Have you inherited Grandma’s recipe collection and are looking for a way to share favorite family recipes? Maybe you’d like to create something for your own posterity based on your family’s culture or heritage. Making a family cookbook can bring families together and connect the next generation to their ancestors.
In part 1 of this series, Sarah Arnoff Yeomanm, photographer and creator of The Family Cookbook, shared her thoughts and experiences about food and family history. In part 2 of this series, Sarah gives us three tips for making our own family cookbook. You can see more examples and tips on Sarah’s website.
Whenever I talk to a new client or a family who wants to make a cookbook of their favorite recipes, the No. 1 reason they haven’t put together a book yet is that it’s just too big of a project. They’re right: Making a cookbook is a big project! But my goal with The Family Cookbook is to simplify big projects so they aren’t so overwhelming. I try to take most of the burden off the families who work with me by taking care of the photos, design, and printing of each book. But for those who prefer the DIY route, here are a few tips to preserve your family recipes for future generations.
Pick Your Platform
If your cookbook is going to be a binder with original recipe cards, all you need to do is, well, find a binder and some plastic sleeves and you are pretty much good to go. The only thing left is to organize your cards.
If your recipes are written down on old cards and papers, I beg you to preserve them! That handwriting is a priceless connection to your relatives and you won’t want those fragile documents crumbling to dust. I can’t tell you how many families I’ve worked with who pull out a chaotic folder of decades-old (sometimes century-old!) papers that are close to disintegrating. Even if you don’t end up with a beautifully organized cookbook, it is absolutely worth investing in some archival products to preserve these items.
Now, if you’re going to type up your recipes and print a book, there are a TON of online options for this. It can actually be pretty overwhelming, but I recently delved into the top six online platforms for making a cookbook and rated the pros and cons of each. From budget, to book formats, to ease of use, each DIY cookbook website fits different needs for different families.
Writing Down Recipes From Memory
I help my families tackle this tricky issue a lot! The thing about food traditions is that they are often not written down at all. For generations past, most recipes have been passed down through pure observation, and writing down quantities and methods is kind of an abstract concept.
Your best asset to writing down recipes for the first time (either from your memory or from a relative’s) is patience. You are transferring someone’s intuition onto paper and that’s not an easy task! So go slowly and don’t get frustrated if you can’t exactly pinpoint ingredient amounts or cooking techniques. Food is fluid and changes over time as well, so remember to note if someone in your family makes something differently than other relatives.
Don’t forget to document the stories around your family foods as well. I recommend interviewing relatives about the foods that are special to your family and getting all the stories and memories they can think of. Sometimes it’s best to do this while actually cooking since the act of cooking can jog memories and spark conversations.
Organize Your Book!
Once you’ve gathered as many recipes and stories as you can, it’s time to organize your book. You can stick to the traditional format of appetizers, entrees, desserts, etc., or get creative and organize them in a way that’s unique to your family. For example, you can design sections based on holidays and family gatherings, or divide your recipes up by author (this can be fun if multiple family members make versions of the same dish). I once had a family organize their book by day of the week. Another family divided up their recipes quarterly since they celebrated a version of Thanksgiving four times per year!
Once you’ve organized your recipes, make sure to add a detailed table of contents at the beginning of your book to make it user-friendly.
I love helping families preserve their food heritage, and if you need more ideas on how to make your own cookbook, I have several guides on my website that go into lots of detail. They include sample questions on how to record your recipes from memory and how to precisely archive your recipes both in a physical book and on a digital platform. They also have printable recipe templates so you can document everything.
Your family history isn’t just about genealogy and family trees. Your food is just as much a part of who you are. I hope these tips get you excited to create your own family cookbook and happy cooking!
Thanks, Sarah, for sharing these ideas!
Sarah Arnoff Yeoman is a photographer and the creator of The Family Cookbook co where she travels the country creating heirloom cookbooks for families who want to preserve their food traditions. She lives in Oregon with her husband, overweight cat, and a couple of old fig trees.