Create Your Own DIY Cookbook
A Custom Recipe Book to Preserve Your Family Recipes for Generations to Come
One day as I was looking through my grandmother’s cookbook, I got the idea to make a DIY cookbook to preserve our family recipes. As members of my family have passed away, I have inherited many cookbooks and recipe cards from all sides of my family. I have my mother’s cookbook as well as that of my maternal grandmother, my mother-in-law, and my husband’s maternal grandmother. Within those books, I have found recipes from great-grandmothers as well.
As much as I love having these cookbooks, the sad reality is that I don’t use them much. Either I don’t think to pull them out for recipes when I’m planning meals or some of them are so fragile they are difficult to look through quickly. There’s also the common problem that recipes are simply tucked in here and there so it takes a long time to sort through the pages. Making a DIY cookbook to bring together all the best family recipes solves all these problems. It will be both clean, organized and easy to use, but also preserve the recipes and family history tied up in those old books.
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Starting Your DIY Cookbook
To begin, I asked all my living family members to send me the names of their favorite dishes anyone in the family makes. For this, I included my family as well as my husband’s and even a few very close family friends who have become like family. Once I had my list of dishes gathered, I started a table of contents. I organized items into categories: beverages, appetizers, sauces, soups, salads, side dishes, bread and rolls, main courses, special occasions, desserts, and food preservation. My goal was to organize it so that it was easy to find the recipes. I also started a list of dishes by family member so I could quickly see which recipes needed to come from whom.
Next, it’s time to start gathering the actual recipes and typing them up. For people who are living, I simply sent them an email request and many people sent back typed up recipes. For items from deceased relatives, I had to do more digging. I spent a lot of time going through the old cookbooks looking for the recipes. I’m glad I did this though because in the process I found some things I wanted to include which no one had named originally. It’s worth the time to go through every page of the old cookbooks you have and look at the recipes because there might be a dish that had been forgotten but was a real classic you don’t want to lose.
Though I typed out every recipe for clarity’s sake in the new cookbook, when I found handwritten recipes, I scanned or photographed them so I could include that piece of history as well. I was also sure to record any special memories people shared about the foods during the process. I put a section at the bottom of each page for special notes where I included these pieces of history.
Once I had all my recipes gathered and typed out, I began the process of making the dishes. It was important to me that I try everything so I knew that the recipes were clear and correct. After all, what use is a recipe that doesn’t make sense or doesn’t work? As I prepared dishes, I made small edits to the recipes and took pictures. This part of the process took the longest, but it really fine-tuned the cookbook. Many of my grandmother’s recipes, for example, were more ingredient lists than actual recipes. Making the dishes allowed me to fill in the missing pieces.
Because I wanted this DIY cookbook to preserve not only the recipes but also some of the family memories, I included some fun additions like a sidebar about the history of my easy carrot cake recipe, which my mother made for us every birthday of my life while she was living. I included lots of photos with this. Maybe you have a family story about an old fruit tree in your yard with some special crab apple recipes, that could be a whole section in your cookbook. Many people seem to have memories of grandparents making homemade wine; there could be a homemade wine section including their dandelion wine recipe or others they made. This will be specific to what you find as you’re going through your family recipes.
At the end of my DIY cookbook, I made a section called About the Cook. I created a short questionnaire for each cook that had recipes in the cookbook and sent it out to my family members asking them to fill in answers for a few people. The questions were things that live in our memory but often get lost through time because they don’t get written down. For example: What did her kitchen smell like? I collated the replies I got into a little profile for each cook. Once I added some photographs, I had a page for each cook and this ended up being my favorite part of the cookbook. Someday this will help the younger generations know the older ones in a more tangible way.
A really good, useable DIY cookbook is in the details. One thing I tried hard to do was make the measurement systems consistent. For example, one of my grandmas liked to list measurements like one-gallon cucumbers or two quarts vinegar. Most of my other recipes, however, are in cups and tablespoons. I converted everything so it was consistent. By typing all the recipes out, I was able to make the formatting consistent, which makes it easier to figure out what you need to prepare the dish and simpler to follow step-by-step directions for preparation.
Once you’re finished editing the recipes, you’ll want to take the time to insert pages numbers and create a well-ordered table of contents and/or index. If you can’t find what you’re looking for easily, you’ll be less likely to use the cookbook regularly.
Finally, when printing, consider using cardstock or a thicker paper which will last as the cookbook is used through the years. Pick a sturdy binding that will allow for easy page turning. You want this DIY cookbook to be around so you can pass it down through the generations as an heirloom.
Ma’s Bread & Butter Pickles
This is an example of a recipe I found in my maternal grandmother’s cookbook. It came from her mother, Rose Voll, who was a midwife that came from Germany around the turn of the century. The ingredient list required some converting and the instructions needed some details but the final product was delicious.
- 16 cups medium cucumbers, sliced thinly
- 8 small white onions, sliced thinly
- 2 sweet green peppers, sliced thinly
- ½ cup salt
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- 5 cups vinegar
- 5 cups sugar
- 1 tablespoon mustard seed
- 1 tablespoon celery seed
- ½ teaspoon ground cloves
- Put prepared vegetables in a large bowl or pot. Toss with salt. Heep over with ice cubes. Put a plate over top and weight it down. Let stand three hours. Remove any remaining ice cubes, rinse and drain well.
- Combine spices, sugar, and vinegar and bring to a boil.
- Divide the vegetables between the jars. Pour the hot brine over the vegetables, leaving a half inch headspace.
- Wipe the rims and screw on the lids and bands. Process in a hot water bath for 15 minutes.
- Marie’s mother was Rose Voll, who came to Ohio from Germany.
- Makes seven pints.
Have you made a DIY cookbook for your family? We’d love to hear your tips to make a wonderful book.