It’s November and we’re quickly approaching the Christmas season. I’ll be the first to admit that I have been playing Christmas music (She & Him Christmas tunes are my top recommendation) and a wreath has been on our front door for a few days already. I have about half of my Christmas gifts bought or thought of and we haven’t even had (American) Thanksgiving yet! *Currently patting myself on the back for being productive (which is not a normal occurrence).*
If you’re struggling to think of gifts for your loved one, if you have “hard-to-shop-for-or-already-have-everything” family members, or if you simply are tired of buying your mom a scarf and your sister some slippers, then you’ve come to the right place.
Last year for Christmas I sneakily gathered some of my grandmothers recipes and put together a small cookbook for my mom and two sisters. It was an amazing challenge for me to merge my lettering, photography, and design skills all in one place, and I also learned a thing or two about cooking.
Not only is this a great gift option for your immediate family, but it can also be given to your aunts, cousins, and any other family members that would benefit from a collection of grandmas recipes. It’s a flexible project in the sense that you can control how much time and effort you put into it.
Below, I’m sharing the steps I took in the process of making the cookbook as well as some tips for making this project as stress free as possible.
Step One: Gather Recipes.
I’m sure, like me, you have a couple recipes floating around that were given to you or collected by your family over time. If you need more (and also want to keep this gift a secret) feel free to conjure up your inner ninja to get ahold of them. If you live in the same town as your grandmother, mother, or family, you are so lucky and can simply invite yourself over to look through and take iPhone photos of their recipes when they are not around. Sneaky… I know.
If, like me, you live 1,374 miles away from home, I officially allow you to use a white lie. I told my mom I wanted to learn how to cook like grandma and therefore needed a whole bunch of her recipes (sorry, mom). In my defence, I did learn a lot about how my grandma cooked and I did genuinely enjoy my grandmothers cooking, so it wasn’t a total lie.
My cookbook consisted of 14 recipes. To be honest, that was a lot of work. I recommend gathering about 5-10 recipes depending on how much time and energy you want to put into this project.
Step Two: Cook & Photograph Recipes
This is (obviously) the most time consuming part of the project so here are some bits of advice.
– Always half the recipes! You will be making a lot of food so please try to reduce the amount of waste. Unless you have a large family that will happily consume all of the food, I highly recommend making smaller portions to photograph. Often you only need one bowl of soup or a couple scoops of casserole for the photograph. There was no way Braden and I would be able to eat everything if I made full portions.
– It’s okay to cheat! I only recommend this for 1 or 2 recipes and only if you’re in a pinch. But if you have a recipe that calls for an odd ingredient, don’t feel like you have to put it in. If it doesn’t alter the way it looks, you don’t need to put it in. Cameras are solely concerned with how things look, not with how they taste. For example, I cooked and photographed my grandmother meat loaf recipe (classic grandma food amiright?) and I had ran out off milk and eggs so I simply left them out. The texture, as I’m sure you can imagine, was horrendous but you couldn’t tell in the photograph. For one, I knew Braden and I didn’t like meal loaf and wouldn’t be eating it and two, I knew for sure the recipe was great because I’ve seen my mother and grandmother make it many times with good results. If you’re certain that the recipe is adored, feel free to “cheat” when you’re creating the cookbook.
– Freeze or share your meals! Freeze your soups and casseroles (they often will last for a good few days in the freezer) and share your desserts and pies with friends (but only if you didn’t follow my advice on skipping ingredients).
– If you are not a photographer and are worried about photographing and styling the food, my one piece of advice would be to keep it simple. All you need is a clean and simple table or tablecloth, a couple of nice accessories (fabric napkin, pretty serving spoons, wood cutting board, etc), a minimalistic background, and above all, natural light. The moment you add many colours, props, or textures, you’ll find there is too much distraction. This will result in cluttered and less than ideal images. Also, try to use at least an entry level DSLR camera. If you don’t have one, borrow one from a friend or rent one!
Step Three: “Design” Your Book Online
Blurb offers a great variety of ways to design the book. I used InDesign and uploaded the finished files to the site but if you feel like that is beyond your skill level, Blurb also offers several tools to easily put together your pages.
Artifact Uprising also has beautifully made books and an easy-to-use tool to create your design.
*Note: I am in no way affiliated or getting paid for this post by Blurb or Artifact Uprising. I simply prefer both those companies from personal experience and used Blurb for this particular project for their lower prices and flexibility in design options.
Step Four: Print & Gift Your Creation!
This is the best part. Receiving the completed cookbook in the mail and opening it up to see all my hard work in paper was so satisfying. What was even better, was seeing how happy the gift made my mom and sisters. Also, be prepared for many other orders from extended family!
Please feel free to comment or email me if you have any questions about creating a family heirloom cookbook! Happy cooking!