This year for Christmas, my mother in law gave us a treasure: A collection of family recipes. It made me realize just how fun and important these recipes are, and how much I want to preserve them for my children and grandchildren. The good news is it's easy to do, and makes an excellent gift, no matter the occasion.
Begin by gathering together recipes. Start with any in your own cookbook or recipe card collection that are family favorites. Recipes often used during the holidays are an excellent choice, since your family will likely remember them for years to come, but also consider "every day" recipes that might have meaning.
Next, think about recipes you associate with your relatives. Brainstorm with your siblings or other relatives for ideas. Some relatives may not have a printed or written copies; they may keep the recipes in their head. This is an ideal time to get those recipes on paper so future generations can enjoy them. If you have cooks that don't use measures, set up a time to cook with that relative. As they toss in a handful of this and a pinch of that, measure out the ingredients and write them down.
For relatives who aren't nearby, considering sending out emails explaining the project and giving a deadline for submitting recipes. For relatives without email, send a snail mail letter or make a few phone calls. Be sure to promise a finished cookbook to every one who participates.
Once you've gathered recipes, you might think you're done. But I encourage you to do two addition things to make the cookbook a true heirloom: Gather anecdotes and images.
Write down memories or anecdotes about the recipes, whenever possible. For example, you could note that your mother made those special chocolate chip cookies whenever you had a hard day at school, or that grandma always made her famous chowder for Christmas Eve dinner. Interview the people who originally cooked the food in your family; perhaps they have an interesting story about where they got the recipe or why it became a family favorite. These sort of stories are golden!
Adding images to the cookbook is an excellent touch, too. Sure, you can include photos of what the food looks like when it's served, but better still, include family photos. For example, for each recipe, include a photo of the original family cook. Or add images of the food being served at a family function.
Another excellent way to add images to your family heirloom cookbook is to gather original recipe cards (typed or hand written), clippings, or cookbooks. Scan the recipes - including any hand written notes or food splatters - and use them to add interest to the cookbook. (If recipes might be difficult to read - for example, if they are hand written - do include a scan of the original, but also offer a neatly typed, easy to read version of the recipe.)
Next, put it all together. Type the recipes up in a word processing program like Microsoft Word, or a digital scrapbooking program. Add anecdotes or notes to the recipes. Add photographs and scans. Be creative!
If you'll only be "publishing" a few cookbooks, you can print all the copies at home. This uses quite a bit of ink, however, so you might consider printing just one copy, then having a professional photocopy shop make duplicates.
Although there are plenty of websites out there promising to make family cookbooks look gorgeous, I still think the best method of "publishing" them is the traditional one: With an ordinary binder and plastic sheet protectors.
Place two printed pages together, back to back, and slip them into one plastic sheet holder. This keeps the pages clean, neat, and mess free. Use divider sheets to break the recipes into categories. You can stick to standard cookbook categories like "main dishes," "soups," and "desserts," or divide the recipes by family traditions, holidays, or generations. Design a cover and slip it into the binder, too.
I usually also include a number of empty plastic sheet protectors so additional pages can easily be added.
And voila! You've just created a cookbook that will be passed down, generation to generation!