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Where oh where is that peach pie recipe?

When the pile of recipes is out of control, it's time to organize it. Here's how.

By Yvonne ZippCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / February 17, 2009

CLUTTER-FREE KITCHEN: Professional recipe organizer Pam Sultzman of Pam’s Pantry gives advice to Jodi and Josh Greenwald. Ms. Sultzman prefers recipe boxes to binders.

David T. Foster III, Charlotte Observer

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For many cooks, "recipe collection" is defined as a pile of cookbooks, magazines, yellowed news clippings, computer printouts, and spattered notecards that requires patient sifting and the eye of a seasoned Quidditch player.

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Occasionally, the searcher discovers – as this reporter did in December – that she's inadvertently recycled the copy of Better Homes and Gardens containing the prized recipe for beef tenderloin stuffed with goat cheese that was supposed to be the main course for Christmas dinner. Unfortunately, so has her mother.

Doris Walker, a massage therapist in Homer, N.Y., who loves cooking so much that she occasionally teaches a course on it, had a collection that would have baffled forensic investigators. "My recipes come from way back when I was a child. They were handwritten who-knows-when by who-knows-who." says Ms. Walker." They had water stains, food stains...."

To protect the recipes from further damage, Walker mailed the whole collection to Pam Sultzman, a professional recipe organizer in Charlotte, N.C. Ms. Sultzman retyped all the recipes – no matter how "illegible," Walker says – laminated them, and sorted them into previously agreed-upon categories. Now, her collection is contained in one box in her kitchen. "It's even alphabetized," says Walker, who sends Sultzman any new recipes she collects every six months to keep the pile of paper from mushrooming anew. "Now, if someone wants a recipe for apple strudel, I can find it."

While organizing recipes may seem like a frill in this economy, Walker argues that a tight budget is actually a reason to get motivated. "With the economy, you prefer to have a meal in your house rather than going out or spending money buying sandwiches all the time," says Walker, who believes that people will cook more often and more efficiently if their kitchens are organized. She has memories of her grandmother doing all the cooking when she was a child." Get your kids involved – it can be a family affair."

Sultzman came to her career in a way that will be familiar to many these days: She was laid off in 2004. "I had some time on my hands. I did my own recipe collection, because it was a mess," says Sultzman, who has worked as a geological technician and in the banking industry. Reorganizing her collection took about three weeks. "Whenever I got it finished, it looked pretty nice. I thought, 'Well, other people might want theirs done.'"

In the nearly four years since she opened Pam's Pantry, she's created recipe boxes and binders for clients as far away as California. (The most repeated recipe Sultzman has seen? Nestle's tollhouse cookies. "Most everybody has got that," she says.)

If you've reached the point where finding the recipe can take almost as long as whipping up the meal – and hiring a pro isn't currently an option – Sultzman has a few pointers. "Take your time," she says. Do a little bit each day so that you don't wear yourself out and give up.