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Creating a Family Cookbook

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Almost every family has a treasured recipe, beloved as much for the memories it evokes of family get-togethers or a special family member, as it is for its taste. Most families have many such recipes, handed down through generations, taught to children, or squirreled away on index cards or scraps of paper.

A wonderful gift for family and friends, a family recipe book is a wonderful way to combine favorite family dishes with memories of treasured family moments and members. But how to turn those family culinary favorites into an actual family cookbook?

Collect the Recipes
Start by sending a letter to your relatives, asking everyone to send back one or more of their 'specialties' by a particular date. In the letter, be sure to encourage the submission of recipes that have been passed down from earlier generations, along with a story or photo of the family member best known for the recipe. Ask for memories of times spent cooking and/or eating together, as well as photos of holiday and other family get-togethers.

For best results, and to cut down on your workload, include a sample recipe format for submissions to follow. For example, you can ask family members list the ingredients in order, together with the quantities. A fill-in-the-blank recipe form can be useful here, because it helps remind people not to leave out important information like the cooking temperature, and you can also add spaces to encourage submitters to include a brief story about the recipe's creator or a favorite family memory. You may also want to ask family members to explain why they chose the particular recipe.

Items to Include on a Recipe Form

  • Name of the recipe
  • Name of the person contributing the recipe
  • Name of the person who originated the recipe (if different from the submitter)
  • The history of the recipe (Where did it come from and why is it special?)
  • Ingredients and quantities needed, in the order in which they appear in the directions
  • Cooking directions
  • Prep time and cooking time
  • The number of people the recipe serves
  • Any special cooking tips or advice

If your family is like mine, you most likely have a relative or two who never writes down recipes. In this case, try to elicit a nearby relative to visit this family member and watch them prepare the dish, translating "a pinch of this" and "a dash of that" into more precise measurements and keeping track of cooking times and temperatures. The helper should also ask the relative for any special tips they may have for obtaining the best results.

Tips for encouraging a reply:

  • Ask those that can to send their recipes and stories by email. You're not only more likely to receive more submissions, but you'll also be able to cut and paste the recipes right into your final document.

  • Since emailing good quality pictures can be so painful for many, consider joining a photo share site to make it easier for participants to upload their photos.

  • Set a deadline that allows family members at least a few weeks to gather together their recipes, but not so far out in the future that they forget about the project all together. You may also want to send a short reminder postcard or email a week or two before the final submission deadline.

  • For participants you know don't have email, try sending a SASE with your letter to boost the chance of a response.

  • If you're planning to sell the cookbook to help recoop your costs, it is still nice to offer free copies to everyone who contributes recipes, stories or photos.

Next Page > Assembling the Family Cookbook

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