RootsTech: 5 Steps to Putting Family, Food, and Fun in Family History

Contributed By Marianne Holman Prescott, Church News staff writer

  • 6 March 2015

Alison Taylor invited those in attendance at her RootsTech presentation February 12 to create a family story cookbook. 

Article Highlights

  • Step 1: Capture story ideas.
  • Step 2: Gather recipes and photos.
  • Step 3: Choose a focus.
  • Step 4: Find the story arc.
  • Step 5: Find a look for the project and publishing options.

“Everybody has a food story in their life. Food is so essential to family life.” —Alison Taylor 

Whether it is sitting around the table celebrating a holiday, a special birthday, or Sunday dinner, or even a regular weeknight meal, food plays a large part in family life. One way to capture and preserve family memories is through creating a family story cookbook.

“Everybody has a food story in their life,” said Alison Taylor, a presenter at Rootstech 2015 on February 12. “Food is so essential to family life.”

In a presentation titled “Family, Food, and Fun,” Sister Taylor spoke of combining two important topics—family history and food.

The “memoir/cookbook” has become a popular staple in kitchens, with chefs combining stories, pictures, and recipes to create something more than just an ordinary cookbook. But an individual doesn’t have to be a famous chef to create his or her own cookbook of memories—a cookbook can be a vehicle to capturing family traditions and an easy way to preserve and share recipes and stories with family and friends.

To help people get started, Sister Taylor shared five steps to create a family cookbook.

Step 1: Capture story ideas.

Using a timeline can help when pulling together stories, Sister Taylor said. A timeline gives an individual a guide to organize and place stories in one central place. Even important stories not involving food can be incorporated into a cookbook by attaching them to people and places. By gathering an idea, a story, or a memory, individuals are able to go through and decide what pieces are most important.

Step 2: Gather recipes and photos.

One way to preserve family memories is through creating a family story cookbook.

The family story cookbook is a way to combine family history and food.

By gathering favorite recipes and photos, individuals are able to start piecing together their family cookbook. Often, stories will come to mind as people think back on times they have made or tasted a favorite recipe.

When gathering stories, photos, and recipes, Sister Taylor said it is important to find “the sweet spot” where family dynamics and food intersect—or the right balance between recipes, stories, and photos.

Step 3: Choose a focus.

With the different sections gathered, individuals will need to figure out their focus for the project.

“What is your flavor?” Sister Taylor asked. “What do you want your book to be? Are stories most important, or do you want it to be a memoir with recipes?”

In order to find a focus, individuals must decide why they are putting the book together—whether it is for their family or the public—and what they want the main idea of the book to be.

“It could be recipes from a single cook or a family collection of recipes,” Sister Taylor said. It could be stories and recipes from a specific time period or place with good memories associated with it. It could even be a book devoted to “cooking by the decade” or a travel diary with recipes.

It could be a book reflecting on memories of their family with the theme of food throughout, merely mentioning different recipes, or the main focus could be on recipes, adding in a few photos and stories to accompany the recipes. Whatever an individual decides, creating a focus will help in pulling a lot of information together.

Step 4: Find the story arc.

With much of the information gathered, individuals are then able to find the “story arc,” or the journey and destination of their project.

“I have a tip for you—write your intro and conclusion first,” Sister Taylor said. “And then figure out how you fill in the holes.”

Recognizing that the intro and conclusion can and probably will change as the book evolves, Sister Taylor said that starting with a beginning and end will help in figuring out what is needed to fill in the middle.

“Have you got a favorite recipe but no story?” she asked. “What does this recipe remind you of? Use that as a jumping off point for a story.”

Even recipes without ties to family members can be integrated into a family cookbook by finding connections.

“Be creative,” Sister Taylor said. “Find a connection with a family story.”

If pictures are not available to accompany a recipe or story, look for historic photos that show the time period or place of the story. Make the recipe and take photos of the food, incorporating family heirlooms and other kitchen gear and memorabilia that go along with the story.

Step 5: Find a look for the project and publishing options.

By looking at other cookbooks, individuals can get an idea of what they want their project to look like. There are many publishing options—low- and high-tech—available when piecing together a family cookbook.

A three-ring binder provides an easy, inexpensive way to store recipes. That type of book is more fluid—with moveable pages and the capability to expand. This is similar to a scrapbook or recipe cards bound together.

Other options include photo books created online or at a photography store. Although digital books might take more time and money to create upfront and are less fluid, they are easier to reproduce and share with others.

Whatever an individual decides, joining photos, family stories, and recipes can be a fun way to document the lives and stories of relatives and family traditions.