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10 steps to crafting a family cookbook

From tater-tot casserole to picadillo, food forges special memories for everyone. In fact, thoughts tied to taste equate to some of life’s strongest associations, and favorite recipes can summon up warm recollections of baking holiday cookies or savoring comfort dishes during a bout with the sniffles. 

As Americans tiptoe out of the pandemic and with dinner parties and family gatherings once again crowding the social calendar, there’s never been a better time to ask your closest companions for their favorite recipes. Whether it’s your best friend’s baklava or your aunt’s perfected whiskey sour, it’s easy to compile your own family or group cookbook. Here are some pointers to get you started. 

1. Remember, anyone can be family. 

Your homemade recipe book can fly farther than grandma’s handy family Rolodex. Anyone who is special to you might have a couple of tasty concoctions to share. Crafting a cookbook is a wonderful way to combine your different circles into a sensory memory book.  

2. Select your platform. 

Cookbook presentation can take on a digital, print or hybrid form. Let the personality of your cookbook determine your choice. If you plan to share a collection of traditional recipes, you might want to hand print the recipes or have contributing individuals pen their own to showcase authentic penmanship and flair. On the other hand, a Word document is easy to edit, revise, print and archive.   

3. Choose a universal format.  

Your father probably writes recipes differently than your best friend. It is a good idea to decide upon a universal format for all recipes. This will increase readability and consistency throughout the cookbook. Will you write out or abbreviate measurements? Will you list the ingredients in the order that they are used? Address these questions before you start commissioning submissions, so that anyone contributing a recipe can present their entries according to your specifications.  

4. Categorize, categorize, categorize!   

Be sure to sort your recipes into digestible categories—appetizers, desserts, cocktails—that can eventually be organized under a loose table of contents. Keep in mind that your sorting should follow the recipes you have, so fret not if you lack a salad or sauce section.  

5. Pick a design software.  

Digital software can make cookbook design a quick and fool-proof experience. User-friendly programs like Canva and CreateMyCookbook offer easy-to-use templates, titles that can be personalized, tables of content and templated recipe pages. Sites like Etsy also sell customizable recipe cards that can easily be incorporated into a printed cookbook.  

6. Make room for visuals.   

Whether you want to include family photos, clip art or pictures of the dishes, cookbooks beg for some visuals. Not every page needs to have photos, but a smattering of images throughout the cookbook helps bring the publication to life.  

7. Assemble your materials.  

A number of office supply stores will help you create hard-cover books, but if that option is too expensive for your budget, you may opt to assemble your recipes, printed on durable card stock, in a sturdy binder. With a few transparent sheet protectors and tab dividers, presto, your book is ready for distribution.  

8. Plan ahead for additional submissions. 

Your cookbook should lend itself to expansion as new recipes and memories are made. With that in mind, keep the table of contents and the recipes themselves free of page numbers.   

9. Add a title and personal notes.  

Think of your title page as your cookbook’s mise-en-scène. It sets the stage for the productions to come. Choose a font that complements the title, and add some illustrations that whet the appetite. Perhaps you’ll want to include a family photo or some hand-drawn art.  

Individual recipes often benefit from personal notes that recommend suggestions for side dishes or occasions that benefit from the dish under discussion: Best served with Brussels sprouts! The perfect sandwich for afternoon tea! Everybody’s favorite at the Fourth of July picnic!  

10. Share your collection.  

Once you’ve made your masterpiece, share it widely—with family and friends and anyone with a healthy appetite. If you can’t offer everyone a hardbound copy or a binder stuffed with recipes, consider sharing a PDF by email or flash drive. Remember, good food and memories go together like coffee and dessert.    

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