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Information on Indexing

Recipes Into Type: Excerpt

by Joan Whitman and Dolores Simon

New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1993. pp. 133-147. Excerpts reprinted with permission of publisher.

In a cookbook, an index is second in importance only to the quality of the recipes. Without a good index, the recipes the reader is looking for cannot be located. Unfortunately, this essential element cannot be compiled until the book is in page proof, and therefore it almost always must be prepared under the pressure of time. Thus, there isn't much time to repair an index not to the author's liking.

There are some things, however, that an author can think about ahead to ensure a good job:

Indexing any book, particularly a cookbook, is not an exact science. It is very personal and there are widely differing views on what constitutes a good index. Some prefer an extremely detailed index, with almost every word in a recipe title listed. Others prefer to index only the essential elements.

Whichever kind is chosen, the index must be clear. It must be easy to read, categories must be easy to find, and it must be in acceptable English form. This requires thought and knowledge on the part of the indexer, and since in most book publishing contracts the author pays for the index, he should demand the best. Indexers are almost always free-lancers and do not work for only one publishing house. Ideally, the author should be able to find an index he likes in another book by his own publisher and ask for the free-lancer responsible for it to compile the index for his book.

Authors are not objective enough to index their own work. It takes professional skill to know what is important and what is peripheral, and to organize an index in the most useful manner for readers.


Two elements make a cookbook index easy to read and to find things in:


There are four styles of capitalization in indexing. All are acceptable, but some have drawbacks with recipe titles. We recommend a Modified Lowercase style, both for clarity and for ease in finding things.

Formal indexes use an extreme uppercase style. All main entries are capitalized and all subentries that are recipe titles, or fragments of recipe titles, are capitalized.

Modified Uppercase-style indexes are those in which all exact recipe titles are capitalized. Main entries are lowercase except for the usual proper nouns, and descriptive recipe names, as opposed to exact titles, are lowercase.

Modified Lowercase is a style in which all main entries are capitalized (initial cap only, meaning that only the first word is capitalized, even for exact recipe titles) and all subentries, whether they are recipe titles or not, are lowercase.

Informal indexes employ an extreme lowercase style. All main entries, subentries, and recipe titles are lowercase; only proper names are capitalized.


Use the system called letter-by-letter, or dictionary style, which treats the whole entry as one word up to the first comma, without regard to spaces between words. Thus, sweetbreads would come before sweet potatoes. In word-by-word, or phone-book style, all the entries starting with sweet would be entered before solid compounds whose first syllable is sweet.



Some authors prefer to have every complete recipe title listed in the index. Few cookbook users, however, are going to look up something under Easy or Hot or Cream of. And the purpose of an index should be to make it easy to find things.

A main entry should be a noun, or a noun phrase. Adjectives such as cold, hot, puréed, braised, boiled, buttered, fresh, sautéed, should not be main entries in an index, that is with subentries beneath them. In fact, most adjectives should not be indexed at all except in inverted form. There are, of course, exceptions.

If the author is emphasizing cooking methods or regional dishes, adjectives can be made into noun phrases and have subentries beneath.

Cold Broccoli Soup

Index under Broccoli and under Soup. If the author wants a category called Cold soups, or Cold dishes, it can also be listed under that main entry.

Stuffed Peppers

Index under Peppers. If the author wants a category called Stuffed vegetables, it can also be listed under that main entry.

Cantonese Apple Slices

Index under Apples. If the author wants a category called Cantonese dishes, it can also be listed under that main entry.

Fresh Fruit with Sabayon

Index under Fruit and under Sabayon, but not under Fresh

Piquant Relish

Index only under Relish.

Exceptions: When the adjective is an integral part of the recipe title, the complete title should be listed.

Black bottom pie Brown Betty

Clarified butter Fried rice

Hard sauce Hot-and-sour soup

Hot fudge sauce Indian pudding

Parker House rolls Red flannel hash

Scalloped potatoes Soft-shell crabs

Sun-dried tomatoes Wiener schnitzel


In both main entries and subentries, bring the main word to the key position

    broccoli, cream of (not cream of broccoli)

When the cooking method is the first word of the recipe title, invert the noun and the adjective; e.g., Onions, braised


Listing a recipe under more than one main entry is where personal preference comes into play. The following examples would be indexed similarly by almost everyone. Each underlined word is a main entry.

Cranberry or kumquat conserve

Almond Torte (also under Cake)

Escabeche of Fish

Grapefruit Sorbet

Beet and Cabbage Soup

The problem arises with secondary parts of the recipe.

Game Soup with Pears

No one is going to look under pears to see what to do with them and come up with game soup. List only under Game and Soup.

Catfish with Sesame Seeds

This should be indexed under Sesame Seeds only if the book is a specialized one on nuts and seeds.

Hot Broccoli Salad with Caper Sauce

Unless the caper sauce is a subsidiary recipe with its own title, index only under Broccoli and Salad.

When an ingredient is a distinctive or essential part of the dish, it is desirable to list the secondary element as well as the first. Each underlined term is a main entry.

Chick-pea Salad with Tahini

Maize Custards with Mushroom Purée

Puff Pastries with Blood Oranges

A good cookbook indexer must possess a certain amount of culinary knowledge in order to decide on multiple entries.

Duxelles—list also under Mushrooms

Coleslaw—list also under Cabbage and Salads

Guacamole—list also under Avocado

When a recipe title has two elements of almost equal value, the elements should be inverted when the title is cross-indexed. For the listing under the general category, use the order in which it was given in the recipe title.

Green bean and mushroom salad   

Mushroom and green bean salad

    green bean and mushroom


Use a cross-reference to direct an index user to another entry that is complete with subentries and page numbers.

Chowder, see Soups

Gigot, see Lamb

Use a see also reference to guide the reader to additional information.

    creamed, 123
    purchasing and storing, 234
    soup, 116
    see also specific vegetables

Do not use a cross-reference for a single recipe that is indexed in more than one place. Give the page number in each instance.

All-day beef stew, 123

Beef stew, 123

Stew, beef, 123


As discussed in Chapter 1, attribution in recipe titles should be done sparingly, but some writers feel that it is important to acknowledge their contributors in this way. If the complete name does appear in the title, index it in one of two ways:

Tom Isbel's Parsley Salad

Isbel, Tom: parsley salad, 80

Isbel, Tom, 80

In both cases, the other listings should be:

Parsley salad, Tom Isbel's, 80


parsley, Tom Isbel's, 80

If only the first name is used, index under the name.

Billy's coleslaw, 90

Coleslaw, Billy's, 90


The publisher has informed us that this book is available at the Barnes & Noble website.