according to seasons. That’s very practical, I can only browse the relevant section instead of searching the entire book. I wish more cook books were written like that.

  • Melissa

    I try to make one new recipe a week, either from one of my MANY cookbooks or something I’ve seen online. This way I get to make things I want to try and we don’t get bored with the same old recipes over and over again.

  • DessertAlways

    My system involves using post-its and making a separate list of the recipes I want to make.

  • I have a number of systems that I’ve tried, but the one that works for me is working through the books seasonally. I have some books with spring recipes, others with summer, others with mostly fall and winter. When I’m tired of a book, I move on to another, or insert a “wildcard” in the form of a more general cookbook, or a book that’s about a specific dish (e.g. chili, sushi, curry, or even mixology). I still haven’t cooked recipes from all my cookbooks, but I’m working on it! And those that don’t wow will be sent to Goodwill to be another budding foodie’s treasure!

  • Birdiebee

    I don’t have to worry about making the most of all my cookbooks because I only own two. I use many online recipes and bookmark them until the computer died and lost all of my favorites.

  • Jen

    I used to keep two lists of recipes I wanted to try from cookbooks and magazines that I read: One list was by title, and one was organized by month/season. It was a great system until I started increasing my cookbook collection from about 20 or 30 to what is about 300 cookbooks at this point. I couldn’t keep up with the lists! I did join Eat Your Books last year and found it to be wonderful in terms of finding recipes. YOu just type in an ingredient and presto! All of the recipes you have access to are at your fingertips. I love the shopping list functionality as well! I have been meaning to sign up for a new subscription this year but will wait out this contest and keep my fingers crossed!

  • Cate Mackay

    I have a huge shelf of cookbooks which I get down on a Saturday after I’ve been to the market to find the best of what is in season and looking amazing. Then I quickly plan my meals for the week, using some of my standard recipes, and some new ones each week too. I love Saturdays!

  • Heather Johnson

    I’ve been trying to come up with a good system for years but nothing seems to work! Looking forward to trying the “one cookbook per month” rule OR my new complimentary membership!?

  • The giveaway is now closed, and comments beyond this one can’t be considered. Thank you so much for entering! The results will be announced later today in the post above.

  • KJB

    As one of the very lucky winners, a huge thank-you to both Clotilde and the folks at EYB. Thank-you! :-)

  • Joan Kunze

    cookbooks = exquisite paper company ~ they are visual delights ~ they are memories ~ they are surprises ~ they are friends ~ I look up above at a shelf ..and there “Winter in the Alps” by Manuela Darling-Gansser…Clotilde’s books…a falling apart paperback ..French recipes…given to me years ago by someone who became aware of my interest in old! Margaret Fulton..part of the history of cooking in Australia..I look at those pages and so easily recall cooking this…and that…in the ’70s…turmeric was soooo hip! In my imagination they are organised so beautifully…in reality…they are not…however I seem to enjoy the idea that they are all having a conversation about food! my glass of bubbles raised to you all…AND your cookbooks!

  • Delene Sowers Volkert

    Unfortunately, I am not organized at all!

  • Happy New Year.

    One can never have enough cook books. I read them like novels.

    Thanks to your competition late last year, I am now the proud owner of three of your lovely books. I have been so busy over Christmas and before, doing a German Christmas biscuit workshop for 8 friends, preparing for the influx of Christmas visitors and producing my first copy of a newsletter for a women’s group, that I haven’t had time to read them, so I am really looking forward to doing so as soon as the rest of my family has gone back to the UK on Thursday. I also plan to make your kimchi, I have the Korean red pepper (from Paris Store, in Toulouse) and all the vegetables. I’ll also be making mango chutney from one of my old favourites, Madhur Jaffrey, and some Japanese pickled vegetables from my daughter in law, Yuki Gomi’s, recipes.

    Many thanks for your blog, I really enjoy reading all your posts. As if you haven’t got enough to do with two small children.

    One can never have enough cook books. I read them like novels.

    • Thanks so much for sharing all that. Sounds like a busy time indeed! I hope you enjoy the books. ^^

  • Andreas

    I haven’t started using sticky tabs, but I usually use an index card and write on the recipes I want to try, whenever I get a new cookbook. I also love EYB, it’s such a wonderful site, and I’ve been a member for some time now :)

    • That’s great to heard, Andreas! Have you considered scanning the recipes or the index cards to have them available on your phone or computer?

      • Andreas

        i’ve not started to add anything to the phone – I’ve not had my smart phone for long, and I’m trying to keep it out of the kitchen!! :) But it’s a great idea!!

        • I find it handy when I’m at the greenmarket or the store, or when I’m away from home and pondering dinner. ^^

          • Andreas

            That’s a very good idea!!

          • Thanks, I’m glad you find it useful!

  • siberianveggies

    There are a lot of cookbooks with nice ideas that are difficult to use. You don’t want to spend half your allotted time for making dinner looking up recipes! I think every cookbook should have an index by ingredient, or at least by vegetable. My number one reason for going to a book is to find a way to use what I already have. Recipes should also state clearly at the top if they take a long time or not. Even better, group them by preparation time. Finally, what if each section had it’s its own table of contents with a short description of how it would taste? A menu, if you will. I don’t mind having things listed in more than one place. I tend to use up all my fingers as bookmarks when I open a cookbook :)

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