Preserving Family Recipes: How to Do it Safely


Family recipes bring back memories of good food, family, and all sorts of fun (and crazy) family memories. So when it comes to preserving those family recipes, why preserve them? And how can we do it safely?

Family recipes should be preserved to help families connect through food and shared meals. The recipes themselves may be preserved via archival-quality binders, copying the recipes down, digitizing the recipes, and finding safe, creative ways to display the originals. Here is what you need to know.

Ready to preserve those family recipes – or at least look at them? Let’s start with why they’re important – to give you the extra gumption you’re going to need to sort through them all.

Preserving Family Recipes – Why Are They Important?

Traditionally, mealtimes have been an important time when families gather together and spend time with each other and/or discuss the day’s events. They’re times when we can make memories, teach healthy eating patterns (that are important for maintaining a healthy weight), provide daily structure, and so much more.

Unfortunately, most American families are usually only eating dinner together three times a week – or less if they’re super busy! That’s one statistic we found from recent studies, anyway. Other studies showed that the older children get (and the busier they get), then only as many as 2/3 of families only eat 1-2 meals together in a week. It’s kind of depressing, actually.

And not eating together is showing all sorts of correlated problems – in disordered eating habits (and associated weight problems), families and individuals who are less connected, less problem-solving as a family, fewer shared values and ideas, and decreased communication. So, let’s fix that – by preserving a few family recipes and getting back to shared mealtimes.

Preserving and using family recipes can be a great way to reintroduce family meals – and to tap back into using smell and taste as strong emotional triggers to help us connect with each other, our cultures, our food, and our extended families.

Breanne has a pretty cool quote in her kitchen that says:

Dinner tastes better when we eat it together.

Eating together can be at regular mealtimes, big celebrations, family reunions, small celebrations, or just a regular Saturday morning breakfast. The options are endless and amazing. But by eating together – and eating something that has a meaningful story behind it? That’s going to build a strong emotional connection – and it’ll be reinforced with the smell, taste, and sounds of the family meal.

That’s why it’s so vital that we preserve family recipes – to connect with each other and our families. But which recipes should we preserve? Are there any we should skip?

Which Family Recipes to Preserve

The family recipes you should preserve are the following:

  • the ones that mean the most to you.
  • any award-winning recipes.
  • recipes you think future generations may want to know about.
  • foods that trigger memories.
  • foods that have cultural or historical significance.

Want some examples of recipes to preserve? Let’s do this.

Breanne’s family grew up with a fun, meal-based family tradition: eating breakfast casseroles for General Conference (the every April and October church-wide conference that’s held and televised by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). So breakfast casserole reminds Breanne of the conference – and she still eats it every April and October! You better believe that Breanne is saving this recipe – and still using it!

Another recipe that Breanne wants to preserve is her grandma’s potato salad. Apparently it’s her preferred potato salad recipe. And it’s one she’s trying to master before her grandma passes to the next life.

Breanne’s grandma also gave her a folder full of her mom’s recipes – and so she’s trying to go through those to find out which ones were used regularly. That way, she’ll know which recipes are the most important ones to preserve.

Growing up, we had a few recipes that I loved. My kids are (very, very slowly) learning to tolerate them. So in the meantime, I’m trying to learn new recipes (based on some of the various cultures that our heritage is from) to try. One that we tried was a Scottish meat pie. We’d found an authentic recipe (via a Scottish forum) that I almost didn’t write down, figuring that if it was on the internet it was forever.

However, I did write it down on my blog – and I’m glad I did. Because that forum is gone – but the recipe isn’t. It’s still on my blog – and in our recipe book. It may not be an old family recipe passed down from any of our ancestors, but it does teach us about our heritage and history. And we like it, so it’s totally worth keeping anyway.

How to Preserve Old Family Recipes Safely

Depending on how you store your existing recipes, those recipe books, cards, and papers usually get hammered and destroyed pretty quickly. After all, being in the kitchen and getting exposed to (or covered in) grease, oils, flours, and various other ingredients makes paper degrade a ton faster.

Breanne was given a cookbook by her mom that, while she couldn’t remember which recipes were family favorites, she could look at the pages to see which were the most used and covered in various kitchen substances. That kind of use gives the recipes an emotional connection, character, and more meaning. However, that kind of look doesn’t bode well for long-term preservation for recipes.

To preserve those old family recipes, you’re going to want to decide if you want to store them digitally, as a hard copy, or both.

Then, you’re going to want to use the family recipes – so that your family will remember them, love them, and want to preserve them, too.

How to Preserve Original Family Recipes

To preserve and store the original old recipes, you’re going to want to use archival-quality photo sheet protectors. Here are some reputable brands of sheet protectors for the various sizes of recipe cards. All of these links will take you to Amazon.

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  • For 4×6 inch recipe cards, use the Samsill 4×6 archival-quality photo album pages – they have two sleeves per page and 25 pages. That’ll store 50 recipe cards.
  • If you don’t mind having a few recipes that are sideways, you can get 3 recipes per sleeve with these BCW 3-pocket 4×6 photo album pages. A single pack has 20 pages, which would hold 60 recipe cards.
  • If your recipes are on a larger piece of paper, buy full-length sheet protectors. Just be sure they’re archival-quality (acid-free).

If you have a lot of 3×5 inch recipe cards – and/or just don’t want to buy page protectors, consider buying an archival-quality box for your recipe cards like this one on Amazon. The big downside to a box, though, is that the recipe cards may end up touching – and spreading the kitchen debris from one card to another. It’s going to depend on how many recipes you’ve got, though. And in how you’re storing them within the storage box. Even so, Breanne strongly recommends sticking to the sheet protector method.

If you’re more of a journaler, you may like this option: get a dedicated family recipe journal (like this one on Amazon). Then you’ll be able to copy your recipes into that book. There’s also space for writing the source and meaning to each recipe, too. The downside to this kind of journal is that it isn’t very large.

And if you want a book to help you figure all of preserving recipes out, this book, “Preserving Family Recipes” (available on Amazon), looks like a great option. We haven’t read it, but it does look promising.

Digitize Family Recipes to Preserve and Use Them

If you want to make a digital copy of family recipes, that’s awesome. It can be a fantastic way to minimize chaos – especially in the kitchen recipe department. However, it may also be a good idea to keep a physical copy of favorite family recipes – just in case there’s an internet outage while you’re cooking dinner.

To digitize family recipes, you’re going to need to either:

  • scan the original recipe card;
  • type out the original recipe into a Word or Google Docs file;
  • take a picture of the original;
  • or something else.

If you don’t have a home scanner, that’s okay. You still have options. You can:

  • take a picture of the card with your smartphone.
  • take the recipes to a FamilySearch library and use their scanners.
  • buy a scanner.
  • or type out the recipe in a Word or Google Docs file.

Having a digital version of the recipe is pretty awesome because then you can also add pictures of the dish to the recipe. You can also add notes on any customizations your family prefers, explanations about where the dish originated, and why the dish has family meaning. That way, the recipe becomes more than just instructions on how to make a dish. It becomes a family food journal.

If you ever want to publish your digital collection of family recipes, that’s also an option. If this is your end goal, it’s easiest to use a Word or Google Doc. I like Google Docs because they’re shareable. And then (with either word processor) you can add photos, screenshots/scans of the original, and notes.

There are various self-publishing and print-on-demand options. You can make your own template, get digital recipe templates on Etsy (or Shutterfly), or use Kindle Publishing. I’m partial to Kindle Publishing, but that’s because I’ve published various journals and even an ebook – but not any recipe books. Canva is another option for creating your recipe templates – and it’s free or cheap to use.

How Do You Organize Old Family Recipes?

Recipes can be organized any way you want them. Here are the common ways to organize recipes, though.

  • By food type (appetizers, main dishes, desserts, etc).
  • By contributor (grandma’s recipes are separate from Aunt Diana’s, etc.).
  • By holiday, season, or special event.
  • By major ingredients.
  • Or however else you want to organize your recipes.

It may be easier to design your organization system based on an existing one. And it will be easier to organize your family recipes if you stick to one filing system – that you decide on before you start trying to file them.

Personally, I file our recipes by food type – but several of our favorite desserts have their own category, too. Because cookies and brownies should be their own food group – at least to our family!

What Can I Do with Old, Handwritten Recipes?

When you’re considering what to do with those old, handwritten recipes, you have several options.

  • You can store the old, handwritten recipes in an archival-quality container. Breanne recommends sheet protectors – see the above section on storing recipes.
  • You can digitize them and then either discard or store the original, depending on your preferences.
  • You can display the original, handwritten recipes in a creative, artsy manner.
  • You can ignore them and throw them away. We don’t recommend this option, but it is an option.

Making a digital copy of the important family recipes is a great idea because then you can share them with anyone else who’s interested in getting a copy.

How to Display Handwritten Recipes

If you’re creative, artsy, or love using family history in your decor, there are a lot of great ways to display handwritten recipes. While I’m not a Pinterest guru (or even a big fan of it, but that’s my own shortcoming), I did go there to look up some amazing and inspirational ways to display handwritten recipes.

  • You can frame and hang handwritten recipes on a wall.
  • Put handwritten recipes in a cute shadow box.
  • Add it to a cookbook.
  • Embroider family recipes on a kitchen towel.
  • Turn it into some other kind of artwork or painting.
  • Put family recipes on an apron (embroider, screenprint, whatever!).
  • Add a family recipe to a cutting board (screenprint it or burn it into the wood).
  • Turn the recipe into a backsplash.

For any of these ideas, you can either turn the original into the artwork or use a digital replica. Using the digital replica is probably the safer route to go – because that way you can enjoy the artwork, look, and feel of the handwritten recipe without risking ruining the original. Then, you can store the original safely in archival-quality sheet protectors and/or archival boxes.

If you do want to display the original, that’s fine, too. Just be really careful about how you display it. Be sure you’re using archival-quality photo frames, tape, and other materials. And then be sure you’re not placing the display in an area that gets direct sunlight, as that could fade and ruin the original.

Oh, and be careful that any original displays aren’t stored in an area where it could accidentally get destroyed maliciously by well-meaning but accident-prone people.

Related Questions

How Do You Make a Homemade Cookbook of Family Recipes? The easiest way is to use a shareable word processing program (like Google Docs). Add the recipes, images, stories, and whatever else. Share the document as needed. Print the document and put it in a 3-ring folder – with or without sheet protectors. Self-publishing via print-on-demand is also an option.

How Many Recipes Should Be in a Cookbook? Cookbooks don’t have an official minimum or a maximum number of recipes. Usually, though, they need at least 20 recipes. Recipe books with fewer recipes also usually have extra pictures and stories to add volume to the cookbook.

How Do You Frame a Family Recipe? Put a family recipe on an acid-free matte. Frame with an appropriate sized, archival-quality frame or shadow box. Do not use tape on any family documents. If you don’t mind pin marks, you can use straight pins to stick the recipe to the shadow box.

Sources

  1. “National Survey Reveals Nearly Half Of American Families Eat Dinner Together Fewer Than Three Times A Week Or Not At All.” Conagra Brands, www.conagrabrands.com/news-room/news-national-survey-reveals-nearly-half-of-american-families-eat-dinner-together-fewer-than-three-times-a-week-or-not-at-all-1008335.
  2. “The Benefits of the Family Table.” American College of Pediatricians, 27 Oct. 2019, www.acpeds.org/the-college-speaks/position-statements/parenting-issues/the-benefits-of-the-family-table.

Kimberly

I'm a ginger who loves reading, eating, being a nurse, doing genealogy, spending time with my family, and writing about it all. I believe humor is the best medicine, followed very closely by chocolate and tacos. To read more about me, click here.

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