A recipe for preserving family history
In 1996, Judith Bart Kancigor stood between two generations - one that was starting to fade away and one that had not yet begun. "My favorite aunt was dying, and my daughter-in-law was expecting our first grandchild," she says. "That's when it hit me: How would that coming generation know about our family stories and history?"Skip to next paragraph
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Ms. Kancigor decided - as an increasing number of Americans are doing - to create a lasting bridge, a document that would tell the family tales through their favorite meals. So she sent a letter to her aunts, first cousins, and their adult children, asking for recipes and stories. The response was overwhelming. "In-laws of in-laws begged to be in my cookbook until 160 family members had contributed 600 recipes," she says.
Kancigor ordered 500 copies of her book, "Melting Pot Memories," from a custom cookbook publisher. She and her husband wondered if "we would be stepping over those boxes in our garage for the rest of our lives."
They needn't have worried. In six weeks, every copy of the book - which includes classic Jewish recipes, old family photos, and maps of Russia (the family's homeland) - was gone. Interest spread beyond the family, and 10,000 copies later, the book has been picked up by Workman Publishing, which will publish an edition of it this year.
Kancigor's experience isn't typical, of course, but it does point to the great appeal of family cookbooks, which are one part history, one part nostalgia, and one part good eating. The availability of computers has helped fuel the trend nationwide, say experts. Everybody, it seems, wants to put his or her own culinary legacies down on paper.
Just ask Amy Gardner of King of Prussia, Pa., a 20-something media relations coordinator who began her family cookbook when her sister got married. Ms. Gardner is using her home computer to input recipes, scan in photos, and design a black-and-white photo collage for the cover. Once she's happy with the layout, she will have a copy shop print the pages on heavy paper, add a spiral binding, and laminate the cover.
The project is a "great way to solidify the relationship my family has and to preserve it," she says, savoring memories of baking cookies with her grandmothers.
"Technology is great today, so that makes [creating a family cookbook] a little bit easier," she says, noting that people who have no design skills can use a simple word-processing program. Or they can turn to the Internet, where dozens of websites offer tips and shortcuts.
One site - HeritageCookbook.com - will even do most of the work. Simply choose from several covers and graphic styles, scan in family photos, and type in recipes, following the template.
Customers pay to use the site - the fee covers multiple family members - and must order a minimum of five copies of the finished product, which is 6 by 9 inches, has a spiral binding, and arrives by mail.
Susan Love, who owns the site, says business is brisk because family cookbooks combine two popular hobbies: cooking and genealogy. "When you sit down and think about writing your memoirs, unless you're a genealogist, where do you start? But one or two recipes kind of pulls it out of you. It's a tool," she says.
Ms. Love's first orders came from Southerners, who tend to prize home cooking and preserving the past. Most of her clients are women, who dedicate their books to the memory of a mother or grandmother.
Love's best pieces of advice: Choose one editor in chief and make sure that pictures are scanned in properly at the right resolution.
Other helpful tips:
• Develop an organized system for handling the recipes and flow of information.
• Keep recipes in one place.
• Decide how to divide the cookbook.