Creating and Designing a Family Cookbook and Genealogy

Often the things we remember most about our families is the food we eat when we are together. Every family has treasured recipes that are beloved as much for the memories they evoke as how they taste. Those recipes tell a sensual history of a family: of generations passing down good food, good experiences, joy, sympathy, love. Many emotions can be intimately tied to food and its preparation.

Turning those family favourites and heirloom recipes into a cookbook is an original and inspired way of telling your family's history. The story slides imperceptibly from family recipes, memories, and photographs to family history and genealogy. It is a more human way of connecting one's life to one's history. Sometimes looking at family tree charts and time-lines can seem quite abstract and clinical. Combining them with recipes and stories makes the history more immediate and accessible.

Steps to Create A Cookbook:

1. Collect the Recipes: Send an email or make a phone call to your relatives asking for their favourite recipes. Set a deadline for the submissions so people don't forget. Organize them into sections: breads, appetizers, main dishes, side dishes, desserts, etc. Don't forget to include the name of the person who submitted the recipe.

2. Test a few of the recipes: Old recipes that have been passed down through the generations are often taught by example. The actual written part of the recipe functions as short-hand notes. Baking temperatures or times are often not included. It might be best to test these so that modern cooks won't find them so difficult.

3. Collect Memories: Ask for people to submit memories of your grandma's or great grandma's kitchen. Memories of when the food was served, or what particular dishes meant to people. Share traditions surrounding the preparation of a dish. Don't forget those memories when the food was burned but the evening was glorious. Or tender moments shared over a cup of tea and a cookie.

4. Collect photographs: Ask for photographs of your family preparing or eating that food. Don't forget photos of the prize winning vegetables grown in grandma's garden, or the apron that everyone begged to wear. Scan handwritten copies of recipes that are special. If certain family members don't cook, this is their area to shine. They can submit memories of eating their favourite foods. Make sure everyone is included.

5. Design your cookbook: The easiest way to design a book is to use a special book design program like InDesign or Publisher. However, you can do it in Word or any text editing software if you can't access these more specialist programs. Make sure you use fonts that are easy to read (like Times New Roman, Ariel, Lucida...). Include photos and memories on the recipe pages where appropriate. Design a title page for each section.

6. Family History: Make sure you include a written history of your family as far back as you can go. Also include family tree charts, photos of old homesteads, photos of relatives, and anything else you think might be relevant or interesting.

7. Introduction: Don't forget to write an introduction explaining why you decided to compile the cookbook and why you think it is special.

8. Indexes: Create an index of recipe titles. It is also useful to create an idex of contributers, so that people can easily find their recipes or memories in the book.

9. Publishing your book: You can print it at home and bind it with staples or in ring binders. Or, you can bring the file to a copy shop and have them print and bind it professionally.

Some Highlights of Our Cookbook:
  • It is over 200 pages long
  • Our family recipe for gingersnaps goes back at least 4 generations!
  • It took us just one month to design (but over a year to collect all the recipes)
  • We included Low German (plautdietsch) songs and rhymes that we used to sing as children
  • I did a watercolour illustration of a favourite recipe for each title page
  • Each watercolour features yellow gingham, because our grandmother had a beautiful yellow gingham apron.
I have uploaded an abridged version (not all 224 pages) to Issuu, where you can page through the book for inspiration. Enjoy! To see the cookbook in a larger screen, just click on it.

Note: In order to be able to see it you will have to visit my blog, for some reason Issuu doesn't work in feed readers or facebook.