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I know the last thing you want to think about right now is Christmas. I mean, after all, with the unusually cold and snowy weather we’ve had, all you really want to think about it warm weather, shorts and flip flops. But there really is a method to my madness, and I’m trying to help you get a head start on one of the most frustrating things to do – choose the perfect Christmas gift.

One year, I was at a total loss as to what to give my brother, Mark. As I was thinking about various things, he just happened to call with one of his usual requests: “Hey. Do you have Dot’s recipe for…”? The light bulb flashed on. It’s not that I don’t like having Mark call me, but long distance at that time could get very expensive, and like me, he was on a budget that had enough holes in it he could instantly drain pasta. So I got to work. I originally thought it would only take a couple of weeks, but it turned out that it took months, so I was very glad I started early. Hence, a Christmas column while it’s still a cold, wet, dreary New Year.

To make a family cookbook, the first thing you really want to do is to make it known to every family member that you need recipes from them. You want the tried and true favorites that are brought to every gathering, and you want the ‘secret’ ones that they have up-to-now been reluctant to share. This may mean you need to spend an afternoon at Aunt Janes’s kitchen table sorting through her cookbooks and recipe boxes, and maybe a few trips to Grandma’s, because usually her recipes are worn and faded, and you will need her to translate. You can have the relatives that live eight states away email them to you.

As you wait for all the recipes to arrive, it’s time to sit down and decide how you want to do this. For my cookbook, I started with a personal letter to my brother. The next section was a rough genealogy of all those who contributed. Right now, I am so glad I did that. Five of the original family members are now gone from this world, and their pages can help our children and grandchildren ‘know’ them to some extent. Each person has a separate page, and each page has the basic information as well as a fun story about them.

 

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In this genealogy section, I also included a page entitled “Friends (who should have been family in the first place). These are all people from whom I acquired recipes that my brother also knew and loved. They were people who ‘helped’ to raise us or people who were a big part of his growing up years. Although I did not include a true genealogy of them, I did write a paragraph or two about who they were to us.

 

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The next thing I did was individual pages of each category. Mine consists of the basics: Appetizers, Beef, Bread, Cake, Cookies and other Sweets; Poultry, Vegetables, etc. I also included a few not-so-normal categories including Kid Approved Snacks and Alien Recipes. The Kid Approved section includes things we remember eating as children, such as Peanut Rolls, Pudding Popsicles and PB & J (my fun cousin Lane contributed that one, because he just doesn’t cook.) The Alien Recipe section holds all those that don’t fit into any other category, like my recipe for Homemade Sangria.

 

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Each page – whether Category Page or recipe was done on graphic arts software, such as Print Shop and PrintMaster. I used a larger font for easy reading, and each recipe gives credit to the source. Some of them have a small note at the bottom, with a history or memory of the recipe, or a fun quip. Once it was completed, I put two recipes in a plastic page protector, back to back. The Category pages went in one as well and I added a file tab on the edge for easy access to each section.

 

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Once the entire cookbook was completed, I put all the pages in order in a 3-ring binder – the type that has a plastic sleeve on the front. I did one last Title page (The Stephenson Family Cookbook) and slipped it in. Complete.

The best part about this is that, over the years, other recipes have surfaced and I have been able to add them with ease. Another thing I like about it is that I can remove just one recipe, set it on the counter to create, and then put it back. Oh. And the plastic sleeves keep all the splashes off the page and are easy to wipe down.

One thing I will warn you about. I only made two copies of the original cookbook –one for him and one for me. It was the most popular gift that year and everyone else wanted a copy, which amounted to 15 more between family and friends. Needless to say, the next year I had 85% of my Christmas shopping done by February, and never had to leave the house. Once caveat – I told them up front that each family was only allotted one cookbook, and that was to the ‘parents’. The children of each family would have to wait to inherit their family’s copy – or ‘borrow’ it as needed. At that time, there was no way I was going to make 50 or more copies!

A family cookbook is a wonderful gift for the chefs and cooks in your family. It’s also a great way to preserve at least a portion of your family history. If you start now, you’ll have it completed in plenty of time to get all your other shopping done. And if you play your cards right, you’ll have most of your shopping done for the next year as well.