Recipes Tie Families Together

Reader Contribution by Lois Hoffman
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It is pretty amazing when we stop to think about how much our lives revolve around food. Usually, food is the simple theme when there is a social gathering; whether it be a home cooked meal, grilling out, or cooking over an open fire, food brings it all together.

Of all the various ways of incorporating food into our lives, old family recipes evoke the fondest memories. Many times, these are passed down from generation to generation solely by word of mouth. Everyone remembers a favorite recipe that their grandmother, aunt, or mom used to make, but all too often they don’t know exactly what ingredients or how much of each were used. Sadly, many family favorites have been lost through time this way.

That is why I was thrilled when my bonus daughter, Kim (we like this term better than “stepdaughter”), suggested we do a family cookbook. This brilliant idea became my next project. However, there are no simple projects in my life. This was such a great idea that not only would I do the Hoffman/Jim’s family, but also the Brueck/my mom’s family, the Frye/my dad’s family, and the Scruggs/Ron’s family. Instead of doing four separate small cookbooks, I would combine all the recipes into one large book and also include recipes from friends, for they become our families, too. After all, the more the merrier, they say!

I soon learned that, although putting together a family cookbook is a lot of work, it is also very rewarding as long as a few simple rules are followed. Naturally, first on the agenda was collecting the recipes. There are many sub-categories that can take a recipe in different directions, like grilled meats, slow cooker meals, gluten free, etc. I decided that I preferred family heirloom favorites as opposed to just each family’s favorites. So I specified this in the initial contact letter to each person.

As far as number of recipes, I chose not to specify. I knew that some would have trouble coming up with even one while others would send me an endless number.

Many of my family recipes are scribbled on little scraps of paper and stuck in my recipe box. One of my projects for the winter is to get them all organized and put on a DVD, so they will be in some type of order and also be preserved. The cookbook project will do double duty to help accomplish this task, too. However, looking through the scraps of paper, I realized that even though I knew the shortcuts to each recipe, others would not. For that reason, each recipe would have to be very specific and adhere to certain guidelines such as:

Ingredient List: All ingredients need to be listed in the order of use. Any special instructions pertaining to each item needs to be specified, such as if it needs to be chopped, minced, melted, etc. Does the liquid need to be drained from canned goods?

No Dangling Ingredients: Many recipes will call for an ingredient and ask that the measurement be separated, with a portion of it reserved for a later use. Often, no more mention is ever made of it. This has happened to me repeatedly, and you end up with food you don’t know what to do with.

Preparation of Items: Be sure and specify what parts of items should be used, especially when fruits and vegetables are involved. Are they to be peeled, or is the peel included? Also, with boxed pudding and Jell-O, do you prepare it like the instructions say on the box, or use it dry?

Baking Times and Temperatures: Be specific on baking and cooktop temperatures. Does something just need to come to a boil or boil for so many minutes? Is a baked item done when it is browned on top, or do you need to insert a toothpick to check for doneness? Do you need to cover it?

Sizes: Cookie sheets come in various sizes. Is an 8-inch pan round or square? A box of cornbread mix can be family or individual sized. Specify ounces or pounds for purchased items; it all makes a difference.

Servings: Give approximate number of servings and indicate if leftovers can be frozen, or if the entire recipe can be prepared ahead and frozen for future use.

If you attempt a project like this, then the recipes start pouring in you will need an organization method. There are many different ways to do this, although the general rule of thumb for cookbooks is by categories such as meats, soups, desserts, etc. They can also be separated by nutritional classes such as regular, sugar-free, gluten free, etc.

In my case, I have the option of separating them by families with subcategories of foo types, or by listing each family name and grouping all submitted recipes by individuals.

Even though it may be putting the cart before the horse, it is wise to decide which printing house you will use to print your cookbooks. There are many out there, and the norm is to charge by number of copies ordered and number of recipes per book. The more copies ordered, the cheaper each individual book, but the more recipes, the more expensive for each copy. Usually each printer has different options for the layout of the book, but it helps to know the guidelines of the one you intend to use so that you can arrange the material accordingly. Since mine will be a family cookbook, I want to include little tidbits of pertinent information to personalize each recipe. Some printers include this feature for free in their layout, and some do not.

Cost is a big consideration. Many organizations such as churches put together a cookbook as a fundraiser. Although the main purpose of mine is to preserve family recipes, there is no reason that it cannot also be a fundraiser. I plan on displaying these cookbooks with some local merchants. Selling more will help bring the price down for family members, and I will send the extra proceeds to Dr. Michael House in Indianapolis for his research to detect pancreatic cancer early, in honor of my husband, Jim, who succumbed to the disease and my cousin, Vicky, who beat it.

The last important consideration for this project is the time frame. I have set a date that I need all recipes by, and after that I can start categorizing. The more work I do — such as typing the recipes in the correct format and editing — will keep the cost down, so I am planning on a few months to format.

Any family or organization can put together a cookbook, making it as simple as a few typed pages or as elaborate as a whole book. I know this project for me will be a passion of patience. However, in the end, I know it will be so much more than that. Between the covers of each book will be the flavors and unique stories that make a family, a family.

Photo by Fotolia/vetre

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