Publishing a Family Cookbook

Food and family history just seem to go together. When’s the last time you attended a family function that didn’t include food? We often remember people for their special dishes – like my Dad’s Minorcan Clam Chowder – and these recipes are passed down from generation to generation. It only follows that a cookbook is a great family history project.

In my family, the recipe is just the beginning. There’s always a story to go along with it or its part of a family tradition. Often there are photos too – of the dish, the cook or an event. The toughest part is collecting all this goodness so you can build the cookbook. Take advantage of every family occasion to grab a recipe. Encourage people to talk about where a great dish came from and if it’s family related, take notes. Follow up with emails and phone calls until you get the recipe and photos you need.

Planning a family reunion? Plan a recipe contest to collect recipes. Ask people to scan pages from their heritage cookbooks where the original owners have added notes – or even copies of recipes tucked into such books. Just like the rest of your family history, this is an on-going effort.

Since it does take time and effort to collect these recipes, you will need some method to organize them as you build your cookbook. Fortunately, many of today’s recipe apps offer features to include notes and photos with the recipe. Some even offer mobile versions for you smart phone or tablet. Take advantage of these capabilities to document the stories and photos associated with your heritage dishes.

Some apps, like MacGourmet Deluxe [$50 Mac] and Living Cookbook [$35 Win] offer tools to build cookbooks. You can include extra photo and story pages along with the recipes, create covers and indexes – all “camera ready” to upload to a publishing service like Lulu. Most include fields for notes and photos in each recipe record. These are good places to add anecdotes, stories or photos associated with a dish or its creator.

Speaking of Lulu, they offer a very nice platform to collect and build your cookbook online. They have both hard and soft cover options in three different sizes so you can create a custom cookbook without spending time and money on new software.

Of course there’s nothing dictating that you family cookbook has to be a book. Why not a family food blog? With easy-to-use blog platforms like Posterous or Tumblr supporting multiple authors, they are great ways to share recipes with their associated stories and photos. If they can send an email with an attached photo, they can participate in the blog. Take a lesson from Thomas MacEntee’s Geneablogger prompts and use your own to generate cookie recipes in time for the holidays, pumpkin dishes for Halloween or favorite memories around the dinner table. Who knows, a blog might even attract a distant cousin you’ve never met . . .

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