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Creating an heirloom cookbook

By Staff | Oct 13, 2017

Copies of old recipe cards – handwritten and stained – add a personal touch to an heirloom cookbook.


GRIT Magazine

My daughter began her career as a foodie at the age of 8, while I was confined to the couch for six weeks during pregnancy. Although friends and loved ones faithfully arrived with casseroles and slow cookers full of something delicious, Emily took it upon herself to greet them at the door, receive reheating instructions, and carry them out.

By the time she was 12, Emily could run the kitchen. One day while pulling weeds, squishing cabbage worms, or some other equally repulsive gardening chore, she begged, “Mommy, don’t ever make me come in this garden again, and I will do all the cooking and learn to can as well.” And she did, with a passion.

At 14, she made jam from the berries we picked on the mountain, and she canned all of our tomatoes and apples on her own. Her 15th year included several cake-decorating classes and taking over the bread making. At 22, she managed the evening shift for a small cafe. Today, much to her father’s delight, she spins flour and sugar into treats fit for a king.

Naturally, when Emily’s 16th birthday drew near, I wanted to give her a gift she would cherish for the rest of her life – and one that would fuel her passion for food. What better gift than a collection of favorite recipes from her friends and family – an heirloom cookbook?

Track down recipes

A few months before her birthday, I emailed loved ones for input, asking them to send favorite family recipes, words of kitchen wisdom, or funny stories from their learning-to-cook years. The replies poured in; everyone responded enthusiastically.

We received stories about learning to feed a new husband, burning pans and boxes left in the oven, and stuffing the sink sponge in the Thanksgiving turkey.

The recipes included everything from Mrs. Hiner’s Wicked Pickles and Miss Bonnie’s Dandelion Green Salad to Great-Grandma’s Fruit Cake.

Gather supplies

While waiting for recipes and stories to arrive, I shopped for scrapbooking supplies. I looked for stickers, appropriate papers, borders, and stamps. Since I couldn’t find the style of stickers I wanted, I created my own by photocopying cookbook covers and reducing them to sticker size. I included our family favorites, a few of Emily’s favorites, and some vintage cookbooks we found stashed in the attic. I used these reproductions as stickers and page borders.

For the album, I chose a regular, three-ring binder that would lie flat on the counter. It has a clear sleeve on the front for inserting a cover page. I also purchased sheet protectors to shield the scrapbooked pages from splatters and spills so Emily would not hesitate taking it into the kitchen with her.

When creating a scrapbook you want to last for generations, make sure all your papers and supplies are acid free. The acids used to create some papers, glues, tapes, and plastics will cause photographs and other mementoes to discolor and age prematurely. Anything scrapbooking friendly will be labeled as such on the packaging.

Find photographs

When you send out the plea for stories and recipes, ask for photos as well. Perhaps someone has a photo of Nana receiving the blue ribbon for her pie at the town’s Apple Harvest Festival. Or maybe Uncle Ray has a photograph of himself manning the grill that would perfectly accompany his marinade recipe. Check your own photo files as well. I have photos of Emily making pies with Grandma, baking Christmas cookies with Nana, receiving her cake-decorating certificate, and more. Anything to enhance the cookbook, bring back memories, and give it that scrapbook appeal will make it that much more meaningful.

Layout and design

Ask yourself what you want your cookbook to look like. If you want it feminine, choose patterns, colors, and supplies to enhance that theme. If your recipient is a man, or someone who would prefer a simpler design, skip the frills, and use solid-colored papers or those with plaids and stripes.

Since I wanted Emily’s cookbook to be nostalgic as well as functional, I chose to not type or re-copy any recipes. For those that came from my recipe box, I simply photocopied them on acid-free paper as they were – written on the back of used envelopes or scrawled on the edges of scratch paper, complete with cooking oil stains and dried splatters of batter. I put the recipes sent from relatives in the book as they came, mostly handwritten with love.

Also, decide how you want the cookbook organized. Do you want to group the recipes by category, like desserts and main dishes? Or do you want to group them by the person who submitted them all of Grandma’s recipes in one section, all of Aunt Julie’s in another? Once you decide, put all your submissions and corresponding photographs in the correct order in a file folder to keep them organized.

Bring it all together

If you prefer to preserve your memories digitally, use scrapbooking software to put it all together. Once you scan in photos and handwritten notes, use the software to construct and embellish your pages. You can then send the finished project to a printer or use a service like Shutterfly.com to have it printed and bound.

For Emily’s cookbook, I started with a personal letter to her explaining the idea behind the gift, with my own cooking anecdotes. I created the cover and stickers, and did a few pages ahead of time to get the ball rolling. Then, at her birthday party, her girlfriends came prepared to finish the job.

After clearing away the fine china, lemon tarts, and strawberry cake, the scrapbooking supplies were brought out for another hour or so of cutting, pasting, and writing. The guests chatted, sipped tea, and created pages with their own favorite recipes or ones others had sent. They not only created an heirloom, they created memories in the process.

Four heirloom recipes

Granny’s bread and butter pickles

Yields 6 pints.

1 gallon cucumbers, sliced

8 medium onions, sliced

1/2 cup coarse salt

1 cup water

21/2 cups sugar

21/2 cups vinegar

1 tablespoon mustard seed

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon whole cloves

In large bowl, place cucumbers and onions. Dissolve salt in water; pour over cucumbers.

Cover with ice; weigh down. Let stand 3 hours.

In stockpot, combine sugar, vinegar and spices; bring to boil.

Drain vegetables and add to pot. Bring back to just short of boiling; do not boil vegetables.

Pack into hot jars and process in water bath for 15 minutes.

Uncle Ray’s ‘The Only Marinade You Will Ever Need’

Yields about 1 cup

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

3 cloves garlic, crushed or minced

1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley

1/4 cup fresh chopped herbs (use a mixture to your liking)

1/2 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 strips lemon zest

1/2 cup olive oil

Whisk together all ingredients.

Note: This marinade is great for chicken or shrimp before broiling or cooking on the grill. Make in the summer, or keep potted herbs on the kitchen windowsill all year long to indulge in this delightful marinade at any time.

Miss Bonnie’s dandelion green salad

Harvest small, tender dandelion leaves before the plant flowers, and from an area that is not sprayed with chemicals. Wash and chop fine.

Mix greens with:

Hard-boiled eggs, chopped

Sweet onion, diced

Bacon bits

Cover with the following dressing.

Whisk together:

1 cup sugar

4 tablespoons flour

2 eggs

1/2 cup hot water

1 teaspoon dry mustard

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup vinegar

Bring to a boil, stirring. Add about 1 cup milk, and cook until thick. Do not boil. Allow to cool some before pouring over greens.

Great-Grandma’s fruit cake

Mix a basic homemade yellow cake batter. Pour a thin layer in six to eight round cake pans or cast-iron skillets. Bake at 350 degrees until done. Transfer from pans to racks to cool.

When layers are cool, spread each with fruits of your choosing. Great-Grandma used homemade chunky applesauce and cinnamon on layers of her cake; she also used home-canned berries or peaches, plums or pears sliced thin.

Spread meringue on top of each layer. Assemble the layers on top of each other; keep cold in refrigerator until ready to serve.

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