Family Recipe Book

Introduction: Family Recipe Book

About: An engineer, seamstress, cook, coder, and overall maker. Spent a summer at Instructables; got a degree in E: Neural Engineering at Olin College; made a microcontroller (; now thinking about climate c…

My mother and grandmother have been collecting recipes for years- tried and true, tested and delicious. They're on cute, quaint handwritten notecards, or they come in the form of magazine clippings. Some aren't even written down; my mother's pie crust recipe is the best, but it's only in her head.

This might have worked for her, but the notecards don't work for my siblings and I. Even if we know where to find them, stuffed tightly in the recipe box or in the little three ring binder or taped behind the flour canister, there's only one of each of them, and us three kids are moving out- so the recipe box in the cupboard doesn't cut it when we want to make that great banana bread for our friends in the dorm. Even when we're at home, it can be so much trouble to find a recipe that we just print one off the internet and take our chances.

With a little prompting from my mother, I set out to compile our family recipes into a beautiful, editable, and infinitely more shareable digital document. Though it took a whole summer, I highly recommend making your own book of family recipes. It's been a nostalgic and rewarding experience, and the output cookbook is indispensable.

What I share here are a few tips to guide you through the process.

Step 1: Materials

1. Your disorganized but delicious family recipes
2. A good word processor. I used Microsoft Word.

3. A scanner, ideally one that does well with photos and- even better- one with OCR capabilities (or Adobe Acrobat)
4. Internet
5. Printer
6. "Book" binding materials

Step 2: Recipe Layout

First, think about what is important to you when you read a recipe. Make a list of the things you always want to know when you're going to cook something.

Here's my list:
1. Ingredients
2. Procedure
3. How long will it take? (How much is active cooking time? Can I leave the room for an hour while it bakes?)
4. Should I preheat the oven?
5. A picture is always nice!

Based on this list, I decided on my format:

Prep time | Oven Temp | Cooking Time



Step 3: Structuring Your Recipe Book

Many cookbooks are divided up by meal or type of dish. If some other division is more useful for you, then go for that!
Ideally, this chapter division will be useful to a reader who is browsing, but doesn't have a specific dish in mind (see the next step for the specific-dish user case).

Some suggestions for division:
-Breakfast, Luch, Dinner
-International Cuisine
-Playtime (my cookbook has recipes for bubbles and playdough)
-Soups, Dips, Salads, Appetizers

Your recipe selection can help you determine where dividing lines should be drawn. For example, I combined dips, salads, and appetizers in mine because I only had a few of those. My selection of recipes for treats, however, was myriad, so I have a section each for cookies, candy, sweet breads, muffins, cakes, and pies.

This is also because when someone in my family is looking for pie, they aren't interested in cakes. We have very specific dessert tastes. However, someone from a different family might think this is silly because they just want something sweet. Think about how your family would want to browse this cookbook.

If you aren't too familiar with your recipe selection, you can come back to this step later- the magic of word processing is that you can cut and paste later! However, it is easier if you make some structure for your cookbook before you begin to enter the recipes.

Step 4: Finishing Touches, Before You Start

I'll say it again: it's easiest if you get your structure all set up first. That's why we're going to set up a table of contents and index before we even have recipes.

You'll also want to put page numbers and maybe a date of when it was last updated.

My example- and the next couple of steps- are for people using Microsoft Word 2010, because that's what I used.
There are many other ways to set up a referencing system, and I condone your use of your preferred word processor. Heck, do it in LyX or LaTeX if you really want to.
However, I find the features of Microsoft Word to be pretty intuitive, so that's what I'll show you.

Step 5: Table of Contents

Open up Word, go to the References tab, click Table of Contents, and pick your favorite.

Go down a couple of spaces and write something. Now select whatever you wrote, go to the Home tab, and click the Heading 1 choice from the Styles section.

Now right click on your table of contents, click Update Field, then select Update Entire Field.

Hey presto! Whatever you wrote as your heading populated automatically to your table of contents.

If this is your first time experiencing this feature, play around with it for a little while.

Now type each of the divisions of recipe you decided on from Step 2, and style each of them Heading 1.
Populate these into your table of contents.

I chose to make each recipe a Heading 2 style so that these, too, would populate in the appropriate sections on my table of contents.

Step 6: Thinking About the Index

Go to the bottom of your document. Select the References tab, then click on the small Insert Index button.

You'll want to decide how to index your recipes. The simplest option is just to use it as an alphabetical list of recipe titles, verbatim.
You might wonder, however, if you should list your strawberry-rhubarb pie under strawberry-rhubarb, rhubarb-strawberry, or pie. With an index, you can tag the same recipe with all of these!
Another option is to index by ingredients. Looking for a recipe with squash in it? You can tag your squash waffles, butternut squash soup, and pumpkin pie with "squash" to get all of their page numbers together in the index.

Again, the important thing about how you choose to index is usability. What would best help your users find what they're looking for?

Step 7: Data Entry

Data entry is a pain and this takes forever. It is nice, however, to watch your document gradually fill into beautifully matching recipes, following your template designed in step 2.

If you have an OCR-capable scanner (one that recognizes and deciphers text), this is easier; you won't have to hand-input each word. A scanner and Adobe Acrobat works just as well: if you open your scan in Acrobat, go to file>save as, you can save your scan into Word, rich text, and other useful formats.
Any time you use OCR, of course, it's a good idea to look over the result. Especially in this case, when you're probably going off of handwriting.

If you have photos of a completed recipe or you're working off of a magazine that has a picture, these are a nice touch. You can scan those in as well (but you have to give credit where it's due and can't sell anything containing someone else's work unless you have their permission, of course).

If your paper recipes are all in a jumble (and not neatly sorted by type), you can CTRL+Home your way to the top of your document and double click on the appropriate section in your table of contents to jump to the place you want to put your next recipe.

This is what takes the majority of your time. Hopefully, you enjoy exploring your predecessors' notecard selection and the ancient orts on the beloved recipes.

Step 8: Marking Recipes for the Index

Hopefully you've had enough time to think about your index since step 6.

For each recipe:
Highlight the title of the recipe you are tagging for the index. On the References tab in Word, click Mark Entry.
If you want just the recipe title, it will auto-populate into the Main Entry box. You can also make sub-entries, e.g.:


You can also mark the same place as many times as you want.
Play around until you understand this feature.

Make sure you right click on your index and tell it to update. Otherwise none of your changes will show up.

Oh, and if you're worried about all the weird squares and paragraph signs the Word put on your document, stop worrying. It's just letting you see your index entries. To view it all print-pretty, go to your Home tab and unclick the paragraph symbol.

Step 9: Getting It Print-Ready

Update your table of contents and index.

Save a copy before this next bit so that it's easy to add new recipes.

Scroll through your document (starting at the top) and make sure your recipes aren't awkwardly broken between pages and that everything is legible.

Add a title page, if you want one.

Step 10: Publish

Now is the time to show off your beautiful, useful document. I printed mine to PDF so that no well-meaning family member could mess it up, then distributed it to their emails.

I printed a copy and bound it in page protectors in a three-ring binder (food can be washed off; recipes can be pulled out of the book for easier use). You can also put in dividers between your sections (i.e. sweet breads, muffins, pies).

Make sure your recipe book is accessible. I uploaded my PDF to Scribd, Dropbox, Google Docs, and Windows Live Office to accommodate the diverse technological needs of my family.

I've been satisfied ever since. I can't tell you how many times I've downloaded my recipe book, or in how many settings, because I couldn't remember how to make the perfect pie crust, or how many hours the cheesecake has to bake, and I didn't think I'd need a recipe book where I was going. And the best part? I know exactly how it's going to turn out, because it's the recipe I've always used.

It feels a bit like having my pie, and eating it too.

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    3 months ago

    I just found this. I am self taught on the computer over the last 15 yrs but had no idea how to do all the things you showed how to do. Yeah!!! Since I am typing in most of the recipes the hard way I have no idea how or where I type them. Do I do it between the Table of contents and index??? I didn't read anything that says how to do that. I typically do 2 columns for the ingredients and then the instructions. You may never see this so I think I will look for a youtube video. Thanks for sharing this.


    1 year ago

    Thank you for all this information. Many years ago, I started planning ahead for a wedding gift for my future daughter in law. I started printing out all of my recipes that were my sons favorites onto index cards, then placing them into photo albums. Its very easy to keep them clean that way. Its something personal for both of them really and she'll be able to carry on creating his favorite meals long after I'm no longer able to.

    Lynda Schuurs
    Lynda Schuurs

    1 year ago

    Thankyou so much Selkey, for sharing your process. I have been thinking about doing this for the past 6 months and wasn't sure of which format would be best. Your ideas are fantastic! I love that we will be able to continually update the recipe indefinitely! Congrats to you!


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for sharing this! I am making a cookbook and now I have something to work with. I needed a place to start!


    Reply 4 years ago

    I also started a family cookbook, and because of my mistake of not printing mine on time, they cancelled the old cookbook and now they will not let me retrieve all of my family's recipes. some are over 100 years old. will never be able to get them again....


    Reply 4 years ago

    ValorieM, Oh, this is so sad that so many old recipes were lost~ I would try and be persistent, if it has not been a real long time. Customer service is not the always the best place to request something. Perhaps doing a little research on the companies top dogs might produce some type of resolution. You might be surprised how contacting the right person could help you. Pm me if you need some ideas~ I wish you the best~



    4 years ago

    ValorieM made it! (author) sunshiineReply a few seconds ago

    I also started a family cookbook, and because of my mistake of not printing mine on time, they cancelled the old cookbook and now they will not let me retrieve all of my family's recipes. some are over 100 years old. will never be able to get them again....


    4 years ago

    make sure and copy you book or you may never be able to access your recipes again. Mine are in the old cookbook this company had, and I did not copy them as I should have. Now they will not let me retrieve them. needless to say I will not be making a new book................


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you for sharing this guide. I have been wanting to do this with my mom/grandmothers/aunts recipes for a long time. Now I have a place to start.

    Wish I had seen this before I put together a family recipe book for a reunion several years ago. I've written numerous recipes, but you had some great ideas here! Thanks for sharing