A family cookbook is a beautiful way to keep those favorite family recipes alive from generation to generation. You can keep it simple or expand it to include personal stories that share the memories they created.
There is something magical about our favorite foods because they have the ability to transport us back to our childhood. Grandma’s cherry cheesecake, Aunt Hazel’s garlic dill pickles, Uncle Walter’s onion bread.
Trying to recreate their dishes can be difficult or made impossible if they are no longer with us. Some people are severely tight-lipped when it comes to sharing their recipes; others are more than happy to let you carry on their tradition.
Creating a Family Cookbook
Putting together a family cookbook is a wonderful way to share all those favorite dishes you all love. Many of our elders don’t use a recipe except for the one in their heads.
Others are on grease-covered and much-loved index cards in scratchy old writing. Putting them all together for everyone to share is a great way of keeping them—and their food—alive.
To start, ask family members which recipes they would most like to capture. Then start gathering the recipes that have been in your family for years. Hopefully, you can still ask your Aunt Muriel for her peach cobbler recipe.
Digital or Hard Copy?
Each has advantages. A digital reference can easily be added to as well as shared with families that may be scattered all over the world. A traditional printed version, on the other hand, makes a nice gift and keepsake.
It is easier to add photos on a digital copy, as printing color photos can be expensive. Including a few in a printed copy is likely worth the expense, though, to let people know how the finished dish should look.
If you go for print, leave several blank pages at the back for newer entries so people can add recipes and make notes.
If you want the best of both worlds, there are websites that make it easy by providing you the tools to create your own online or printed collection of your family’s fabulous recipes, photos, and kitchen stories.
Gathering the Recipes for your Family Cookbook
Obviously, the best way to get the recipes is to ask for them. But don’t just write them down. If possible, visit older relatives and ask if you can make the dish with them.
They will love the idea that you want to learn how to make their cake or casserole, and you both can benefit from family time together. If you make the dish together, you can see exactly how Aunt Susie folded in that cheese.
It can also prove to be challenging to capture the recipe as Grandma likely uses a dash of this and pinch of that. That method actually works really well, as each time the dish is prepared it tastes just a little different.
Some people are very protective of their recipes and may leave out a certain secret ingredient. If they don’t actually have the recipe written down, making it with them is the only way you will find out what’s really in it.
It also helps younger people who are making it to make it with their own personal touch. It’s still carrying on a tradition but with a modern and personal touch. Leave the recipe as is, with a dash and a pinch. Let the maker work out what that means.
Old School Hard Copies
If you are lucky enough to still have the person in your life, getting a hard copy is the best way to get the recipe. But, if they have passed on, or at least still have old recipe books and cards, go through them all.
Old recipe books likely have handwritten notes from your family member. Perhaps they made a note to add something or substitute something else. It’s lovely to see their handwriting in cookbooks and on recipe cards. It’s a mini-memoir in recipes.
Keep these and scan them to add to your family cookbook. You can always have a printed version accompanying the recipe but including their original keeps them with us every time the dish is made.
The grease spots and chocolate stains on the cards are a reminder of them every time the family cookbook is opened. Handwritten recipes are a relic of a different generation, but one that deserves to be preserved.
Tried and True
If you no longer have the person in your life or a physical copy of their famous stuffing, get your family together and try to make it yourselves. One person will swear there was always nutmeg in it while someone else swears there needs to be garlic.
Trying to replicate the dish is a fun family activity and food is such a big part of who we are as a family. Try the recipe several times until you get it as close as you can. It’s never a hardship when you are forced to eat your mistakes.
Food and families go together. It’s very often the only time families are all together. Keeping all the old family recipes together to share is one of the greatest ways of preserving your family traditions.