Guest Article: Managing Recipes With Plain Text

I’m a self-proclaimed cooking nerd. I try new recipes all the time, and I collect recipes from all over the place. Naturally, I need a way to maintain them.

As a tech nerd, I gravitate toward using digital tools for personal productivity and organization. I want to not just manage my recipe collections but also to streamline my entire kitchen workflow with technology. To do that, I tried several apps and web services over a few-month period, only to end up ditching all of them in the end.

Problems with Apps

Apps come and go, and they tend to lock you in. The main problems with apps are:

Proprietary formats — All apps and web services that I tried stored my data in their proprietary internal database. Yes, I was able to import and export data, but only to a certain degree. They can fail, and it’s a huge nuisance when they do. I experienced that with Evernote, and I was not about to take that risk with my recipes.

Not always reliable — I looked through reviews of various apps, and there are more than a few users reporting their struggles with sync not working, their app not launching, and their data disappearing. They couldn’t access the database outside the troubled app, so they were at the mercy of the developer helping them out. Unfortunately, indie developers can be very slow in responding to inquiries and addressing issues.

Some might say I worry too much about that. I contend that my concerns are relevant. Here are a few examples: MacGourmet’s cloud sync is known to have been broken for years now. Paprika Recipe Manager is featured in Apple’s App Store. While it’s not been abandoned, there is no guarantee it will be around forever. The App Store reviews are already reporting the lack of support from the developer. The Paprika Recipe Manager Twitter feed has been quiet since late last year. The only time the developer says something is when the app is on sale for Black Friday.

Less freedom — Developers sometimes change the user experience and add or remove features. That’s okay if the data is portable and I can use any tools to work with the same data. It is a problem when the data is proprietary. You are stuck with that one app that can open your recipe data. You don’t have the freedom to switch tools.

Plain Text to the Rescue

So, after trying a bunch of apps in that vein, I settled with my minimalist approach: text files formatted with Markdown.

To save a recipe that I find on the internet, I copy the contents of the page and paste them into an editor called Typora, which renders the copied contents in Markdown. I save it with the copy images options so I have a whole set of text and image data in an open format.

My data has no dependencies when stored this way. I have the freedom to use any text editor on any platform to work with my recipe data.

Trade Offs?

Granted, it’s a boring way to save web pages. Recipe apps offer some conveniences such as timers, portion size conversion, and automatically fetching recipes from various sites. I found, though, that I didn’t use those extra features as much as I thought I would.

For example, I have no trouble converting the amount of each ingredient for a larger portion size in my head as I prepare a meal. I have a simple timer app that I use to track multiple timers if I need to set them up. The apps couldn’t automatically fetch recipe information out of YouTube videos, so I ended up transcribing them. They also had trouble fetching recipes from Japanese websites, so I ended up copying and pasting, which nullified the alleged time-saving benefits of those features.

Conclusion

With my plain text recipes, I don’t need to worry about what app developers might do next year and whether they will feel like supporting their app. I can take advantage of whatever text or code tool can open my files, and my recipes are instantly searchable by file name and contents.


Hiro Sawane is a web developer from Japan, who was interviewed at The Plain Text Project in September, 2019. At the moment, he’s building up his web presence. When it’s ready to go, you’ll find a link to it here.