5 September 2011

Creating family treasures - hand written recipes

I come from a family of cooks and book lovers. Both my sons and my daughter-in-law are fine dining chefs, my father was a baker. I am a keen amateur - made that way because I understood, from an early age, the role good food plays in a family and in the family budget. So it will come as no surprise to you to know that even though I rarely follow recipes, cookbooks are important to me. I have quite a few of them, but nowhere near as many as I could have; with books, and everything else, I choose carefully and maintain a less is more approach. I like reading cookbooks because they inspire me to try new things, and they keep me enthusiastic about growing fresh food in the back yard and presenting that food on a plate.

I have been thinking a lot about death recently. Don't worry, I'm not sick, I feel healthy and full of joy, but the human mind, being what it is, thinks what it does and I just go along for the ride. Lately, the ride has taken us to death and who will be given my possessions when I die. I am not a wealthy woman but I have a few things that are precious to me and many things that are practical and helpful. I have one of my mother's cookbooks, it's a very old CWA cookbook from the Barossa Valley. I was excited to see Maggie Beer refer to her identical copy on The Cook and The Chef a couple of years ago. A few weeks ago I was reading through mum's book and I thought it was a real pity that she didn't write some of her recipes in the book before she gave it to me. I love seeing any good recipe, handwritten. I would have loved to have some of my mother's.

This is cookbook given to me by my mother - she wrote my name in the top right corner, though it's barely legible now.

All through my life, I've had the attitude that there is no use regretting things not done; if it is important enough to me, I should do what I can to change what I can. So I've started handwriting my recipes in my own cookbooks - with the expectation that after my death, these books will be warmly accepted and fondly held by my sons, my daughters-in-law, my grandchildren and their grandchildren.  I would like them to add their own recipes alongside mine to build up a collection of cookbooks that will become family treasures and I hope my own book, Down to Earth, will sit alongside these cookbooks on those future bookshelves.

In the photo above you can see my handwritten recipe (double-clicking will enlarge it) for one of my favourite leftovers meals - Colcannon Hash with Leftover Corned Beef; a meal I grew up on no doubt because it trickled down through the years from my Irish ancestors. I hope this meal will be enjoyed by my family 100 years from now and that they pass it on again. I have chosen three books to write in so far. The Real Food Companion by Matthew Evens that is pictured above, The Thrift Kitchen by Suzanne Gibbs and Kate Gibbs and Feast by Nigella Lawson. They're all substantial books - in content and structure so I know they'll stand up to many long years of use, but I settled on those three because they're the hardcover books I use the most. The Real Food Companion and The Thrifty Kitchen will hold my day-to-day family favourite meals, Feast will hold our celebration foods and notes about significant milestone foods - a hazelnut torte for our wedding cake, the first solid foods Jamie and Alexander eat, the menu, including wedding cake, for Shane and Sarndra's wedding in our backyard, the first meal I cooked with Sunny, my grandma's gem scone recipe, and much more.

I intend to make notes in Nourishing Traditions, Wild Fermentation and my mum's CWA book too, but they all have soft covers and I doubt they'll stand the test of time as well as the others; still, they're part of my plan. I will also make reference to this blog post in the cookbooks and probably print it out and stick it in, so those who hold these books in the future can read about who, how and why these family records were created.  I wonder what they'll think of them, if it will be a total surprise that we ate this food or if it will be familiar to them. I hope each branch of the family will add somethings of their own to the books to pass along. Food has the capacity to bring people together - even over the generations, and of all the things that will come and go over the years, food is the one thing I'm sure will still be part of every future life.

I would love you to share this with me and create a cook's archive for your family. It's simple to do; it just takes time and a book you have probably already have sitting on your shelf. Why not come along for the ride, I think we'll create something important for our families and a treasure that will last for a very long time. In one month, I intend writing about this again and will put out a call to everyone who joined in, to send a picture of one of their pages. I'm going to post every one of them to celebrate home cooking and family treasures. Will you join me?



  1. My mother has written the name of the person to inherit her various treasures on each item. My name is on the recipe box, hand made by a great uncle, containing hand written recipes of so many precious people.

    What a favor you are doing your posterity by writing down your own notes!

  2. I love this! My husband bought me a recipe record book. I'm working on writing out all of our favorite recipes from our childhood and those that have recently become favorites. In the notes section on each page, I write a little something about how the recipe was found, or the reaction received from the dish. I'm hoping that this will be cherished by our son when he is older along with the several cookbooks, that I enjoy using along with the notes that I have written in them

  3. This is a lovely, lovely idea.
    I, however, couldn't do a hand-written version as I have awful writing. t's always been bad but it's even worse since I broke my wrist 8 years ago (coupled with the fact I type and print everything these days and I am certain the muscles for hand-writing are wasted!)

    However, I am currently making a recipe folder for my sweet husband and young cousin which contain A5 sized recipe sheets and are aimed at complete novices in the kitchen. Words like "sautee" and "simmer" have been replaced by "fry gently" and "water about to boil".
    It isn't meant to be patronising - I'm just realistic about what they know and can do at the moment. I figure my kids will get these recipes to work from when they are old enough to take charge of some of the cooking.
    I maintain my own A5 folder of recipes that I've either copied from others (always with a wee acknowledgement) or have made up myself.

  4. Rhonda, Your sons (and others who love you) are sure to appreciate this. My mother in law died before I met my husband, but a year or so after we were married his sister put together a cook book of all the recipes she used to cook. Most had been typed into the computer, but there was one that was in his mum's own writing. My husband saw it and burst into tears. It meant so much to have that "piece" of her. The recipe isn't special - just regular Anzac biccies - but includes her notes on trying treacle and molassas instead of golden syrup. When I cook this recipe it ties me to her, even though I never met her. jen

  5. This is a lovely idea. I have had plans to compile our family favorites in a scrap book for my son with photos of us enjoying the meals. Perhaps this post will light the fire under me to get this started NOW.

  6. Such a sweet and simple idea. I love it :)

  7. I have never thought of writing in an actual cookbook, I have a little notebook that I jot down recipes into and a have a cooking blog http://cookingwithfivebrothersandonesister.blogspot.com/ that I hope to use oneday to make into a cookbook for my kids as they leave home, filled with favourite family recipes to take into their new lives.

  8. I have a couple of tatty old recipe books belonging to my late grandmother, and to my late Mum, all having their own notes and recipes handwritten here and there throughout. I treasure them, but it never occurred to me to do the same with my own recipe books because my cooking skills leave a lot to be desired. I will make notes in my recipe books from now on for my adult kids, both very skilled cooks who cook with a passion! Thank you Rhonda.

  9. My mother-in-law had a favorite cook book that she cooked her main meals in. We found one and she lovingly went through it with me and showed me the ones my then future husband loved best. I mark all the recipes in cook books I use and when tried first and comments. On the inside fly of each cookbook I write the recipe names of ones I use from each book and page number. It helps a lot when I am looking for a recipe in that book! Also I have written out family favorites in a notebook for each child and notes on each recipe. The children also already have a copy of my mother in laws recipe book with ones our family ate and loved written on the fly. I agree that one of the heritages is the family recipes. I never thought till someone commented to add pictures of us at meals to some of the pages. Great idea :) Sarah

  10. I think this is such a wonderful idea. I tend to look at my cookbooks as things of beauty rather than the tools they are. I can see some additions happening from now on.
    Many thanks Rhonda

  11. This is a great idea for a memorable gift for your descendents. I have been handwriting recipes for years in a few hard covered journals. Many of my favourite recipes as well as my mothers traditional Australian/English type food as well as Daniel's mum's Italian recipes. She was born in Rome and had two sons, none of whom cook, so I feel I need to pass these on also. Some of my favourite childhood memories are seeing my nanna hand slicing the beans (while sitting and watching tv!) for the family Sunday roast.

  12. That is such a beautiful idea Rhonda.
    I have a big hardcover book that I made when I first learnt bookbinding. It holds all of my recipes & some of my mum's too. Along side each recipe I have written a little note as to how it came about & who loves that particular one.
    I'm binding another for my mum this christmas & my siblings are helping me to collate all of mum's recipes, with some of nana's in there too.
    I can't wait to give it to her.
    I hope you have a beautiful week.
    Thank you as always for sharing your inspiring words.

  13. Thanks for sharing this Rhonda. In Western Australia the standard school cookery book was always The Golden Wattle. My Mum still has her copy and I hope one day to be the recipient of it. WHen we cleaned out my Nanna's house a couple of years ago, we found her old copy from the 30s, but it had completely disintegrated. You can still buy it today and I got a copy for my 16th birthday - but I was very disapointed to find they had removed the pikelet recipe...hmm, that was on page 131 of my Mum's copy and my go to for morning tea baking:)

  14. It was funny to come across this post today Rhonda as a few weeks ago I started writing in The Real Food Companion (some people were disgusted I was writing in an $80 book) but you have put so nicely into words what I was feeling)

    I also will be writing in Matthew Evans new book Winter on the farm. I was lucky enough to get a signed copy from Rosetta Books which I have cherished very much.
    I also have a hard covered journal where I write recipes & handy hints. Years ago when I first got a computer I typed all my recipes up (it took weeks)& put them in a display folder only to realize a while later how awful and sterile it was. Something else I do is when I cook a recipe out of a book I write the date I tried it any adjustments I made & if we shared it with company I write who! Thank you so much for this post as when people ask me about disrespecting books by writing in them I will point them in the direction of this post!! To me it's a compliment as to how special the book is to me.

  15. I suppose someone will someday inherit my recipe card box! When a recipe (from a website, or a friend, or cookbook, etc) has really earned it's place at our house by being repeatedly prepared and enjoyed, I always copy it onto a recipe card. I like to have all my recipes in one place.

    Though I love cookbooks, I don't really want to have to keep them forever. And I kind of hate having to remember which book a certain recipe is in. :)

  16. I've been handwriting and printing recipes on the computer and putting them in my Margaret Fulton's Encyclopedia of Food and Cookery for years. This is my second copy as the original book fell apart after nearly 25 years of constant use. I then found 2 copies on ebay, in excellent condition, and bought both. One for myself and one for eldest daughter. My daughter requested the original copy, bought plastic covers and 2 folders, decorated them, and gifted it to a recently married young friend of hers who had no idea of even boiling eggs. Her friend frequently thanks her and has commented on some handwritten notes I made in the book and the 'extra' recipes. I'm so glad that I've helped someone outside the family learn about good food and how to prepare it, even if it is in a roundabout way :).
    The youngest daughter has 'dibs' on my more recent copy because she was quite cross when she discovered I'd given away the original! I mollified her somewhat by explaining I'd transferred my notes to the 'new' book and recopied the recipes I'd added.

  17. Caroline, I agree, it's paying respect to the book and uses it to its full measure. I bought my Winter on the Farm from Rosettas too but mine's not signed. Did he come up to Maleny or did he just have signed copies there?

  18. We have some old family books. I treasure my grandmother's book that is frail and tied with ribbon. She was a qualified pastry chef and I still miss her. She died when I was quite young and I never really had the chance to learn from her.

    We have several note books filled with hand written efforts. We make note of the person who shred with us and sometimes other simple things are recorded as well.

  19. I love the idea - exactly as you are doing it! I like the little sketches, also. Sadly, I do not have one cookbook that I return to time and time again. (I DO use my loose-leaf Better Homes and Gardens frequently, but as you said, this type of format may not be as long-lived as something bound....hmmmmmmmmm.)

  20. I love those little diagrams and comments! You can tell which are my favorite recipes as the pages are spattered with bits of cake mix and then they stick together, LOL so I have been transferring mine onto a recipe blog where my daughters who live overseas can access them.

  21. Rhonda, Matthew Evans did go to Rosetta Books but I didn't know at the time so I missed him. I was lucky enough to get the last signed copy they had. Signature or not-it's a great book & I hope to share many memorable meals from it with family & friends.

  22. I want to give cook books of our favourite family recipes to all of my daughters but not sure I want to write out 4 separate books so I'm thinking of using digital media to create bound photo books with a compilation of recipes with photographs, memories,instructions of course and also have pages in it to write tips and personal notes such as this was your dad's favourite cake - that sort of thing. For my own reference I have just joined pinterest and loving having all the recipes I use and find in the one place .. no more scraps of paper with hastily written out recipes falling out of my drawer. Having said that, it was a scrap of paper with a sketchy family tree that my grandmother had written down that enabled me to find out about my heritage and trace my family history all the way back to the 1500's. If only she had written down her recipe for the cake she used to make - I still remember the taste and the texture from my childhood!

  23. When my Mum died 3 years ago I inherited her recipes (old books and loose hand written pages). By Christmas I hope to have a book completed with scanned hand written recipes, typed family favourites and also some photos and family memories of Mum. The plan is to have one printed for each family member.

  24. What a great post Rhonda...I too write down my recipes and add hints and tips to them...although I don't refer to cookbooks very often except for seeking inspiration in dibs and dabs.....I do have heaps of them, and a few favourites......My one cookbook though that I keep all the important things in is a spiral bound copy that is nearly full...some clippings from magazines or grocery wrappers, but mostly hand written by me. I take this everwhere with me, especially on holidays to family..that way I can cook the good recipes I do at home for other family members.
    I also add notes of double and triple quantities on lots of recipes...because that's what I do, it saves heaps of time cooking two or three at a time.

  25. What a good idea Rhonda! I too have a copy of the Barossa cookbook, it was my great aunt's. I always smile when I see a photo of your cookbook shelf, I feel like I am looking at my own.

  26. Rhonda, this brings to mind a lovely kitchen tea I was invited to years ago where the bride to be instead of a gift requested that each person bring their favourite recipe. Her maid of honour then pasted all these into a lovely book for her. I thought it was a fantastic idea as it is something that will last forever.
    Kindest regards, Miki

  27. Hi Jean
    I love reading your blog. I started a scrapbook a few years ago doing the same thing. I've added photos of the finished product and that product being devoured. Also comments about how the food was enjoyed. I love this scrapbook. And hoping that many generations to come will do to.

  28. I agree, perfect idea! In fact three Christmas's ago I did just that. I sat down at the computer and put together a recipe book of all the meals that were often served at our house as my children were growing up.

    I added graphics and a little background. Such as "Awful Waffles" (what the kids called them) We had these on board meeting nights when your Dad was gone. What fun it was to have breakfast for dinner.

    Anyway you get it. A big hit! Even today my dd calls to reference an ingredient or cooking time. My son , who I lovingly refer to as the Alex Keaton of Fresno , (those of you who watch TV may remember Michael J. Fox character in family ties) was spell bound that Christmas as he leafed through the book.

    It is time this Christmas to do a new addition! Cheers.

  29. Hi Rhonda,
    This is such a wonderful post and close to my heart!
    About a year ago, as a special gift each, for my two daughters, who were about to leave home, I completed a record of our "Family Favourite Recipes Old and New".
    It took me three years to complete. Scanned hand written recipes, old photos and family stories and memories surrounding food. Family stories of growing vegie gardens and catching rabbits and fish during the Great Depression. My Grandfather was also a baker and included in our recipe collection is his handwritten bread recipe from the 1930's!
    All the recipes and stories are contained in a large folder with archival plastic sleeves and the cover has a beautiful old doily that my mother embroidered.
    The completed project weighs a ton but my daughters just love their slice of family history and their "books" take pride of place alongside their many other recipe books.
    It seemed the perfect parting gift and now they have their own record of our families food history.
    Even if you're not the worlds best cook, so many of our best family memories are made in the kitchen and around the dinner table or over a picnic spread.
    Love Julie

  30. What a lovely post Rhonda. My mother in Law has her great grandmothers handwritten "cookbook" which contains not only food but also cleaning recipes and natural remedies. I hope to inherit it one day.

  31. The pictures you drew are so precious! They really put a smile on my face. What a lovely idea.


  32. I have also done this in the past, but now they are hand written into a separate cookbook.Does that count do you think?

  33. Such a thoughtful post. And it has been interesting to read the different ways your readers have kept their treasured recipes and how many plan to pass on copies of family recipes as gifts. from Jenny McH

  34. This is a beautiful post Rhonda. I hadn't actually thought of writing inside a recipe book in the way you've described, but it makes sense and will indeed be a beautiful thing to pass on to the children.
    I treasure the hand-written notes and cards from family members, especially my dad who has passed away. There is something special about seeing a loved one's handwriting.

  35. When my brother got engaged recently, I thought long and hard about what to get the new couple. I finally realized that the most valuable thing I could give them was a copy of all of my handwritten recipes which represents decades of favorite meals. I hope that they will enjoy them, add to them and share them with the next generation eventually.

    I am preparing special versions of my collection for each of my children to take with them as they grow up and strike out into the world. I can think of no better way for them to feel connected to home than to "share" a meal with us even when we are not together.

  36. I loved this post and I think it's a great idea. I have a handwritten recipe from my grandmother that I love. She only went through 8th grade before going to work in a factory so she did not write much.

    Janet M

  37. Kate, it certainly does count; I believe it's the writing in your own hand that makes the connection. Maybe you can write a couple of recipes in one of your cook books; there will be more than one person wanting your recipes.

  38. I have that very same Barossa Cookery Book Rhonda which belonged to my mother. Infact when I first looked at your post and saw the Book I thought "How did Rhonda get my book", it looks exactly the same - the way they age! I have recipes my dear old mum wrote by hand, and my favourite Apricot Jam with the Apricot kernal. I LOVE old recipe Books.

  39. Hi Rhonda,
    Such a fun idea. My mom writes little notes in her cookbooks of what was good and what was very good. I need to start doing this as well. She also gave me a stack of hand written laminated recipe cards with some of my favorite recipes when I was little. She included a cute recipe box she decorated as well. I loved (and still love) it. I continue to add to the pile myself, and then a few years ago for Christmas she gifted me another set of newer recipes (unlaminated this time) from her and other family members. She added notes as to whom they were from and who's favorites were which. I plan on starting this for my own son this year (even though he is only one, I just need to find a laminator) as he loves to help in the kitchen. I know he will get a kick out of using his own recipe cards when we cook together.
    Thanks for the inspiration to get started on this idea.

  40. Dear Rhonda
    Back in the family home in Adelaide (where my 94 year old Dad still lives) there is a collection of my Mum's cookbooks gathering dust in the kitchen cupboard. A small collection of school cookbooks, and early Margaret Fulton and Women's Weekly classics.

    On and off over the years I've handwritten recipes in a little black book, and my partner and I have also compiled our favourite recipes in our computer, with a searchable index, no less!

    Passing on favourite - occasionally hand annotated - recipes is a great tradition. Our 5 year old boy has started his cooking interest by helping to make the pizza dough for our regular Friday evening home made pizza night! When his reading improves he'll be able to interpret some of my recipes, although his drawing & colouring would be a great way to illustrate my cookbook.

    Thanks - you've just given me a great idea!

  41. My mom has a recipe box filled to overflowing with family recipes, some from friends, and those that were copied out of magazines or borrowed cookbooks. I also have an old cookbook of my great-grandmother's with her notes written down inside it and little slips of paper stuck in between the pages that contain her own recipes. I love that I can see her handwriting and what she liked to cook (she owned a restaurant and was famous in town for her pies).

    I have found myself writing my own notes in my cookbooks but hadn't thought about it being something to hand down to my own children at some point. Your post has made me realize what a truly wonderful gift I've been given and can give!

    Something else I've done is perfected the recipe for wheat rolls that one of my other great-grandmother's used to make. Making them "just right" skipped a couple generations, I guess, and my family has been so pleased that I can make them so well. If you can't tell, I'm pretty proud that everyone enjoys them so much on holidays. :)

    I love the connection cooking and baking has given me to past generations. It's like a part of my great-grandmothers has lived on because of their recipes. It's very special.

  42. In my extended family, we have a saying: "can I have this when you die?" When we see something that we love, we ask the question, not to be tacky or rude, but to let the person know how much we love the item. My grandmother put names on things so we'd all know who got what.

    The cookbook that I love the most is the one my MIL made for my Husband. She took a small photo album, hand wrote out recipes on index cards to fit, and put them in chronological order with photos. She wrote where she got the recipe, who she got it from, and any significance it had to the period of his life, along with any pictures she had of that time period. It's a wonderful book to just look through and read. She's a wonderful MIL, I might add.

  43. Although I understand the hand written point...I did something a little different. Seeing how many children I know DON'T cook, I decided first my kids would cook. Then as my oldest got older he would say to me "I want this recipe when I move out". We had three boys in the family that were about the same age, so when my son graduated, I put together a family cookbook. I had all of his favorite recipes in it, and I contacted the rest of our relatives, especially the mother of the other two boys, and we put together a book of all family recipes that they could start to cook with immediately. There were only about 4 contributors out of the whole family...but everyone wanted one so I had to print up about 25! My son loves and uses his book all the time. And now I have another one getting close to graduating, and she has a cousin that is the same age so in a year I will do it all over again! We have been collecting recipes in the 6 year gap and let the family know to save thiers also -- and we have more excitement this time now that everyone has a better ideal of what we are doing. This was by far one of the best things I've done for my kids and I'm excited to do it again in a year.

  44. I don't have children yet, but I love the idea of making a "family favorites" cookbook or recipe box for them.
    I have a lot of cookbooks. I do make notes in them - small changes I make or comments on the recipe. However, I tend to view recipes more like guidelines and frequently make far more changes than are practical to write in the book. So I keep a notebook in the kitchen where I record all my recipes and culinary experiments. I like this because I can make changes (or rewrite the whole thing if I make too many changes), make notes for the future, and it limits the places where I have to hunt for recipes when I want to make one. It works really well for me (I'm on my second notebook).


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