"For better or worse, we are what we learned as children." -- Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Family Cookbook Project

     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.

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     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.

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     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.


ApacheDug said...

This certainly sounds like a practical idea, I took a look at that website and liked the sample cookbook. I don't have any recipes handed down, but I do have a folder on my laptop of recipes I've come across online, tried & wanted to make again... I keep meaning to write them down before my computer kicks the bucket!

Tabor said...

A great idea...but I will probably never get around to it. I have the box of recipes from both my mother and my husband's mother, but fail to go through them.

DJan said...

I sure wish my mom was still around to share her recipe for turkey hash. I have tried, as have my sisters, to duplicate it, but all to no avail. I have grown old enough that I don't really want to find too much delicious food to eat, because then I have to wear it! :-)

Arkansas Patti said...

I wish I had some of my Dad's recipes but he was a pinch and a dab man. My siblings and I have tried to copy his famous Ropa Vieja, which freely translates into "old clothes" but was delicious. None of us have gotten close.

Anonymous said...

This is a nice idea. Food--flavors and tastes--are all bound up in our memories of where we grew up and who we grew up with. I still can recall the taste of my gradmothers cooking when she came to visit us from Chicago.

Kay said...

I did something like this when my kids left home for college. It's fun to see that they still use it. Since we moved back to Hawaii, I've watched mom prepare her favorite dishes and have added those to the book. I agree with you that it's something the kids will treasure.

Tom said...

What's amazing to me is that with all the recipes we have, they're still coming out with cookbooks! Still, imho, the old recipes are often the best recipes.

Mona McGinnis said...

A family cookbook was compiled 20 years ago. It was dedicated to my paternal Grandma and contains the recipes for her "famous" macaroons and "wicked" fudge. It contains a family history with some pictures. I'll be happy to share it with my granddaughters. "When I walk into my kitchen today, I am not alone. Whether we know it or not, non of us is. We bring fathers and mothers and kitchen tables and every meal we have ever eaten." - Molly Wizenberg (from A Homemade Life).

Wisewebwoman said...

What a brilliant idea Tom. I have a few recipes passed down and I think my sister does too but the rest of my siblings are brothers who would possibly not have an interest, I doubt if any of them cooks but I will throw the idea out as they're all into genealogy at the moment which as you say, are just the cold hard stats without personality.


gigi-hawaii said...

What my Korean mother and grandmother could tell me about Korean cuisine. Well, it's too late now. I like the whole concept of genealogy and recipes. Fascinating.

Olga said...

My family is filled with excellent cooks. Unfortunately, I am not one of them, but I do like to read recipes and fantasize about creating something delicious. I wish I had more of my mother's recipes. I have never seen a recipe for stuffed cabbage rolls the way my mother made them. I have searched online and I know that my mother did not use tomatoes or , God forbid, tomato soup.

Janette said...

I have to smile. I love to read "ethnic" cook books. No cookbook in my future....
My grandmother, God rest her soul, was a working woman before and after she was married. She did not learn how to cook because her own mother died when she was four. Her dad employed cooks for the Phoenix farm- who also cooked for her family as it grew. Nana, evidently, stopped by on the way home from the Territorial Capital or stationary store. She did make pies- with canned cherries. My grandfather was orphaned at five and learned to eat whatever anyone put on his plate since he was hired out to ranches to work.
My mother never learned to cook either. She job was setting the table (she can set a wicked table!)
My dad was raised by a "housekeeper" who cooked and then a boarding school cafeteria starting in first grade. His mother passed when he was two. His father traveled for work.
Dad could bbq a great trout over n open fire!
My husband's side is LDS and they have a ton of cookbooks- but no family ones. Both MIL and FIL were each the youngest of 13 from very poor families(one lived at the train station , the other lived in a three bedroom house). Neither "baby" was allowed in the kitchen. My mother in law learned how to cook only when they moved to a different state for work.....With three boys (5,7,8), my MIL's food was simple and easy...no real exciting recipes in the works. They DID raise an amazing garden and ate from it year round. I have their notes on gardening! They will serve me well when we move back to Idaho.
Our marriage started with: a box of brownies, a can of Hormel Chili, Kraft Mac and Cheese and my husband's Betty Crocker cookbook from his first marriage. It has been an interesting 39 years.
Maybe a gardening and canning book would be what we could write :)

Susan Zarzycki said...

Thank you for the great info! I have a ton of recipes from friends and family. Notebooks and a huge cookie jar full of index cards of favorites collected and used often through my years of raising a family. I continue to collect recipes! It's just something I've always done.🌸