Features
How to Create a DIY Family Cookbook
Six steps to get started on your family's personalized recipe book.
06-16-2021
Sawyer Phillips

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?

recipe card
Executive Editor Hannah Crowley shared a photo of her family's favorite salsa recipe: "My mom used to give out jars of this salsa for Christmas every year."

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.

Senior Editor Miye Bromberg says she has distinct childhood memories of her grandma making some of the recipes preserved in her family’s recipe box: "Fully 90% of my memories of my grandma are of her puttering around the kitchen in her housecoat or apron . . ."

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!

family photo
My mom took this picture of (from left) my dad, my sister, me, and my brother during one of our Kwanzaa celebrations where we ate black-eyed peas and collard greens.
Art Director Marissa Angelone says Easter Bread is a family tradition: “[It's] a sweetened, yeasted dough with a similar texture to brioche. I have many memories of baking it at my Meme’s house with my mom."

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.

Clockwise from upper left: Associate Editor Carolyn Grillo's note to her mom on a Christmas cookie recipe; a clever quip from Assistant Editor Grace Kelly's boyfriend’s family cookbook; my mother, my sister, and I behind the counter of our family bakery; a candid picture of me and my siblings after we licked a bowl clean of chocolate cake batter.

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.

two books
A photo of Grace’s family recipe book, the Kelly & Sokoloski Comfort Food Cookbook, and her boyfriend's family book, A Rhode Island Rule Book.

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.

family cookbook
Deputy Editor Kate Shannon recalls when she received her family cookbook: "My grandmother loved to give everyone in the family matching presents. In 2006, she presented each of us with a binder of family recipes. I don't make any of them very often—but I love flipping through them. Each one has a little bit of family history that always surprises me or makes me laugh."

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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