Journey’s End: Moving From Meal-Master To Paprika

by Diane Duane
Home screen of Meal-Master, a recipe in Paprika

I collect recipes. Lots of them. I used to use the venerable Meal-Master software for this, but over time it’s gotten a bit long in the tooth. As a result I’ve been looking for somewhere better to put those recipes… and now I’ve found it. Details follow.

I cook for pleasure, as well as necessity. When Peter and I got married, on merging our libraries we found that something like 20% of the books in both libraries were cookbooks. The living room bookshelves are full of them, despite numerous attempts to winnow them down over the last few years. The general rule has been, “If nobody’s touched the book in five years, send it to the library.”

Somehow we still have 300 cookbooks in the living room.

it will therefore probably come as a surprise to nobody that my recipe collecting has for a good while also extended into the digital realm. For many years I used Meal-Master, devised by Scott Welliver, which in the ancient days of DOS was the preeminent software for people who collected recipes. It was, by our present standard, clunky and idiosyncratic, but it worked (and had huge capacity…64,000 recipes+). And there were lots and lots of scattered treasure troves of recipes all over the web, in many languages, waiting to be found and saved.

Episoft Systems, Welliver’s (now apparently defunct) company responsible for the software, kept updating it for many years until finally, with version 8.05 (in 1999), the Meal-Master software was declared copyrighted freeware and turned loose into the wild. As operating systems and platforms changed, Meal-Master became less and less useful and / or usable, and a lot of people started looking for software that would accept imports from MM’s old-school database structure and leave the recipes looking at least something like they had to start with.

Until I got to the point where I stopped actively collecting Meal-Master-format recipes, I managed to gather about 40,000 of them (and I get a sense from having seen other Meal-Master enthusiasts’ posts that my collection was actually a little on the small side). A few years ago, it occurred to me that I really needed to get active about trying to find some software to export them to, before everything moved on so far that the import could no longer be done. So I exported all my stored recipes into a series of files in the MM export format (with the .MMF suffix) and started looking for a new recipe storage candidate.

The problem was that a lot of the software I found available at that point didn’t import the Meal-Master structure particularly well or flexibly.  Routinely, in the process of the import, something froze or crashed it — usually because of one or another of the workarounds that MM fans had constructed over time to get around some of the program’s more rigid features. As a result, the imports I attempted at that point were mostly disastrous, and in frustration I put the project aside for a while. I was still twitching, though, at the thought of all those recipes lying around in a format that did me no good anymore — Windows 7 flatly refused to run Meal Master, and while Windows XP ran it all right, XP was rapidly approaching its end-of-life. I’d gone to a lot of trouble to pull all those recipes together — many in foreign languages, many from online sources that were long gone — and the situation niggled at me constantly.

Recently, though, a change in local circumstances pushed the issue to the fore again. Peter and I had spent some time, over the last year or so, discussing the fact that our EuropeanCuisines.com food-hobbyist website hadn’t had a serious makeover in several years. Additionally, we’ve been considering a change in direction for the site:  more food blogging, and content pointed more toward those interested in doing something we have a fair amount of experience in — traveling to European destinations, renting small holiday places there, and cooking in them.

With that in mind, we were also looking at a complete restructure of our recipe section, with an eye to making it more structured and easy to find things in. Additionally, a whole lot of those 40,000 Meal-Master recipes of mine are European, and I wanted a way to restructure them for use on the EC.com website. Specifically I wanted a way to make them easy for people to download with a tap or click — and most especially, I wanted to make them easy for people to get at on mobile devices. After all, when you’re a tourist standing in the middle of a busy grocery in Munich or Bratislava or Oslo, you don’t want to have to be tearing your hair over the thought of that terrific recipe that you saw on whatever-that-website-was and not be able to get at it quickly, so that you can buy the ingredients, go to your holiday flat, and cook the damn thing.

So. With all this on my mind, last week I started searching again for something that would both import my Meal-Master recipes smoothly, and (eventually) work well in cooperation with the website. And what the hell? I found it. It’s Paprika.

(BTW, as a sometimes-food blogger I need to state here clearly for the record — and the usual legal reasons — that the only money to change hands here was me giving them my money. Not the other way around.)

Paprika has been around for a while, and that it took me this long to find it is probably just a function of my not having looked in the right places at the right times — or, alternately, that when I was looking most actively, I did not yet have my iPad. Which is where I found Paprika, in its app form. The software exists in both iOS and Android forms, and as a Windows desktop version. There is also a Mac version, which, not having a Mac, I haven’t tested (and there’s a Kindle Fire version too, which surprised me a bit). But the iOS version for the iPad is, not to put too fine a point on it, as slick as snot.

It is beautiful and glossy and well-set up, and does everything I could’ve hoped for and a great deal more. It is friendly to all the major online food and recipe sources; it’s compatible with a lot of the bigger food blogging sites, and also with the hRecipe microformat. (Which will matter when I start wrangling the converted recipes into the main EC.com website.) And best of all, from my point of view, one of the numerous recipe export format types it accepts is the .MMF file export type of Meal-Master.

When I saw this, my heart began to sing a little song — but I still needed to run some tests: I’d been disappointed too often before. I was willing enough, though, to venture €4.99 on the app for the iPad. And frankly that was one of the best just-shy-of-a-fivers I’ve ever laid down. Half an hour of working with the app told me that I wanted the desktop version of the program right now, whether it imported MMF recipes well or not.  I went immediately to their website and bought the Windows desktop version.

I should say here that one thing I attempted with the iOS version before purchasing the Windows desktop program didn’t work terribly well. I very much wanted to test the app’s import ability on a small .mmf file that I had handy. But once I’d  moved a copy of the .MMF file up into the Paprika app’s cloud, the app nonetheless seemed to have trouble seeing it. However, I was already so impressed by the way the app looked and handled that at that point I didn’t much care. I was more than willing to handle the Meal-Master imports from the desktop end. (Please note also that I’m not entirely certain that the failure to “see” the file in the cloud on the Pad didn’t have something to do with our famously dodgy rural / cellular broadband, which starts cutting up cranky when it rains, ffs. In Ireland this is not an advantage.)

As soon as I opened the Windows desktop version of the app, however, my hopes were raised again, as the import requirements looked extremely simple. It took about three mouse clicks and five minutes for Paprika to import a test .MMF file of 2000 recipes. They imported with all their categories intact — which had been one of my major concerns; tagging is everything in a recipe database — and perfectly formatted. None of them had any photos associated with them, obviously — Meal-Master had never been capable of anything of the kind — but Paprika will allow you to add images to recipes as you like. Having checked the imported recipes over in the big desktop machine, I sync’d them to Paprika’s cloud, and then sync’d the iPad to them. The sync went without any problems, and everything crossed over perfectly. (I have yet to do this for my HTC One as well, but I still have to get the Android version of the app for that. Later today perhaps.)

So I happily got to work on importing the rest of the recipes. It took me about an hour to pull in the 40,000-odd of them. At the end of the hour, I was left with a big, fat, beautiful-looking recipe collection that was ready for the next stage: reorganization. No surprise that it was going to need some of that, as some of the Meal-Master categories were a bit idiosyncratic, or just plain silly. And numerous categories needed to be spelled differently or rationalized for one preferred spelling (for example, I had recipes with about six different formats and spellings of the term “chile heads” for recipes that go back to the fabled Chile-Heads mailing list / newsgroup). Others needed to be eliminated entirely and their entries moved into other categories. But that was just going to be some organizational work that could be done in bits and pieces over time. At the end of that hour, I was one very happy cook.

One of the great strengths of Paprika is the way it syncs across devices. It’ll be a while yet before I sync my main collection up to the iPad and my phone, as I want to make sure that I’ve first thrown out any duplicates that may have crossed over, and finish the category reorganization. Then begins a slower project of curation, as one thing Peter and I want to do for our EuropeanCuisines.com visitors is make Paprika-friendly recipe collections available for easy download. That’s a project for future months, as we proceed with EC.com’s reorganization.

In the meantime, though, I can now with a light heart go about the house deleting the various installations of Meal-Master that had been tucked away in the guts of various of the machines, waiting for the day when I would finally find a way to make those squirreled-away recipes both available to other people and safe in a new format. My long search is finally over. (And now I’m also free to range around the web collecting more Meal-Master recipes, and making them both safe and available to others, before their format becomes lost entirely in the mists of time.)

So, to sum up: if you are a longtime Meal-Master user, or know one, I unreservedly commend Paprika to you as a way to go forward.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go kill some obsolete categories. 🙂

You may also like