"Food for us comes from our relatives, where they have wings or fins or roots. That is how we consider food. Food has a culture. It has a history. It has a story. It has relationships."
There is something very therapeutic, cathartic and grounding about curating your own family heritage cookbook. In a way, its about collating the stories and memories that mean something to who you are as a person, and expressing that via food, a language we can all access.
Perhaps it has been a project that you considered doing before, like organizing the garage, starting your family history, or getting fit. Perhaps the very thought of where to start can be daunting and can easily be in that "I'll do that some time" category. Many parts of the world have experienced, or are in the process of experiencing their second or even third round of lockdowns and restrictions. During these times, we are often forced to re-evaluate many things, revisit who we are and our roots. Certainly for me, lockdown periods have given me cause to process-out some old childhood garbage that I had been hanging onto for way too long, and I felt a definitive lightness and joy as I did this. Now was the time, with minimal distractions. I couldn't hide behind the busy-ness of daily activities that were usually there. It was just me... memories...experiences...and my love of creating food from scratch.
Identifying my favorite recipes and all the meaning that went along with them helped me appreciate the good things about my childhood, which softened my parent's humanness, their mistakes, their faults. I started to see them differently, with just a little more love and forgiveness. In my mid 40's, I really needed to do this, and perhaps you do too. Perhaps you too will find some joy, love, softening and forgiveness when you collate your own recipe book.
This is how I went about it:
- Select a key theme: your key theme will help guide your choices in what you will include in the recipe book. For example, you may decide to focus on a Celebrations theme like Christmas, Passover or Diwali, focus on a particular person in the family like Grandma or Grandpa, or focus the theme around a treasured family tradition. This will guide all your content and how you may decide to format the book.
- Pick a format: it might be useful to pick a format early in the process, as it may determine how you collect the recipes and in what format you ask people to contribute their recipes in.
- Hard copy: there is a huge array of options here, from scrapbook or photo album format to simply an A4 display book with simple formatting on Microsoft Word. Software like Canva or other grahic design programs can help to brighten up the formatting. The bonus of this method is that you can add to it gradually, and you can print pages whenever you like. This type of method may in fact be a good starting point to collate your recipes before putting it into a more sophisticated electronic format.
- Electronic formats: there are many electronic formats that are specifically designed for recipe books. You will need to be fairly confident with using new software as many will require downloading their copywrited software and input the recipes into that software, from which you can request a printed copy. You might want to check out these programs and apps: CreateMyCookbook, Blurb, Cook’n, thesocialcookbook and Cookpad. Depending on where you are in the world, this might end up being quite costly, and you really have to have all your recipes and formats collated and ready to go, as this format is better done all in one go, and you normally can’t print separate pages on their own.
- Get some input and contributions: depending on the theme, ask your extended family for their favorite recipes, their treasured traditions, memories and meanings around their recipe contributions. You may even want to get younger family members involved. Even if it’s a very simple dish, this can instill an important sense of inclusion and self worth.
- Identify your key recipes: there may be relevant sub-themes or topics that could make it easier to categorise or sort through the recipes. For example, you may have Christmas as the overarching theme, but want to include the sub-categories of baking, Christmas lunch, desserts and how to use leftovers for zero food waste. Alternatively, you may not see the need for sub themes, but might want to highlight contributors and sort recipes based on who has contributed the recipes. Either one is fine, do what works for your overall project.
- Images and photos: images and photos of the finished product from the recipe can be important, as it acts as a guide for the person cooking it, but you might also want to consider including photos of those who have contributed the recipes, family photos, or photos of the traditions you have created in relation to the recipes. These photos can help to tell the story of what you are sharing as a whole. Remember to record the memories, traditions, stories and funny moments that are attached to the photos or recipes.
- Sharing the book: depending on who has contributed to the recipe book, you may want to think about how to share this with those who have contributed and other family members. Is there a special celebration coming up where you could distribute the book to all the contributors? Or perhaps does it call for a reunion of extended family? Is there an anniversary where it would be lovely to mark the occasion by providing contributors with their copies?
This type of project has enormous potential to draw families together, to unite and strengthen over a theme that many of us are passionate about. Having our voices heard through the medium of food can show us just how rich we are. This has nothing to do with money, but rich in terms of our sense of self, and knowing our roots, ancestry, who we are. That grounded sense of self is priceless, and a family heritage cookbook could be a crucial part of that journey.