Family Favorites

By Kristen Castillo

September 7, 2017 5 min read

Do you remember grandma's oatmeal cookie recipe so well that you have it memorized? Stop and write it down (and take a picture, too), so future generations will be able to replicate the recipe. Better yet, invite the whole family to share their favorite dishes in a cookbook.

"I think it's a great way to capture family history along with some of the best recipes from our family's history," says Rebecca Downing, whose mother created two family cookbooks for her kids: one representing recipes from the maternal side of the family and another with recipes from the paternal side.

Downing's mother went back four generations in each book and included family trees as well. Each chapter is about a specific family member's life and includes five to seven recipes and memories associated with each.

"It's now up to my sister and I to add to the books," says Downing, whose favorite family recipe is her grandmother's rice, explaining, "whenever I eat it I am instantly satiated both emotionally and hunger wise. She always used to make double when I was there because it was my favorite!"

*Sensory Connections

While most cookbooks are a source of new recipes and flavors, family cookbooks are all about well-known favorites.

"They present what is familiar, tried-and-tested, and extremely personal," says Nandita Godbole, CEO Curry Cravings and author of "Not For You: Family Narratives of Denial & Comfort Foods," a cookbook featuring four generations of family recipes.

She says family cookbooks are "sensory memory keepers," such as the smell of your mother's kitchen on weeknights or your uncle's house for Thanksgiving.

"These sensory recreations provide links and connections to events and people long after they have passed away," says Godbole, who explains family cookbooks preserve the stories of loved ones for generations to come.

*Culinary Challenges

Creating a family cookbook could be challenging.

For example, not every family member may love all the recipes. Still choose ones that many family members enjoy.

Remember that recipes can change over time. Some ingredients used years ago may not be available any longer or may not be healthy, such as recipes that use lard. Make suitable substitutions if needed.

Next, don't be surprised if there are disagreements about the ingredients or cooking instructions.

"People also remember things differently," says Godbole, noting family members may argue "about whether a dish uses a particular kind of mushroom or a particular spice."

Don't worry if your family cookbook has a little drama.

"Without it, a family cookbook becomes the equivalent of serving a dish without salt," says Godbole, noting food and recipes can be intensely personal.

*Don't Procrastinate

Making a family cookbook can be a lot of work but it's worth the effort.

"If your family members are still alive, sit down with them and ask them for the recipe and listen to their stories," says Downing, noting that it's a cherished memory-making opportunity.

Melanie Potock, a pediatric speech language pathologist and feeding specialist, wrote a family cookbook, "Adventures in Veggieland."

She says holidays are a great time to work on recipe collections. Ask each family to provide a copy of a favorite recipe for all the families in attendance.

"Let the kids decorate binders to hold the recipes and assemble each binder together at the table," she says. "Each year, the family cookbook grows."

Potock suggests the children add their own recipes for a kids' section of the binders. "Take a photo of the child holding the dish to include with the printed instructions on how to make it," she says, "It's fun to see how much they've grown each year and it fosters a child's love for cooking."

Don't want to craft your own books or binders? You can create recipe books digitally and have them printed for family members, as well.

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