While we’re definitely advocates for indexes in nearly all nonfiction books, there’s one genre in which an index is indispensable: cookbooks. Culinary pioneer (and indexer!) Julia Child wrote in The Way to Cook, “A reference or teaching book is only as good as its index.” Imagine trying to find a recipe without even a rudimentary list of titles? As in other subject areas, cookbook indexes vary wildly in quality. They also require special handling, as they’re constructed and used differently from, say, a biography or a biology textbook.
Here are a few key things to keep in mind when working on a cookbook index. For more detail and an excellent breakdown of best practices, see the ASI Best Practices document, Appendix B, written by Thérèse Shere, visit the resources section of the Culinary Indexing Special Interest Group, or read Indexing Specialties: Cookbooks, edited by Alexandra Nicholson, PI associate Fred Leise, and Terri Hudoba.
- Know your style
Always be familiar with the publisher’s style. How should the recipe titles be capitalized? Initial caps, no caps, headline-style? Can you invert the title to place a key ingredient first, or must you reproduce exactly, every time it’s listed? (ex: Sour Cream Pancakes with Roasted Blueberries or Blueberries, Sour Cream Pancakes with Roasted) Do you need to use bold or italic type to indicate photographs?
Space constraints can be an issue, so make sure you understand what can and cannot be done in the index. You may have to consolidate non-recipe subentries into a single “about” with a string of locators, or you may be allowed to use a hybrid indented/run-in style, where you have the following:
about: make-ahead, 32; savory, 33, 134; spin-offs, 33
Graham Cracker, 36
Piecrust Cookies, 33
Steak and Kidney Pie, 134
A good headnote can help users tremendously, especially if the style proscribes inverted recipe titles or space prevents multiple postings. Publishers might consider a running headnote — that is, one that appears on every page.
- Post everywhere
Because cooks use cookbook indexes to find both specific recipes and recipe ideas, you need to make sure you double-post, triple-post, or more. Use of cross references is also important to help guide users to the information they need, especially if space constraints keep you from multiple postings. A common complaint about cookbook indexes is this comment on a Publisher’s Weekly post, “10 Things Every Cookbook Publisher Should Know” (consider this comment the “and one more”):
My pet peeve: impossible indexes. Why would I look for “Penne w/ eggplant and peppers” when I want to use the eggplant and/or peppers I have? Should be under “Eggplant, penne with peppers and” AND under “Peppers, penne with eggplant and”!
Other possible access points could be vegetarian dishes, or common categories such as appetizers, or pies. Use common sense—salt is often on an ingredient list, but it hardly makes sense to list all the recipes containing salt under a main heading for “salt.”
- Cross references, both specific and general (See also specific vegetables), are immensely helpful directions. If it’s possible, consider giving examples with general cross references: See also specific vegetables, such as broccoli. Another option is to include cross references from subheadings, although this can significantly lengthen an index.
about: buying, 32; canning, 34; steaming, 33
broccoli. See broccoli
Chinese noodles with, stir-fried, 171
- Be consistent
Finally, whatever you do, do it every time. If you post one kind of recipe under a heading, you should post all. I recently went looking for a chicken salad recipe in a cookbook I hadn’t used in years. It had a cutesy title I couldn’t remember, and it wasn’t under Salads (although “Chicken-and-Grape Salad, Sherried” was). I did find it under “Chicken” along with the sherried chicken salad. It was also under “Spreads and Fillings”—but Sherried Chicken-and-Grape Salad was not, although they’re both variations on the classic sandwich filling.This applies to recipe titles as well — if you invert one to double-post under a key ingredient, you must invert all. If you create a main heading in a baking cookbook for cakes, make sure you create main headings for pies, cookies, breads, and other similar categories.
All in all, a good index can make for a great cookbook. Remember that an index serves as a marketing tool—potential buyers will use it to see if it will help them use up all their summer squash, or find good holiday baking ideas. Cookbooks with useful indexes will get used more often, and cookbooks that get used often get recommended to others. If you’re in need of a good cookbook index, we have several experienced indexing associates who can help. Check our portfolio page for examples of past projects, and—as Julia Child was fond of closing, bon appétit!
PI Pick of the Week
Canadian indexer Stephen Ullstrom’s blog is thoughtful, and contains book reviews, commentary on freelance life, and articles about indexing topics. His post, Decolonizing the Index: Indexing in Indigenous Studies is a good brief look at the way subject matter can impact the indexer, and contains links to his more in-depth articles on the subject. I always appreciate finding a new indexing-related blog out there!