How to Easily Make a Family Cookbook From Scratch
Four Steps to an Amazing, Personalized Gift
I'm proud to say that my family can cook. My brothers are all skilled and inventive in the kitchen, my dad has many specialties, and Mom's been turning out great meals for decades. (I won't say how many, or she'll stop cooking for me!) Creating a family cookbook has been on my to-do list because I want to be able to tap into all that talent on a daily basis rather than calling at the last minute to pester people with "Now, how did you make those apple pancakes?" It occurred to me that other family members might feel the same way. Creating a family cookbook could be an awesome personal, budget-friendly holiday gift for everyone. It doesn't seem all that difficult...
Four Steps to Make a Cookbook
- Collecting the recipes
- Printing and formatting the recipes
- Protecting the pages (optional)
- Binding the pages
1. Collect Recipes
Decide on the scope for your effort (will you include recipes from just your parents and siblings? or go broader and ask aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.?). Then call or email everyone to request their favorite recipes. Be sure to give them a deadline—a couple weeks should be enough time for most to respond—and some specifics on what you're looking for.
Here's a sample email request:
I'm collecting recipes from our family and would love to include one or more of your favorites. Please email me back your recipe(s) by November 15, and include this info for each one:
- List of ingredients
- Step-by-step cooking instructions with any special tips (e.g., "cake may look underdone at first but will firm up as it sits"; "you don't have to thaw the peas first"; etc.)
- How many people the dish serves
- Roughly how long the dish takes to make: prep time and cook time
Thanks so much!
Note: You can ask them to include an "allergy alert" line, too, if your family includes food allergy sufferers.
Then sit back and wait for the responses to—fingers crossed—roll in. If nobody responds, threaten to fill the book yourself with nothing but lima bean recipes!
2. Print and Format the Recipe Pages
You can cut and paste the recipe text from folks' emails into a new document using Word or another word-processing program.
Or just print the email as is. (The recipes will be no less tasty with to, from, date, and email addresses on the top... and if they're bad, people will know how to reach the contributors and complain! Just kidding.)
When your pages are printed, punch each on the left margin with a three-hole punch.
Putting this tutorial together, I searched online for an 8-1/2-by-11-sized recipe template that would pair well with binder-style family cookbooks. I found some card templates but very few full-page designs. So I asked Kristen of Domestifluff, a fabulous blog on home cooking & crafting that also includes some topnotch graphic design, if she might take on the challenge. She agreed, and the result (above) is absolutely adorable! It's perfect not only for holiday projects but all year round. You can access the pdf for personal, non-commercial use. And thanks, Kristen!
3. Protect the Pages (Optional)
You could take the recipe pages to your local copy shop and laminate them before three-hole-punching. Or you could just buy some standard-size, prepunched plastic sleeves. This step isn't really necessary—some of the best recipes are splattered with chocolate, after all—but it's a nice touch if you have the time and budget.
Another "nice but not necessary" touch is tabs to separate recipe categories, such as:
- Main Courses
- Side Dishes
Note: Because some family members will be messier—that's me!—than others in their mise en place (essentially, French for "tidying up as you go"), it might be best to forego simple card-stock dividers in favor of tougher plastic ones that can withstand years of colorful food splatters.
We've used these to protect our recipe pages from rips and wrinkles as well as the aforementioned rainbow of food splatters. A great choice if you'd rather not go to the extra hassle and expense of laminating them.
4. Bind the Pages
You could have the local copy shop bind your family cookbook, but a three-ring binder allows you to add recipes easily over time. (Your teenage niece or nephew may have no use for the kitchen right now, but in 10 years, who knows? She or he may stumble on—or create—the best five-alarm chili recipe this side of the Pecos.)
Probably the cheapest way to decorate binders for holiday gifts is to choose colorful ones off the shelf and customize at home with colored or metallic permanent markers. Looking to keep the kids busy over winter break? Newspaper-up a space in your home and set them loose with markers and binders. No two will come out alike, but that's part of the charm!
More Recipe Binder Options
For a more polished approach, many colorful custom binders are offered through print-on-demand site Zazzle, which is a treasure trove of personalized gift options at all budget levels.
Our family has for years had a small shop there, with 50% of design proceeds (more than $4,000 so far!) going to Save the Children. And with help from my kids' original artwork, I designed several binders for family cookbooks--all of which can be personalized on the back, spine, etc. We've purchased these repeatedly as holiday gifts and been pleased with the print quality.
Although I've gifted these binders as gifts to non-relatives, I'm still working on the recipe collection process for my own family! But a flurry, recently, of Eastern European recipe exchanges with one of my siblings has re-lit the fire underneath me.
Polls are fun, so I'd love to get your help deciding which binder design to use. My gift-giving target is Christmas 2018, but I'm open to an all-seasons look as well.
Number 1—the "Season's Eatings" design below has a festive look, with nontraditional colors. I personalized this for several of the kids' teachers. Besides being happy and fun, this design sidesteps the sometimes sticky issue of not being sure which winter holidays a teacher, or other gift recipient, celebrates. Of course with my own family, I don't have that issue, but I still think this design could fit the bill.
Number 2 (below) is more traditional, but still fun and playful with the child's snowflake cutout.
Number 3 is for the family that doesn't mind making a bit of a statement. The holidays are an especially poignant time to express the hope for peace, but this design is a great option for year-round giving.
Number 4 is for an all-desserts cookbook (mmmmmm). Even families not crazy about cooking generally have favorite sweets recipes to share.
Finally, number 5 makes a great gift for the non-cook! This is a related but different gift idea, perhaps for the overwhelmed new parent or newly liberated "the kitchen is closed!" empty nester in your family. Simply collect local takeout menus, or print them out from restaurant websites, and three-hole-punch them for this binder. It's way better than a junk drawer overflowing with crumpled menus. (Not that I have any, uh, personal experience with that...)
Help me decide?
Which of the above binders should I pick for my family this Christmas?
Share Your Family's Experience, Please!
How about it? Have I inspired you to put together a family cookbook? Or nudge someone else in the family to do it? Please share your tips in the comments below, to pave the way for early birds already looking to the 2018 holiday season!
Questions & Answers
© 2009 Mary