June 17, 2023

Preserving Heritage Through Family Recipes

You probably have family recipes tucked away somewhere, perhaps in a box of old cards or a community cookbook from your ancestors’ time. These culinary heirlooms can tell an interesting story about your ancestry.

Here are some tips for preserving your family’s recipes. They include: recording oral histories, creating a cookbook and sharing your treasured recipes with others.

Recording Family Recipes

Family recipes are about more than just food—they connect us with our ancestors and help us understand the heritage that helped them survive and thrive on a daily basis, through difficult times and over time. Food has been a symbol of love and caring for generations, and recording these traditions ensures that they will be preserved and shared with future family members.

Recipes that are handwritten on notebook paper, index cards and scraps should be scanned or photographed for safekeeping. This way, they won’t be subject to fading paper, inadvertent trashing or the accidental spill of vinegar or other ingredients.

It is also a good idea to record videos of relatives cooking the dishes they are best known for. This is a great way to clarify mystery measurements, demonstrate how a dish should look when it’s done and give a tutorial on more complex recipes. Video can also capture important visual details such as the size of a relative’s cutting board or the shape of her favorite pot.

Creating a Cookbook

When your collection of recipes is complete, it's time to turn it into a cookbook. This is a significant project and requires time, effort, and money. However, it's well worth the effort when you have a professionally-designed, bound book that your family can enjoy for generations to come.

Start by determining the concept for your cookbook. Your cookbook can be focused on a specific meal, ingredient, or region, or it could be a general recipe collection for your entire family. The next step is to determine how your recipes will be arranged. Dividing your recipes into categories will make it easier for readers to find what they're looking for.

Make sure you record any stories or memories that accompany your recipes. While this is an additional step that can take some time, it's a necessary component of creating a truly heirloom-worthy cookbook. Editing is also a crucial part of the process, and it should be done by someone who has a strong grasp of grammar and punctuation.

Sharing Recipes with Others

Whether family recipes are simple lists of ingredients and instructions or complex culinary masterpieces, they can tell us so much about our ancestors. Sharing these culinary traditions can bring generations together and strengthen the ties that hold families together.

For instance, a family recipe may have been altered throughout the years to incorporate ingredients that became more available or account for dietary restrictions. These changes can provide a window into how your family’s tastes have changed over time and an insight into your family’s changing culture and history.

Aside from recording recipes, there are many other ways to share family culinary history. One way is to host a “family recipe potluck,” in which you invite relatives over to enjoy food and stories shared around your kitchen table. Another is to use MyHeritage’s video feature to record a relative cooking their favorite dish and create a priceless archival piece.

Preserving Recipes for Future Generations

There is a certain amount of nostalgia many people associate with their family recipes. They might have a box of their grandmother’s indelibly written recipe cards or an old, paperback cookbook with yellowed pages. These are culinary goldmines that should not be forgotten or lost.

Most recipes start out as housewives’ skillful combinations of techniques, ingredients, and products to create meals for their families or friends. These are often imitated by others and spread, becoming classic recipes.

It is unfortunate when a family recipe loses its legacy and dies out, especially if it is a beloved family heirloom. Fortunately, there are ways to preserve these recipes for future generations to enjoy. Valerie Frey’s book Culinary Traditions: Preserving Heritage through Family Recipes is a must-read for anyone interested in preserving their family’s culinary and foodways history. The book also contains important tips for archivists and library professionals who want to collect and share culinary family histories with their patrons and communities.

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