Remember that a recipe is a bit of experience handed down for us to make useful. Some one experimented at some time long ago, perhaps failed at first, tried again, finally succeeded, and passed on the result by word of mouth to others. There were doubtless good cooks long before there were printed or written recipes. Some recipes, however, have been handed down from Roman times, and recipes were printed as early as the sixteenth century. Modern recipes are much more accurate than the old, as you may see if you have opportunity to read some old cook book.
At first in using a recipe follow its directions exactly. Notice the proportions, and read carefully the directions for combining the ingredients, noting those points that are most important. Have the whole process well in mind before you begin work. Do not let it be necessary to refer to the printed page at every move you make. This is poor technique.
When the use of a recipe is preceded by some simple experiment that makes the basic principle clear, it is much easier to use the recipe with intelligence.
When you are no longer a novice you may take liberties with a recipe, even a new one, scanning it with a critical eye, and perhaps giving it a cool welcome. It may not be new at all! For this is the secret of recipes, - there are really only a few, and the key to their use is the recognition of the old in the new garb, and the having of a few type recipes clearly in mind. Each kind of prepared dish has one, or two, or three basic forms or mixtures. Learn these, and then with experience you will become inventive, and make your own variations. For example, there are but two kinds of cake, - those made with butter (or other fat) and those without butter (the sponge cake). You will not attempt to memorize many recipes, but you will find that in studying these type recipes you have learned a few proportions so well that you cannot forget them. When you have reached this stage of freedom you will still do exact work, but your ingenuity and taste will have free play and you will not be tied to other people's recipes. But you cannot well begin at this end.
Make some plan for recording new recipes that you test and find good. It may be a printed recipe, or one that a friend gives you. The most convenient plan is a recipe box or card file. The guide cards are arranged alphabetically, and each recipe is either pasted upon a card or written upon it. This plan makes it easy to discard an old recipe, or one that has proved unsatisfactory, and to keep new recipes in alphabetical order, which cannot be done in a book. A loose leaf book is made for recipes, alphabetized at the side, with envelopes for holding cuttings that may be fastened in between the pages. This is a little less easy to use than the card file.