Relatively Speaking: Harvest your family recipes

Nov. 11, 2010 at 5:11 a.m.

By Martha Jones

As Thanksgiving Day draws near, our thoughts turn to family gatherings, food so abundant the tables moan under the strain and all the favorite dishes.

In our family, my sister Jan is famous for her cheese grits, sister Jackie makes excellent dressing similar to our mother's, whose specialty always included chopped pecans; I like to bake pies and make candy.

Most families have many special recipes passed down from Thanksgivings past. What better time to collect these treasures than when you gather around the turkey in only two weeks?

Start by sending a letter or e-mail asking all family members to send one or more of their "specialties" a week prior to the gathering. I know this is cutting the time short, but I have found that given too much time, people will set the request aside rather than taking care of it post haste. If you send the request by regular mail, include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for convenience and to increase the chances of a speedy response. You can create a fill-in-the-blank form or ask family members to photocopy their recipes and return them to you. Ask for a brief story about the recipe's creator or a favorite family memory.

As "Editor," begin the collection of the My Family Cookbook. This year could be the first edition. Recipes can be placed in a binder until you consider the collection ready to publish. If the returns are small, repeat the plea next year and add additional recipes. Once family members see the recipes submitted and know they will be published for descendants to enjoy for years to come, you most likely will keep receiving recipes and stories adding to the value of the family treasure.

When you decide it is time to publish the cookbook and the number of recipes is small, photocopy the pages, place them in plastic sleeves to keep them from getting spills on them, and place them in three-ring binders. If you have collected a recipe trove, consider turning the project over to a local printer or even contacting a recipe book publishing company similar to ones used by churches and community projects.

Here are some suggestions for adding to the historical and genealogical significance of your family cookbook:

Make color copies of family heirlooms that relate to the family and use them as a background for some of the recipes. They might include an award for a particular recipe, a newspaper clipping about the family, a hand-written copy of the recipe passed down through the ages, special family dinner tables or linens, family trips or selected family photos of good times.

Write an introduction to the cookbook. Share the details of its creation and how family members contributed to the project. Be sure to include the date of publication.

Include short passages about family members now deceased and special memories of them.

My Family Cookbook will be a treasure cherished by contributors and generations to come. Now, get busy collecting those recipes.

Happy researching.

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