Collecting Family Recipes: A Group Effort

Work with family members to grow, or begin, your family recipe collection.


| March 2018


Preserving Family Recipes: How to Save and Celebrate Your Food Traditions (University of Georgia Press, 2015), by Valerie J. Frey provides useful tips for successfully gathering and preserving family recipes. The book offers advice on interviewing relatives, documenting family food traditions, and collecting oral histories to help readers savor their memories. The following excerpt is from Chapter 3, "Adjusting Recipes."

Getting Started on a Group Project

Poll Your Family. Making a list in advance is a helpful way to start collecting family recipes. Jot down what recipes and stories you hope to preserve and then find out what other family members think should be included. This helps generate enthusiasm, and many heads are better than one when it comes to remembering the past, especially if you want multiple viewpoints.

You want to consider favorite dishes, exemplary cooks, unusual foodways, and the most compelling family stories. Although you can approach a recipe collection any way that makes the most sense to you, consider seeking out a variety of dishes representing each branch of the family and reflecting important stages in your family's history. Collecting widely is the best idea; even if some materials don't work for this particular collection or cookbook, they will be preserved and can always be used for another volume. If you take this approach, let family know in advance so they will not be disappointed if everything they contribute does not appear in the first shared collection.

Collect from a Distance. Because of expense and time constraints, sometimes the only real option is to collect family materials from a distance. Phone calls and letters are certainly good methods, especially for letting people know about the project as it launches. E-mail may be better later in the project, as it allows you to more easily keep track of conversation threads. Computers have revolutionized genealogy in the last few decades, and social media sites are wonderful for outreach or maintaining family connections. I created Facebook groups for various clans of cousins. Sharing old photos or recipes this way can create instant enthusiasm for your project, and the discussions that follow can jog people's memories and turn up valuable information.

Be as Mobile as Possible. For a richer experience that will build family memories and to have the best chance to collect what you need, travel as much as you are able. Many family members will be best motivated to help you in person, plus face-to-face contact is often most efficient and helps to avoid misunderstandings.

Family members may be willing to help but find the idea of writing down what they know too daunting or too time consuming. Therefore, on-site interviews and cooking visits are often the most effective way to gain rich information. If you let family members know well in advance that you are coming and what specific recipes or family materials you are looking for, you'll have the best results.





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