Create An InterGenerational Cookbook: A How-To

Remember mom’s special potato and cucumber salad, the recipe passed down from her potato farmer ancestors in Ireland (or so the story went)? How about grandma’s inimitable German Double Chocolate Cake? Or have you occasionally taken a crack at recreating Uncle Larry’s homemade birch beer? Recipes are unique to every family and every family has a patchwork of different tastes and customs from here there, and everywhere.

And every family can tell its unique history through its recipes. There’s an unwritten cookbook within each clan; the deeper you go, the richer the story becomes. Here’s how to research, assemble and showcase treasured recipes and create a one-of-a-kind cookbook that will go down in family history.

Personal cookbook creation just requires love, time, and a little patience. And, no, you don’t have to be an experienced food blogger or chef.  Here are eleven steps for getting it done.

  1. Create a timeline. After all, this is family history as well as recipes. Decide where you want to start with your family story and where you want to end, and then map it out into time periods.  Maybe create a page or section for each period of your life or your immediate or extended family’s life together.  Use a notebook and write down your own memories from each period, memories connected to food, family celebrations, and family trips.
  2. Start going through the family scrapbooks and photo albums. What better reason to dig into those shoeboxes of random family photos?. Old snapshots may spark memories of bygone meals and the nostalgia-evoking recipes that go with them.
  3. Who’s got what? Talk to your siblings, aunts, uncles, parents, grandparents, maybe even add neighbors if they were the source of memorable dishes from the past. If there are recipes remembered but not written down, your contributor can make an audio file which you can then transcribe.
  4. Match up: Pair recipes with photos (your mom at the old stove, your grandmother taking bread out of the oven, your younger sister with sticky fingers making fudge, etc.). Failing photos, use drawings, doodles, jokes, anecdotes that family members will relate to. Visuals make words on a page come to life. Maybe you can create a running story starting with a grandparent or even a great-grandparent and carry it along with photos, recipes, and a little narrative up to the present day.
  5. So you have a recipe for a goofy Mac and Cheese with spinach that appeared on the table every other Wednesday but whose origins are lost to history? No need to exclude it. Be creative. Speculate on its origins and ingredients!
  6. Look at how other cookbooks are organized. Study their layout and design.  There may be one format that speaks to you. Do you want your cookbook to include such traditional categories as breakfast, lunch, and dinner? Soups, salads, main courses, side dishes, dessert, and drinks? Or maybe organizing it seasonally is a better way to record your family culinary story. Maybe devote a section to a kitchen-happy  relative and the dishes he or she was known for in your tribe. Consider whether you will be presenting family recipes with a running narrative, or whether you are writing a family memoir sprinkled with recipes. Not sure? Just gather your recipes and watch for a natural outline to emerge,
  7.  How long or short? You are the creator/producer and it helps to know if this is a booklet or a more ambitious Joy of Cooking-style project.  Let the recipes themselves guide you. But don’t sweat it. A warm and friendly but short free-flowing collection of recipes can be just as compelling as a long tightly organized one.
  8. Give credit where credit is due. If your cousin’s recipe for Chicago Firehouse Thin Crust pizza came from a published cookbook, say so. On the other hand, if you or cousin Judy adapted more than four ingredients in that or any other recipe, it’s now yours/hers in this new form so don’t fret about plagiarism.
  9. Tasting and testing. It would be nearly impossible to test every recipe you get, but read each entry carefully and red flag any measurements or ingredient combinations that sound unworkable. Remember to say in your introduction that you have not personally tested the recipes and that you trust the integrity and memory of the contributors.
  10. Decide on design and layout. Find a design template on your computer to bring your cookbook to life. There are plenty of “drag and drop“ ways to add photos and recipes. Enlist one of your more techie contributors to help, if need be.
  11. Proofread. Go over the finished copy and ask your contributors to do the same to make sure there are no typos or mistakes.
  12. Final Words: Don’t forget to do a table of contents and a page thanking everyone who was a part of the project.

Ready, Set, Publish: :  3 Options

* Binders with pages in sheet protectors.  A good choice since it is less tech-intensive and pages can be added or subtracted. Bonus?  Page protectors make it easy to use in the kitchen.

 * Scrapbook. Charming and old-timey idea but difficult to make duplicates. Especially if you’re duplicating for a large family.

*Pricier more professional options:   Already using software for scrapbooking? Why not use it to create a story cookbook which you could inexpensively duplicate?  Or check out online photo book software which is perfect for small units of text with photos.  You can re-order multiple hardbound copies.

Last but not least, if you’ve invested considerable time and cash in this project, consider letting the family help underwrite it. Put a price on each copy, just like a real publisher. Or perhaps the money could go to a charity that the family agrees on. And don’t forget the soup-to-nuts celebratory family dinner!

As Julia Child once observed, “People who love to eat are the best people.”.And so are people like your family members who love to make the recipes we eat generation after generation!

-Frances Goulart

Photo by James Lee on Unsplash

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