Cooking Up a Cookbook Memoir

cookstoveWhether we loved or hated family dinners, they were an important part of childhood. Some of us ate food made from recipes handed down from generation to generation. Others of us ate dinners in which the secret recipes came off the back of boxes and the main ingredients were Miracle Whip and cream of mushroom soup. Often when extended family gathered or we ate at our grandparents’ homes, the menu was different.

Family recipes can trigger childhood memories and can serve as a useful framework for organizing family remembrances. Cookbook memoirs are relatively simple to write and can be easily illustrated with family photos and duplicated at your local copy center if you wish to give them as presents.

  • Go through your recipe file and pull your tried and true recipes (the ones you and your children loved) as well as those that were passed down to you. Make notes about any memories those recipes bring up. Are there any family stories that were handed down with the recipes? If so, write them down.
  • Brainstorm about the food you ate growing up, both around the family dining table and at larger family gatherings, church socials, and potlucks. If you need to do some research, contact older relatives and ask them for their memories as well as their recipes.
  • Don’t forget comfort food. (My favorite was always tapioca pudding. My mother said it took too long to cook, but my grandmother always had the time to make it for me.)
  • Did your parents or grandparents survive the Great Depression or live on a farm? Did your grandparents or great grandparents come here from another country? If so, how did that affect their attitudes about and tastes in food?
  • What were your mealtime rituals as a family? Do you have pleasant memories of them or less than pleasant memories? What was your favorite table to gather around? How was it set and what did the room look like? By adding sights, sounds, tastes and smells to your stories, you’ll make them come alive.
  • Write about how you learned how to cook. Who taught you? What was your biggest kitchen disaster? Your biggest triumph? How has meal preparation changed from when you were younger to now?
  • Remember that you are probably writing for a younger generation of readers who haven’t even seen a flour sifter or a turkey baster. Don’t take cooking expertise for granted. When you copy the recipe directions, you may need to amplify them.
  • Find a way to organize the recipes by putting them into categories. You might choose to divide them into desserts, main dishes, salads and the like, or you can organize them into sections that focus on the cook in question. My own memoir cookbook has a few unique food groups: Stick to Your Ribs Vittles, Second Breakfasts, The Way to a Man’s Heart, Sunday Dinners, Celebrations, Funeral Food and Putting Food By.