Family cookbooks are a traditional part of the family heirloom. To understand your culinary roots – to know the methods and recipes of the older generations of your family – is to understand the people and culture that shaped you.
“Quite often you cook something the way your mother did before you,” the columnist and cookbook author Nigella Lawson wrote in an article for the New York Times a few years ago.
Lawson then went on to describe how a cook will cut the ends off a roast because her mother does it. She says her mother does it because her grandmother did it, too.
The cultural punchline is that years later, Lawson learned from her grandmother that she cut the ends off her roast only because her oven was too small to accommodate the entire cut of beef.
- 1 The Art of Family Culinary Heritage: Building Your Legacy Cookbook
- 1.1 Why Start a Family Cookbook?
- 1.2 Why Writing a Family Cookbook Is Your Job
- 1.3 How to Organize, Prepare, and Write Your Family Cookbook
- 2 Finding Your Inspiration
- 3 Your Culinary Legacy is a Tribute to the Past, Present, and Future of Your Family
The Art of Family Culinary Heritage: Building Your Legacy Cookbook
Why Start a Family Cookbook?
Preparing any dish in the way older members of your family did provides a sense of belonging and connection to your family’s unique past. This is true for the home-cooked meals that people serve in Asia and Africa as it is for the food prepared in the homes of the West.
Organizing your family’s recipes in a well-written cookbook ensures that their experiences, achievements, and stories continue to live on through the food your loved ones enjoy today.
Family cookbooks are a tangible inheritance. In many ways, they are just as important – and more accessible – to future generations of your family as jewelry, antiques, and furniture.
Why Writing a Family Cookbook Is Your Job
With age comes experience in the kitchen. Older members of the family are more likely to have mastered the art of cooking over the years. They have honed their recipes through trial and error. Their experience in cooking techniques and understanding of flavours can enrich the family cookbook.
Many traditional family recipes are not written down. They have been handed down from one generation to the next by word of mouth. These recipes can only exist in the memories and practices of older family members. Documenting these family recipes requires firsthand knowledge that only seniors can provide.
By definition, a family cookbook brings together recipes, historic accounts, and memories. Only older generations of the family can provide an authentic context, anecdotes, and personal stories essential to any worthwhile family cookbook.
How to Organize, Prepare, and Write Your Family Cookbook
Gather any existing family recipes from handwritten notes, old cookbooks, or recipe cards. Contact relatives for their favourite recipes. If they have notes and recipe cards, make copies. Be sure you return them. Those records are valuable.
Be sure you have a diverse selection of recipes from family members and generations. That is the best way to create an accurate representation of the family’s culinary heritage.
Curate a mix of recipes that involve a range of flavours, difficulties, and cooking techniques. Include as rich a variety of dishes as you can.
Collect recipes for appetizers, mains, sides, and desserts to make sure that your family cookbook offers a comprehensive culinary experience.
Add Emotional Depth to Your Family Cookbook
To ensure that your family cookbook is a comprehensive, meaningful, and entertaining record of your family’s culinary tradition, encourage contributors to share special anecdotes or memories associated with the recipes. This will add a touch of emotional depth to your cookbook.
You can emphasize a sense of history in your family cookbook by encouraging older contributors to relive memories associated with each dish.
Ask them for any personal details not just about the dishes, but also about cooking and family gatherings.
Write well-organized notes for the personal details and other information like ingredients, measurements, and stories or memories associated with the dishes. Remember to write down all the recipes as accurately as you can.
Tips on Preparing Work Notes for Your Family Cookbook Project
Once you have gathered the recipes, it’s time to roll your sleeves up and organize your notes for the writing. Now, an enormous part of the process of writing takes place long before you commit the first word to a page.
If you feel that you need to shake some rust off your writing chops, go online to enrol in a quick writing course. Many web-based skills-sharing websites offer affordable writing services suitable for seniors.
When done, group the recipes you gathered by categories such as soups, salads, and breads. You should have separate categories for appetizers, main courses, and desserts.
Later on, you can group the recipes by season. That way you can be certain that fresh ingredients are available for each recipe in your family cookbook. For example, winter is great for hearty one-pot meals. You can recommend casseroles with root vegetables, grains, and proteins like chicken or beef.
Creamy, comforting dishes like mushroom risotto or pasta with hearty sauces are also good for winter. Many home recipes even infuse those with seasonal vegetables like winter greens. Summer is a great time for fresh seafood like grilled shrimp, ceviche made with fresh fish, or light seafood pasta dishes.
For an even more engaging narrative, your preparatory notes should highlight the emotional aspect of revisiting old recipes and the stories behind them.
Tips on Committing Your Cookbook to the Page
Once all that is done, the writing itself becomes fun and easy. Below are a few tips.
- Avoid overly technical jargon.
- Write your family cookbook in your voice.
- Remember, this family cookbook is your legacy.
- It should convey your style and personality.
- If a particular recipe demands specialized language, be sure you explain each in terms that an 11-year-old child would understand.
- While it’s essential to capture current recipes, consider the longevity of the cookbook.
- Include timeless classics and recipes that have stood the test of time to ensure their relevance for future generations.
- Consider including cooking tips, ingredient substitutions, or variations to make the cookbook more versatile and helpful for different cooking styles and dietary needs.
- You should test the family’s special favourites as you write about them.
- Check if the flavours, and seasonings are as you remember them.
- This will help to ensure that your family cookbook contains accurate measurements, cooking times, and instructions.
- Be detailed and precise in your directions to guide readers effectively.
- Take your time. Take as long as you need to write well.
- Show your appreciation by including a section where contributors’ names can be displayed.
- It adds a personal touch and recognizes their contribution.
- Consider the practicality and the usability of your family cookbook, not only for you but also for people outside the family.
- Include a table of contents and an index.
- You should revise and edit the finished first draft in stages. Do not expect to spot everything in one pass.
- If each time you review your family cookbook, you focus on a different aspect of construction, you will be more likely to catch mistakes or identify any issues.
- Have someone from the family do the final proofreading and editing of the draft. Share and compare notes. Make sure nothing meaningful or important is lost in the editing process.
- Before finalizing, proofread the content again – this time more meticulously. Ensure consistency in formatting, spelling, and instructions. Consider having a test group try out the recipes to catch any potential issues.
Designing the Layout and Choosing a Format for Your Cookbook
Choose a layout that’s easy to read and follow. To make your family cookbook more engaging, add photographs and illustrations. You might want to include space for notes or comments for people to personalize their experience with the recipes, as well.
While a physical book is lovely, consider digital formats, too. Websites, eBooks, or even apps can be convenient and easily shareable among family members.
If you decide you want to engage the services of professionals to have a few physical copies of the book printed, use high-quality materials. Do not forget to store digital copies of your family cookbook in multiple locations to prevent loss.
Be Wary of Adjectives.
One can be forgiven for assuming that it’s impossible to write a family cookbook without drowning the pages in adjectives. We can almost hear you asking, “How would one describe food without employing adjectives?”
In fact, you may be tempted to use several to describe the meal you enjoyed just light night. Even experienced writers can make that mistake from time to time.
But the truth is that adjectives water down your writing. They cause reader fatigue, too. After being bombarded by too many adjectives, readers get confused.
They have to analyze each adjective and decide which one best portrays the object or situation you are attempting to describe.
This is why anyone who has ever written anything for a newspaper will tell you that editors will sometimes cross out all adjectives on a page.
When it comes to adjectives, there is a thin line between just right and overdoing do it. If you are new to writing, the rule is to avoid adjectives altogether – or if you find yourself tempted to use two or three in a row, to at least try using just one.
If you must, then choose the adjective that best describes the object or sentiment about which you are writing. For example, instead of using “red”, “juicy”, “sweet”, and “succulent” to describe an apple, try using just “juicy.”
Rather than writing sentence after sentence full of adjectives, try to expand your narrative. The next time you sit down for a meal, take note of everything else that is happening around you.
What is the weather like outside the window? Do you hear the birds in the trees outside? What does the kitchen smell like? If you are with friends, remember the conversation. What was it about?
When you get back to writing, include those details in your family cookbook. That way you will write more engaging prose – and more readers will better appreciate your writing style.
Don’t be too hard on yourself, though. A first draft that is peppered with adjectives is fine. First drafts are for polishing and improvement. As you go on writing, you will learn when and how to use adjectives the right way.
Finding Your Inspiration
In the rush and roar of daily life, it is easy to forget that good cooking is a familial activity. If you cook, then chances are there was once someone in your life who cooked for you.
That may have been a parent, a sibling, a grandparent, an uncle, or an aunt. For some, it was a grandmother whom everyone in the family – and anyone else who may have had the luck to find a place at her table – agreed was a gifted cook.
You may have watched her fuss over the arrangement of a bowl of fruits and vegetables, or over the lighting of a dining room before a dinner party.
You may have observed her inspect fish at the seafood market and – if it was not to her liking – wince, shake her head left to right, and move on to the next stall.
She was adamant, thorough, and firm when it came to cooking and serving food. And it was no surprise to you that she was the same way when it came to the ideas and values she chose to share with you.
The more you have aged, the more you have felt the urgency of this person’s work and the need for her kind of enthusiasm.
Now that she is gone and your hair is just as white as hers was when you were young, you may wonder where it is that you stand in her legacy.
For many older people, that place is in the kitchen. The kitchen is a hallowed corner of the house, after all – a space where families sit down to talk, cook, and eat together. For families that enjoy meals together, culinary tradition is a part of the family heritage.
Every family has a family cookbook. Whether written on scraps of paper or preserved in the memories of family members, the family cookbook is there.
You will find the bare beginnings of your family cookbook in the way you organize your kitchen. It is in the way you choose ingredients. It is in the particular way that you season a pan or prepare vegetables.
Most food writing is about eating. But cooking is not only about the taste and satisfaction a meal can bring but also about the stories, values, and little culinary techniques passed down from one generation to the next.
Yes, it’s hard to write all that down. Writing is never easy. That is also why it is a fun challenge worthy of your time.
That said, if you can remember some of the wistfulness you experience when you smell or taste food that takes you back to your childhood, then you already have the basic foundations of your family cookbook waiting for you.
Your Culinary Legacy is a Tribute to the Past, Present, and Future of Your Family
In the 1990s, a man named Bob Watson was browsing through items in a car boot sale in East Sussex, England, when he came upon a 200-year-old handwritten family housekeeping and cookbook.
“The handwriting changes halfway through and I’ve since learned that these books were handed from mother to daughter and passed down over the generations,” Watson later told the BBC.
Twenty years later, and with the help of an organization called the Deddington History Society, Watson found the author’s oldest living relative. The author’s great-great-great grandson was a 90-year-old man living in Sussex, England.
Watson returned the book to the relative in a little ceremony held at a chapel where the family worshipped in Essex.
While the turnover occasioned a small gathering of family and people who had helped Watson to track them, the subject of the ceremony had generated such public interest that the press was at hand to cover the event.
“It feels strange to hand it over – it’s been a part of my life – but all the searching has finally paid off,” Watson said. “It’s amazing how a book can have such an impact.”
A family cookbook is more than just a collection of recipes. The best family cookbooks are more than just an inheritance, as well.
Your family cookbook is a record of the joyous- sometimes sad – but always interesting times in which the people of your lineage have lived. This is an extraordinary premise for any project.
We think it also makes for a worthwhile tribute to those who came before you, a special gift to celebrate with those of your family whose lives are now intertwined with yours, and a wonderful homage to future your family’s future generations.
What do you think?