IT'S AMONG the safer generalizations that anybody who has ever lifted a wooden spoon cuts out recipes. Anybody who has so much as defrosted a packet of frozen peas can be found penciling indecipherable notes on the back of an envelope after tasting a new dish.
What happens after that is a little less universal. In theory, at least, some cooks promptly try the recipe and place it, neatly typed, in a businesslike card-file drawer, preferably built into the birch and walnut island in the center of a kitchen that's all gleaming copper, mellow brick and efficiency. An elite few may go so far as to sheathe each card in plastic so there will be no endearing drops of molasses or worcestershire on the card itself.
In real life, of course, the promising recipe may rest for years in a cardboard box of unsorted clippings. It may end up in a drawer where pastry tube nozzles, canning jar rings and Texas-shaped cookie cutters compete for space with wrinkled newsprint. Its final destiny may be to linger, untried, in a heap of miscellaneous paper that can't be found when the cook murmurs, "I know I have that recipe somewhere."
It's a problem worth attacking. Some dishes that might be undertaken if the cook could find the recipe really would add to the sum of human happiness.
There are solutions, and some of us have tried them all. I have a card file. I have a notebook. I have folders in ordinary file drawers. I have three or four accordian-pleated files of the sort that tie with ribbons and feature still-life assortments of eggplant and leeks on their covers. I have a cardboard box. And I have quite a few clippings tucked in cookbooks. We'll forget about whatever is still in my wallet.
Each has merits and disadvantages. At first glance, the card file seems ideal. But the ones designed for kitchen use are too small and the ones coming out of the office supply house are cumbersome to store.
Besides, the management of cooking resources isn't all there is to do. When there is time to type a card or paste or staple a clipping onto a card, fine. Then all there is to worry about is cutting out the recipe without mutilating the part of it continued on the next-page. But, generally, something simpler and quicker is called for.
The loose-leaf notebook doesn't hold as much as a card file, but it takes to variety a little better. It's easier to paste in a long recipe. It doesn't mind left-handed scrawls. It does nicely in one of those clear plastic cookbook holders that make recipes easier to read while peeling onions. It can find a place on the kitchen book shelf.
Still, time pressures are what they are. Mobilizing paste or staples to secure the clipping in the notebook can seem enough like work to influence the cook to shove one more bit of newsprint into the miscellaneous drawer, where it will yellow and grow brittle, as undisturbed by the human hand and eye as the Dead Sea scrolls before the shepherd went into the cave.
This is where the small, pleated kitchen file comes into its own. All the recipe collector has to do is to put the clipping into the appropriate pocket. All the recipe user has to do is to look in the right place to find it.
Which brings to mind another problem. Is that lovely shrimp, eggplant and black olive dish under seafood or appetizers, vegetables or main dishes? It could be any one.
Besides, these gadgets aren't big enough to keep up for very long with a real food enthusiast's capacity to accumulate recipes. And then, when the cook invests another $10 in a new one, there are fresh administrative issues to be dealt with.
Should the cook accept the idea that there will be two or three soup sections to consult when the impulse comes to try a new version of pistou? Or should the boundaries be redrawn, with new labels on each section and the soup category divided up into bisques, bouillons and chunky potages?
A job for that free Sunday afternoon that never comes.
Thrusting a clipped-out recipe into a cookbook at first seems like the sloven's dodge. Certainly, carried too far, it can damage a book irrevocably, weakening the spine and causing covers to buckle in a way that Irma Rombauer and Julia Child don't deserve.
Still, most food and drink people have a good many specialized cookbooks, too, and the secret of a novel approach to candied orange peel slipped into Maida Heatter's dessert book does no harm. There's the zinger, though. Should it go into a dessert book or a tome on fruit cookery? And how is anybody going to remember which?
No need to explain why it takes a five-year university program to prepare a librarian. Maybe it's just as well, after all, to drop that clipping into the drawer with the pineapple peeler and the corkscrew that was supposed to be such an improvement over the old-fashioned kind.