How To

4 Smart Tips for Writing Your Family Recipes

recipe box craft o maniac featured image

Photo: Jen/Craft-O-Maniac

Easy ways to capture, update and save recipes from all the great cooks in your family.

As a cookbook author and local food magazine editor, I get lots of opportunities to write, review and test recipes from my community. But my favorite recipes to play around with are those from my grandmothers, Ruth and Dorothy.

They were excellent cooks, in different ways: Ruth enjoyed baking and favored fancy dishes that were fit for company; Dorothy cooked simply using produce from her vast backyard garden. While both of them have passed away, I still feel them standing over my shoulder whenever I make one of the recipes they shared with me.

If  you’re fortunate to have an assortment of recipes from cooks in your family, you may find yourself with a mismatched collection: scraps with jotted notes, index cards, clippings from magazines and promotional recipe books, vintage cookbooks—or all of the above.

Gathering, updating and even rewriting these treasures is a great way to preserve and share your family’s food history. Here are some tips to get you started.

old family recipe cards writes 4 food

Photo: Bryn/Writes 4 Food

1) Capture unwritten or partial recipes in person.

My grandmother Ruth didn’t measure flour for her pie crust; she used several handfuls and mixed the ingredients until they felt right. There wasn’t a true recipe until I watched her make it and wrote down measurements and instructions.

Ask your relative to show you how she prepares a dish, document the ingredients and process, and then test it at home.  For more how-tos on capturing unwritten recipes, read Cookbook Create’s free eBook, “How to Make a Cookbook: The Ultimate Guide.”

2) Fill in the blanks with research.

If you don’t have the opportunity to watch your loved one make a favorite food, then you’ll need some help, and you’ll find plenty online. For example, while I had Dorothy’s recipe for strawberry pie filling, I didn’t have her instructions for making the graham cracker crust. A quick internet search turned up a pretty basic one, so I added that to her strawberry pie recipe.

recipe card and cake food 52

Photo: Mary Catherine Tee/Food52

3) Interpret old-fashioned kitchen lingo

You’ll find that many old recipes include vague instructions (“bake in a quick oven,” “make a thin white sauce”) or outdated ingredients (for example, “sour cream” in a 1930s recipe most likely equates to today’s buttermilk, or soured cream, rather than commercial sour cream). An internet search can help you clarify oven temperatures, ingredients and techniques. Rewrite the recipe with those details.  

4) Settle on a consistent style.

When your family recipes come from a bunch of different sources, it’s helpful to write them in a standardized way. Seemingly small details like consistent measurements (tsp. or teaspoon, oz. or ounce) will make your recipe collection easier to read and use. Check out Cookbook Create’s Ultimate Guide for smart advice on writing all the elements of a recipe, including ingredients, instructions and notes.

Once you’ve gathered and updated a batch of family recipes, you’re ready to organize and share them—and Cookbook Create makes it super easy.


Learn how it works and get your collection started!


Bryn Mooth is the author of “The Findlay Market Cookbook: Recipes & Stores from Cincinnati’s Historic Public Market” and the editor of Edible Ohio Valley magazine. She shares simple recipes that celebrate fresh, local, seasonal ingredients at Writes4Food.com.

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