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How to Create a DIY Family Cookbook

Six steps to get started on your family's personalized recipe book.

Published June 16, 2021.

Coconut cake, savory jalapeño cornbread, and rosemary scones. Even as I write this, I hear the crack of my mother opening a fresh coconut, taste salty butter melting between warm pieces of cornbread, and smell the woodsy fragrance of rosemary wafting through the kitchen. I’ve watched my mother make these recipes many times, and I want to carry on the tradition.

But when it comes to keeping recipes and keepsakes in one place, we’re not always the most organized family. It can turn into a guessing game. Did I ever write that down? Which drawer is it in? Did it fall behind the fridge, never to be seen again?

These recipes aren't just random ingredients thrown together; they're heirlooms and ways of life. I wanted to preserve this special part of our family history in one place by making a cookbook that we could pass down to future generations. And although it’s perfectly practical to use Google Docs and other digital tools, I wanted our family cookbook to be something we could hold in our hands.

Knowing that every family and culture passes down culinary traditions in their own ways, I asked the ATK Reviews team to share some inspiration. Here’s how to get started creating your own family cookbook.

Step 1. Identify the Main Recipes

Deciding what to include can take some time, but it will make the cookbook easier to put together in the end. You also don’t have to put all of the onus on yourself. If the elders of the family are still around, ask what they think needs to be included. What’s the one dish that you always see at a family gathering?

Step 2. Add Family Anecdotes and History

Building a recipe book isn’t just about cooking; it’s about preserving family memories. Reach out to the people who you want to share the cookbook with and ask for "testimonials" about what it feels like to eat their favorite peach cobbler every year at the Fourth of July barbecue. Ask your cousin about the first time they baked Christmas cookies with your grandmother. Is there a funny saying or story that a loved one tells every year while they make the marinara? These testimonials are as important as the recipes.

Step 3. Organize Everything into Sections

Dividing recipes into categories makes your cookbook easier to navigate. Choose how you want to arrange everything. It can be by season, holiday, main ingredient, or person. 

After you categorize your recipes, add a table of contents or a glossary to define the funny sayings or unique ways your family refers to measurements. For example, when my mom adds a little "zhuzh" of salt, that’s equivalent to ¼ teaspoon!

Step 4. Get Creative with Decorations

Add photos of your family to the pages and their names next to their signature recipes. Include handwritten notes or newspaper clippings. Throw in some clever sayings or quotes to further personalize it. Does someone in your family draw well? Ask them to illustrate some pages. Devote an entire page to a collage of family photos.

Step 5. Give It a Name

Naming things adds value and shows love. A name will also allow your family to easily refer back to it. My family came up with Cookin’ with the Phillips Folks. 

If your family is competitive, make coming up with a name a game. The losers have to make the winner’s favorite recipe.

Step 6. Send It Away. Watch It Grow.

One of the best parts about creating something is sharing it with other people. A family cookbook can make a beautiful wedding or anniversary gift. If you don’t want to give it away entirely, take turns adding entries and photos. I’m not saying it has to be Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants-style but keeping the project collaborative means that more people become invested in its success.

To see the power of a family cookbook, check out this clip of America's Test Kitchen cast member Adam Ried reminiscing about his mother's cookbook.

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