Make your own heirloom cookbook

Preserve your family's culinary classics with this fun project.

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Gather your family’s favorite recipes into one amazing cookbook that only gets better with time. You’ll love adding your own special touches and your family will love contributing favorite dishes to it.

“There is a tremendous sense of comfort in cooking family recipes that represent my whole life,” says Norciva Shumpert, 61, from Gaultier, Miss., whose mother started her heirloom cookbook. “These recipes seem to continue the bond to our past life experiences and family rituals.”

Here are some expert tips on making a family cookbook of your own:

Plan ahead

First, decide how to gather and present the recipes. Think about what works for your family and what kind of information you plan to include with each recipe. You might add stories, photos, old handwritten recipe cards, or other accents. Figure out the number of recipes you want to include, and the way you plan to classify them.

Spread the word

Get the family involved. Ask sons, daughters, grandkids, nieces, and nephews to share their favorites. Call, e-mail, and write to find out who has old family recipes. Whet their appetite by sharing the names of  recipes you definitely want to include. Get your grandchildren involved; ask them to help decorate the cookbook.

Make notes

Many of your best dishes are those you have been making for years without referring to a recipe. Keep a notebook, note cards, or a binder to help you organize thoughts as they come up, suggests Amanda Formaro, 42, from Twin Lakes, Wisc., who blogs at amandascookin.com. “Be diligent and take lots of notes,” says Formaro. “You’ll never remember everything. Even if you think you will, you won’t.”

Write in specifics

Make sure the recipes are clear. Also, give credit to the cooks who developed them and to the family members who love the dishes. Remember, you may be a more experienced cook than your children are; it’s important that everyone can follow the clear-cut cooking instructions. “If your Aunt Margaret’s recipe for Christmas cookies says to bake in a moderate oven, be sure to find out the proper numerical temperature so that as time goes by — and older terms disappear — the recipe can live on,” suggests Formaro.

Include other elements

Keep it fun by including anecdotes (about the recipes or the people), photos, or other mementos that help reveal your family history. But don’t stress over making it look perfect. “Keep it simple, take photos of the food, and write down the memories to go along with it,” says Brenda Birrell, 49, a grandmother from Orem, Utah. If you have the time, it’s a good idea to keep recipe documents on your computer, so you can print them to make copies of the book.

Decide on a format

As recipes start piling up, visualize the way you’ll put them together. Think about where they would work best — on the computer exclusively, in a scrapbook, or in a binder. Or you can have more than one format. “Now, the books are evolving into an electronic file as we e-mail them to each other,” says Shumpert, who still has her mother’s handwritten recipes. “Our family will keep the old and continue creating our new, easy to find and [to] use electronic version.” Whatever you decide, be sure to keep recipes in laminated or easy-to-clean plastic to protect them from food splashes and other damages.

Ambitious crafters can also make a fancy, bound hardcover version. Do your research — online sites offer everything you need to bind a book, including printing, layout, and design. The drawbacks are the substantial costs and the difficulty of adding new pages to a bound book.

For another keepsake cooking idea, try making a video cookbook!

Show off your hard work

Let the family see your completed project, or surprise family members with the keepsake at a special occasion. However you decide to present it, it’s important to explain that it’s always a work in progress. As your family grows, so will the recipes.

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Your cookbook is never complete; once you’ve built a foundation, you can continue to add your favorite recipes and continue to make it a cherished part of family history. “It’s one of the most memorable things I’ve ever done,” says Jill McDowell Lincoln, 50, from Liberty, Mo., who recently published the Calico Petals Cookbook containing four generations of family recipes.

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