How to Create a Meaningful Family Heirloom Cookbook

What a beautiful compliment it is when your grown-up son or daughter asks for one of your treasured recipes. And how sad if a beloved family member — and wonderful cook — passes on without leaving instructions for their most beloved culinary creations for future generations to enjoy. Creating an heirloom cookbook is a wonderful way to preserve an important part of your family’s history. You may feel a little daunted at the prospect of collecting and assembling diverse recipes into a cohesive, easy-to-use whole, but this worthwhile project is not as overwhelming as it sounds. Here’s how to break it down.

Collect

Contact family members of all ages, as well as longtime friends, to explain your project and ask for their help with heirloom recipes that are meaningful to your family. If an elderly matriarch (or patriarch) is not up to writing out her prized “receipts,” take the time to sit with her and transcribe; this is a lovely way to honor the older generation. You might want to consider organizing a combined recipe share/family reunion. This may be the perfect opportunity to renew or strengthen longstanding relationships Ö and perhaps heal some breaches.

Be Specific

Ask everyone to include exact measurements and temperatures, plus specific instructions. Explain that although experienced cooks may be able to figure what is meant by “season to taste” or “roast at a high heat,” a newbie or even a budding chef trying your specialty for the first time probably will not.

Assemble

Assemble all the submissions you receive, together with dog-eared recipes from your own card file or scrapbook. Don’t forget to transcribe any helpful or amusing hand-scrawled notes. Include dishes from your best-loved vintage cookbooks, like the Betty Crocker or Fannie Farmer edition you first learned to cook from, before the books themselves fall apart. Attribute and date recipes wherever possible.

Organize

Choose the system of organization that works best for you. You might want to divide your recipes into chapters according to their role in a meal — Appetizers, Soups, Main Courses, and so on. Alternatively, they could be classified by degree of difficulty — Beginner, Moderate, Advanced, Experts Only — or occasion — for example, Birthday, Holiday Dinner, Mothers’ Day Breakfast in Bed.

Test

Your cookbook will be even more of a treasure if you yourself take the time to kitchen test all recipe submissions to make sure they turn out as expected. What worked for Great-Aunt Mary using a wood burning stove and the ingredients available in her Midwest farm community fifty years ago may produce very different results in your modern New York electric kitchen.

Embellish

Anecdotes and memories will make your book sparkle. Cousin Leslie’s potato salad will be even more delicious if you are reminded of the Fourth of July picnic where you first tasted it. Include photos — both old and new — and drawings by family members. Choose a font that is appealing and easy to understand when the reader is in the midst of heavy kitchen action.

Bind

However you assemble your heirloom cookbook, make sure that the pages are safeguarded from kitchen splashes and spills, and that there is room to expand by adding additional paper. Probably the simplest method is to print out the pages you have compiled and put them together in a binder. Japanese stab binding is attractive and accommodates growth; acetate sheets may be used to protect the recipes and to cover the collection. If you would prefer to produce a “real” hardbound book, try one of the online publishing services such as Blurb.

By Laura Firszt, Networx.com.

62 comments

Elena Poensgen
Elena Poensgen4 years ago

Thank you :)

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Julia Oleynik
Julia Oleynik4 years ago

Good idea:) Thank you for sharing

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Stardust Noel
Past Member 4 years ago

I have recipes from my mother & her mother, my grandmother.

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Judie B.
Judie B4 years ago

My mother gave me a recipe (I think from Grandma, but I'm not sure) for brownies from scratch. They're very easy and I've made them several times for the office potlucks and fundraisers. They go VERY quickly and people keep asking me for the recipe. Even people that normally don't eat brownies tell me they've gone back for thirds. :)

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Judie B.
Judie B4 years ago

I have several recipes from relatives that I typed up and laminated. I'm glad I got them when I did, because some of these beloved family members have since passed on and their recipes could not have been recreated. I have them from my mother's side and my father's side, as well as my boyfriend's family. I've also created a few of my own that people keep asking for. The laminate means they will never fade or be destroyed by spills. I also scanned them into an external hard drive, just in case!

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Natasha Salgado
Past Member 4 years ago

Thank you

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Hent Catalina-Maria

Thanks!

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Carol P.
Carol P4 years ago

Neat idea, though I'll likely never tackle something like this simply because it would be so time intensive, and I personally think of recipes as inspiration more than directions.

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Jacqueline S.
Jacqueline S4 years ago

I have many of my mother's recipe cards and want to start adding my own before it is too late.

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Wendy Whipple
Wendy Whipple4 years ago

There's also a book, Creating an Heirloom: Writing Your Family's Cookbook (available on Amazon), that goes into great detail about this very subject that I researched extensively and used my family's cookbook as a learning experience -- so you won't make the same mistakes I did! ISBN: 1494292521 for the print edition, also available for Kindle.

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