Collecting Special Things - Plus 10 Tips for Creating Your Own Family Recipe Book
April 30, 2016

Collecting Special Things - Plus 10 Tips for Creating Your Own Family Recipe Book

My absolute favorites - with a cup of Southern Pecan coffee! 

I like to consider myself a true Southerner, which means I like to collect things. Not just things, but special things that have meaning to me. What can I say? It runs in my family. Granny Pris collects flowers and old photographs, Grandpa collects recipe cards from his time as a chef, Nanny collects cookbooks and Papa collects tractors.  My dad builds fishing rods and has a collection of fishing tackle that would put Bass Pro Shops to shame. My sweet mama collects teapots and tiny shoes.  (Don’t get me wrong; their house doesn’t look like a museum, Heaven knows my mama can’t stand clutter).

It’s these sweet little special things that make their house a home.  But, the ironic thing is that it’s really not about the things at all.  It’s the love behind memories, experiences and people that have somehow inspired these collections.

Now that I’m in the process of building a home, my own collections are really starting to take shape.  Antique milk glass is a borderline obsession, cookbooks (especially family ones) are sacred treasures, Southern Living magazines have a special place in my heart, handmade coffee cups make me happy and a southern kitchen can never have too many cast iron skillets. (Right? Okay, I didn't think so either!) Once again, it really isn’t about the material things I find to add to these collections.  The things in and of themselves are not important. It’s the people I love and memories shared with them that are behind these things that make them special, regardless of how valuable or not the world may consider them. You may think one of them isn’t worth a penny, but I wouldn’t take 10 million pennies for any of them.

This month I’m excited to share what is and will always be my favorite collection: cookbooks!

My friends, I’ve got a cookbook for everything. Tried and true divinity that turns out perfect every time - Paula Deen has me covered.  Cinnamon rolls 100 different ways - Ree Drummond is my girl. The best fruitcake - The Southern Living Cookbook from 1993 can’t be beat. All time best meatloaf (even if you don’t like meatloaf) - Betty Crocker’s Cookbook circa 1987. I have to admit, I love having all of these classics on standby, but they all pale in comparison to my absolute favorite: our family recipe book.

If your family is anything like ours, everyone has their speciality, but no one has anything written down! One person always brings the baked beans, another always brings the sweet potato casserole, another the macaroni and cheese… and we never bring someone else’s speciality recipe. That’s just trespassing on hallowed ground!

So, when my Nanny was faced with her second battle with cancer and her time in the kitchen was scarce, it wasn’t long before we noticed that we simply didn’t have recipes for many of our Sunday and holiday staples. That’s when we decided to compile all of our favorite family recipes and we included everyone’s specialities (for us to use on un-sacred occasions, of course). This was no easy feat. To further enhance the difficulty of our situation, most of our family’s precious cooks don’t actually use recipes, and apparently not one of them owns measuring spoons. Bless. It wasn’t an easy task to convince these self-taught chefs to measure out and record all their secrets, but the proof was in the pudding and the results were well worth the effort.

Y’all, it may not be published, it may not come from a celebrity author, and I’m the first to admit that this thing  isn’t fancy, but it is so special. The most amazing baked beans you’ll ever taste are “Aunt Karen’s Baked Beans” on Page 7 of Side Dishes. Simply the best quick (and easy) dessert bar has to be “Aunt Shari’s Cream Cheese Squares” on page 11 of Desserts. The perfect cornbread dressing is “Nanny Re’s Dressing” on page 2 of Meats and Casseroles. I know, I know, you wish you had a copy!  

Despite all of the wonderful goodness that is contained in this book, I can’t tell you how many other wonderful recipes have been buried right along with our precious loved ones. I’m willing to go out on a limb and bet you’ve got a favorite family dish, someone’s specialty, that only they know how to make. If this sounds familiar, I’d like to encourage you to take the time reach out to your favorite culinary inspirations and make a recipe book for your own family. You may get some resistance at first, but just promise everyone a copy when you’re finished.  Bribing a Southern woman with the promise of a new cookbook is a shrewd way to get things done.

Once you get started, you never know what gems might surface. I did a little digging in my Nanny’s cabinet and found a recipe in my great-grandmother’s handwriting, and it was her famous 12-layer chocolate cake nonetheless! I can promise you, it will be framed and displayed proudly in my kitchen. What a treasure!

At the end of the day, a collection of things is just that - things. It’s the people behind those things that make them special. The world doesn’t get to place a value on my collections. The worth of each treasure is in the eye of the beholder and my eyes see things money could never buy, like a pink plastic binder with a note from my Nanny that says it all:

“There is one ingredient that is not included in print in any of my recipes. You cannot measure it, weigh it, box it or buy it. It is called love. Nothing has given me more pleasure over the years than cooking for my family. Love was included in every dish I prepared.”

10 Tips for Creating Your Own Family Recipe Book

  1. It takes time. This will not magically appear overnight; however, the effort you put in will be well worth it and treasured for generations to come.
  2. It doesn’t have to be fancy.  Don’t worry about the visual appeal until later on in the process.
  3. Start with the basics. Sit down and make a list of all your “must have” recipes and who they belong to. Some you may have easy access to and others may require a few phone calls. When you make those calls, be prepared for the “oh honey, I don’t have a recipe for those (insert favorite dish here); I just throw a pinch of this and a dash of whatever I have on hand” answer and be prepared with a response. Don’t be afraid to share about your project and how you would love to include that recipe because it’s one of your favorites. Chances are she’ll be so flattered she won’t mind if you ask her to try to put something together, even if it isn’t super detailed and specific.
  4. It will always be a work in progress.  We’ve had our cookbook for years now and I’m continuously adding new pages with new and old recipes. Besides, it never hurts to have a place to store printed Pinterest recipes. (I mean, what happens if Pinterest breaks my heart and goes away? I still want to be able to find some of my favorites!)
  5. Organize your cookbook by topic and number your pages by section. When you number your pages by section, it’s easy to add pages to the back of any category! If you number from start to finish, you’ll end up with random pages throughout the middle (or you’ll add them at the end and then they’re all out of order).
  6. Make sure to ask each cook in your family for at least one recipe. Even if they don’t make one of your favorite dishes, ask them for their favorite recipe! It’s a win-win: they feel special because you asked, and you might get a jewel you didn’t expect!
  7. Offer to make copies for everyone who contributes. They would make great gifts, but if you’re not wanting to foot the bill for them all, just disclose the cost up front. “Thank you so much for sharing that with me! I’m planning to get a few extra copies made, they’ll be $$.  Would you like for me to order you a copy?”
  8. Don’t forget to ask the men! Sometimes the kitchen is referred to as a Southern woman’s domain, but oftentimes our men folk can throw some seriously great food on the table, too. My dad and uncles are practically grillmasters, so I’m still working on getting their seasoning recipe for my book! To top it off, my grandpa was a chef, so I’m still working on including several of his favorites.
  9. Include personal touches. If you can, ask for a handwritten note from the matriarch of your family. If not, ask around and see if anyone has any recipes that have been passed down. If they are in the original handwriting, ask if they could make you a photocopy to include in your creation.
  10. Enjoy the process and don’t forget to include the most important ingredient! Enjoy every minute and cherish the time spent with your loved ones working on a timeless heirloom! As you reflect back on your book for years to come, always be reminded that the most important ingredient in any recipe can’t be measured - so just go ahead and pour on the love, it makes everything taste better!  

*Also, special shout-out to my Aunt Kristi who was the one behind getting our book done! Thank you for all the love you poured into this special thing that I now I cherish! :)