Do You Need A Family Cookbook?
Do you have recipes all over the place? Do you find that family and friends sometimes ask for your recipes? Do you find yourself asking for theirs?
My wife B has an old cookbook that was handed down from her grandmother, put together almost a hundred years ago by a Mennonite church group. B still consults it on occasion and cooks up some great comfort food — the kind we especially appreciated during the COVID lockdown.
So when I heard from Bill Rice, founder of the Family Cookbook Project, I was immediately interested. This is a website that helps families and individuals collect and share their memories of food — and all that goes with it.
I asked him for some background on his project . . . and how you go about digitalizing your recipes, organizing them on the computer and then, if you’re really ambitious, printing out a family cookbook.
This is what he told me:
Genealogy is the tracing of your family roots, focusing on births, marriages, deaths. But genealogy only tells a small part of the story. So much of our lives is undocumented — our jobs, our hobbies, our friends, our family relationships. These things are never recorded
One aspect of our lives that is often written down, but not always shared, is the tradition around food. Those old-time recipe boxes filled with handwritten recipes are often family treasures. The recipes may have been clipped out of a newspaper, or provided by a friend, but often there is not a lot of perspective on why that recipe was important. There’s only so much you can fit on a 4 X 6 index card.
Sharing a recipe box is also difficult as it is typically one of a kind, and it takes a lot of work to copy and share with other family members. But in today’s digital world, family cookbooks have changed all that. Today we can collect our recipes, put them online, organize them, format them into cookbooks, and even have them printed.
These cookbooks typically contain a lot more than just recipes. They often feature photos of the ingredients, the food, and the people who made it. They usually include personal notes and memories about each dish — when it was enjoyed, who ate it, why it was important to us.
Preserving these recipes means we will also be remembered by future generations. For example, I was recently looking through my grandmother’s recipe box. I came across a recipe for Scottish shortbread that was attributed to my great grandmother May Ann McDougall Peatie, born in Scotland in 1883. The recipe had been buried and forgotten in a pile of old papers. But now it’s part of my own family cookbook . . . so everyone can now enjoy these traditional Scottish shortbread cookies, and give a thanks to Grandma Peatie.
Here are some tips on creating your own family cookbook:
Go through your recipe collection and pick the most meaningful recipes that bring back memories of a family gathering or special event.
For those recipes that you never wrote down because you’ve made them so many times you know them by memory, make the dish again. But this time write down the recipe step-by-step as you prepare it.
Measure the ingredients! Even if you use a “handful” of something, take a handful and put it into a measuring cup, and write it down before throwing it in the pot.
Write personal notes about why this recipe is important, who gave it to you or any special memories of meals when it was served. My mother’s Chicken Supreme will always remind me of her serving it at the rehearsal dinner for my wedding.
Including photos is a great way to make your cookbook special, and help preserve those personal memories.
Consider making it a family affair. Ask family members to contribute their favorite recipes, along with their memories of why they are special or important.
Behind every recipe you love is a story you want to share — and a family cookbook makes that sharing a lasting heirloom.
Time To Get Your Family Cookbook Together
There are several ways to get your family cookbook together — and then you can print it out at FedEx or another printing service, or publish it through Amazon’s self-publishing unit. But the Family Cookbook Project website does seem to offer an easy and effective way to do it.
I have not used the program myself, so I cannot personally vouch for it. But it sure looks like, uh, a tasty way to go about it, especially if you want your great grandchildren to enjoy your special cookies, or any other traditional family dish.