In our quest to keep people and memories close to our hearts, some of us write our stories down. Others hang on to keepsakes, and most of us pass the stories verbally through the generations. Another way to keep your memories alive is by writing your Family Cookbook.
(The cookbook images are from my personal copy. Just remember, this is well over30 years old, so there are a few spills, smears and tears. I use this one all the time, and others have, as well!)
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My Family Cookbook
To this day, I depend on my family’s recipes. They are still favorites and evoke wonderful memories of days gone by. My Aunts Dot and Evelyn were wonderful cooks. Both cooked simple foods, but each had an area of expertise.
Aunt Dot was known far and wide for her cake decorating skills. Each year for our birthdays, we got to pick out a design. These cakes were such works of art, we wouldn’t let anyone cut into them. Instead, Mom had to bake a regular, but super delicious, chocolate cake with chocolate icing to serve.
Evelyn, on the other hand, specialized in candies. Her chocolate covered cherries would make a candy chef weep with jealousy, and her Martha Washington candy was asked for every year at Christmas.
My brother, Mark, is a great cook, and grew up to become a Nutritionist. He was always wanting to cook something he remembered from childhood. Since he didn’t have the recipes, he would call me.
It finally dawned on me this would be a perfect Christmas gift. So, I collected every recipe I could find and put it into a Family Cookbook for him. With the help of PrintMaster and PrintShop, and almost a full year of working on it, his Christmas gift was a success. Well, actually, it was too BIG of a success…*
Where to Start
Every family has their recipes. Writing a cookbook helps to preserve them all in one place. And what better gift for a family member than something that can be enjoyed, then handed down for generations.
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.
You also want stories that surround the recipes or the person who prepared them. Was it the one thing insisted upon at all family gatherings? Was there a food fight that erupted one Thanksgiving? Ask for stories and memories for each one.
This may mean you need to spend an afternoon at Aunt Jane’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.
It may mean talking personally to every member of the family, as well as friends of the family whose recipes are include. But doing that isn’t all bad – you get to spend a pleasant afternoon reminiscing.
Don’t forget to record the conversations. Using a recording device will help you to remember all those details that make the stories special.
You can have the relatives that live eight states away email them to you, or send a copy of them in the mail.
As you wait for all the recipes to arrive, it’s time to sit down and get organized. Decide how you want to lay it out. What do you want to add? What categories do you need? Be sure to pay attention to any hand-written notes on the sides of the original recipes.
How to Organize your Cookbook
For me, I had a particular chronology I wanted. It may be different for you, but to at least give you an idea, here is how I did mine:
The Dedication – A Note to my Brother
This was a personal, fun note to Mark. It explained what it is and why I did it, plus a few ‘memories’ thrown in for good measure.
A page for every contributing person. Mine has their name, date of birth and date of death (if applicable). It lists who they are married to, children and any grandchildren. From there, I wrote a few paragraphs of who they are or favorite stories.
And 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.
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.
- Cake, Cookies and other Sweets
- Kid Approved Snacks – this 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.)
- Soups & Stews
- Alien Recipes – this section holds all those that don’t fit into any other category, like my recipe for Homemade Sangria.
Each page – whether Category or individual recipe, was done on graphic arts software, such as PrintShop and PrintMaster. If I was to do it today, I would probably use a program such as Canva. PrintShop and Printmaster are good, but limited as to your choices.
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.
Assembling your Family Cookbook
This can be done two different ways. The first involves a 3-ring binder large enough to hold all the recipes. This is how Mark’s was done.
I put two recipes in a plastic page protector, back to back. The Category pages went in one by itself and I added a file tab on the edge for easy access to each section.
Once the entire cookbook was completed, I added a Title page (The Stephenson Family Cookbook) and slipped it in the plastic slot on the front of the notebook.
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.
A second way to do it is to use a self-publishing company such as Book Baby. They will do it in bound or spiral style. Considering the amount of ink you would have to use printing copies, it may just be less expensive and easier on you to do it this way. I am seriously considering reformatting Mark’s.
The downside of this type of printing is you can’t add ‘lost’ recipes. You can just type them up and stick them in the book, but you run a big risk of losing them again. Or, you can just wait until you have collected enough of them and create a ‘Volume Two’!
*Why I am Considering Reformatting
You can just consider this a friendly warning…
I only made two copies of the original Family Cookbook –one for Mark and one for me. It was the most popular gift that year and everyone else wanted a copy. That amounted to 15 more between family and friends. That is a lot of printer ink, notebooks and page protectors.
Not only that, the graphic software I used no longer works on my computer, and when I originally created the cookbook, I saved it on 3.5″ disks – which also no longer work.
After quite a bit of searching, I finally found an old computer that would ‘read’ the software and disks. But that is an impractical way to keep printing out more – both with the computer and the cost. Instead, I have chosen to reformat it in a simple print form.
In spite of the cost, the next year I had 85% of my Christmas list done by February. I spread the cost of supplies out over several months. By July, most of my gifts were already stored in a closet, just waiting to be wrapped. That was almost worth the price.
I did add one 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. The memories you evoke, both for yourself while compiling the book, and for others who read it and help you with the stories, are priceless.
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.