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There are many good reasons for writing regularly in a food journal
Keeping a journal is a good way to record events, observations, feelings, intentions, aspirations, attempts, accomplishments and just about anything else that needs recording.
I love journals, and thanks to a generous friend, I have a travel journal, an idea journal, a waiting room journal, a sort of problem-solving-working-things-out journal, a reading journal and a food journal.
What is the purpose of food journals? Some people use them as tools for changing eating habits, recording what and how much they eat, when they eat, how they feel after consuming certain foods and how emotions connect with their eating habits. This use follows the tradition of making daily entries in a journal or diary.
That is not what I do with my food journal. There are many days when I don’t crack it open. Instead, I use it to record reflections on recipes I’ve tried, any difficulties with the methods, ingredients I have substituted, the quality of end products or how I’d change them next time. I often jot down notes like this right on the page in a cookbook, but there is space for more extensive notes in the journal.
When I look back, I find notes on buying oysters and preparing them for freezing, how long it took me to shuck 100 oysters or how many bottles they filled.
If I’m developing a new recipe, I keep notes on the process in my journal. It beats trying to keep track of little scraps of paper with notes scribbled on them.
There is also a list of recipes that I notice in print or online publications that I intend to try.
The thing I do most with my food journal is to keep a record of menus for special meals served to company or dishes I take to pot luck events. In the same way that people don’t like to wear the same dress every time they go out, I don’t like to serve the same food to the same people every time we are together.
I have menus for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s meals, luncheons for groups of friends and birthday dinners, as well as notes on desserts I took to church suppers and what I baked for bazaar tables. There are references to the recipes used and notes about simple but useful observations. For example, when making skewers of cheese and cherry tomatoes, use toothpicks because wooden skewers are too coarse and the cubes of cheddar break. It’s safer to write it down than to trust my memory.
There are also comments about responses to some of the dishes. Following the menu for a birthday dinner served last year, a meal that was to my taste (more than his), I made a note about the response to it. While the birthday boy didn’t complain, I was pretty sure it wasn’t a favourite meal, and I supposed he would probably have preferred a good steak instead of the scallops in wine sauce.
When I look at a menu, I also can see when the plan was too ambitious, requiring more preparation time than was desirable or practical.
Sometimes we make a box of cookies to send as Christmas gifts, and I can check my food journal to see which ones we sent and where the recipes came from. Knowing where to find recipes that worked well is especially helpful for seasonal foods that are seldom or never used for the rest of the year.
As I look through my food journal, I can see other ways I could use it: to note what jams, jellies, pickles and relishes I’ve preserved each year; to remember how many roasting chickens we bought and froze and how long it took for us to use them; planning notes for special menus, including dishes that can be prepared in advance and frozen; a list of what we used during a 46-hour power outage and thoughts about what to have on hand for future losses of power and ideas for food gifts, recipes to develop, dishes to feature in food demonstrations and menus for seasonal theme meals.
Keeping notes in a food journal is, for me, a way to record dishes and meals made, and stimulate creative thinking.
Margaret Prouse, a home economist, can be reached by writing her at RR#2, North Wiltshire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by email at email@example.com.