How to Create an Heirloom Recipe File Box
by Maureen A. Taylor
Collect and share your culinary heritage by creating an heirloom recipe file box:
- Select your recipes: Choose from your own recipe collection and ask relatives to contribute their favorites.
- Research the history: Ask kin about each recipe and any stories behind it. Get basic information (life dates, hometown) about the person who created the dish.
- Find a photo of the chef(s): Scan or make a copy of a photo of the chef(s) to include in the box.
- Cut recipe cards: Purchase recipe cards or cut acid- and lignin-free cardstock to 4×6 or 5×8 inches.
- Record the recipe: Write or type your recipes onto the cards and adhere the photos if you have them. Or preserve original handwriting by scanning the recipe, then printing it onto cardstock and trimming to size. If desired, add decorative images or borders.
- Purchase a recipe box: File the cards in an archival recipe box (available from Archival Methods).
Historic Cookbooks and Food History Resources
Summaries written by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack, from the February 2002 and October 2004 issues of Family Tree Magazine. (Updated August 2021)
The American Frugal Housewife
The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book
The Buttolph Collection of Menus
Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project
Food and Drink History Resources @ Virginia Tech
The Food Timeline
The Great Family Cookbook Project
King Arthur Flour
Longone Culinary Archive
Homespun Country Kitchen
National Agricultural Library Digital Collections (NALDC)
Old & Interesting
Southern Foodways Alliance
BOOKS AND COOKBOOKS*
The African-American Heritage Cookbook: Traditional Recipes and Fond Remembrances From Alabama’s Renowned Tuskegee Institute by Carolyn Quick Tillery (Citadel Press)
The City Tavern Cookbook: Recipes from the Birthplace of American Cuisine by Walter Staib (Running Press)
The Family Table: A Journal for Recipes and Memories by Georgeanne Brennan (Chronicle Books)
Cooking from the Heart: 100 Great American Chefs Share Recipes They Cherish by Michael J. Rosen (Broadway Books)
Depression Era Recipes by Patricia R. Wagner (Adventure Publications)
Early American Cookery: “The Good Housekeeper,” 1841 by Sarah Josepha Hale (Dover Publications)
Log Cabin Cooking: Pioneer Recipes & Food Lore by Barbara Swell (Native Ground Music)
Secrets of the Great Old-Timey Cooks: Historic Recipes, Lore & Wisdom by Barbara Swell (Native Ground Music)
Eat My Words: Reading Women’s Lives through the Cookbooks They Wrote by Janet Theophano (Palgrave): Theophano has read between the lines of hundreds of cookbooks dating from the 17th century, and uncovered fascinating tidbits about women’s lives. In our ancestors’ day, cookbooks weren’t used just for meal preparation; they also served as reading primers and outlets for creativity. Genealogists especially will enjoy the chapter “Lineage and Legacies,” which discusses the passing down of recipes. By hunting for Great-grandma’s cookbook, you might uncover more about your family history than you thought you would.
From Hardtack to Home Fries: An Uncommon History of American Cooks and Meals by Barbara Haber (Penguin Books): Unlike most culinary historians, who focus on the types of food people ate, Haber takes a different approach by looking at significant periods in American history and the cooks and meals they made. Haber covers the influences of Civil War nurses, 1800s diet reformers, westward migrants, Irish immigrants, African Americans, World War II prisoners of war and many others. Recipes are scattered throughout, but the “heart of this book is the narrative about food in relation to key events.
The Lewis & Clark Cookbook by Leslie Mansfield (Celestial Arts): These recipes require some of the same ingredients found in the Donner cookbook, but with a gourmet touch: Hominy with tomatoes au gratin and bear with red wine, mushroom and juniper sauce sound a bit more appetizing than brain stew. Alongside the recipes, you’ll find comments from Lewis and Clark’s journals about the foods they ate. This book shows the variety and inventiveness of meal preparation for our westward ancestors.
A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove: A History of American Women Told Through Food, Recipes, and Remembrances by Laura Schenone (W.W. Norton & Co.): More than a recipe book, this is a social history of food — and not just food prepared by white, middle-class women. Here, you’ll find how American Indian, immigrant and slave women gathered, prepared and served their families’ fare. To help you visualize your foremothers’ domestic life, Schenone also provides more than 100 historical images of advertisements, kitchens and women in the midst of cooking.
The American Ethnic Cookbook for Students by Mark H. Zanger (Oryx Press): Don’t let the word “students” in the title keep you from exploring this book — it’s written for adult students of ethnic cooking. Most of us are a mixture of several different ethnic groups, so this cookbook truly offers something for everyone: It covers 122 American ethnic groups, from the Pennsylvania Dutch to Black Muslims. That includes foods of more than 20 Native American tribes, from the Cherokee to the Potawatomi. Each section opens with a short history of the ethnic group followed by two to six recipes. Every recipe is accompanied by a note about where the recipe came from and how it was used or changed. This book is perfect for those occasions when an ethnic potluck is the theme. Serve Cherokee Huckleberry bread, Jewish carrot-sweet potato tzimmes, Norwegian kringles or Turkish shish kebab.
Basque Cooking and Lore by Darcy Williamson (Caxton Printers): Idaho, Nevada and Utah are home to most Basque-Americans. Basque people originate from the Pyrennees region between Spain and France and came to the Americas to work as sheep herders. Growing up in Idaho, Williamson became interested in Basque culture and foodways. The first half of her cookbook is a collection of Basque recipes, such as Dutch-oven cornbread, Basque garlic soup and braised lamb with cilantro and lemon. The second half is a collection of Basque lore, told in short essays from her experiences and interviews with the Basque people.
The Best of Czech Cooking: Expanded Edition by Peter Trnka (Hippocrene Books): Meat dishes are often the centerpiece of Czech meals, but a variety of appetizing soups, salads, dumplings, vegetables and desserts also grace the family table. This book is an excellent introduction to the variety of dishes from Czech culture, from farmer-cheese canapes and white-bean salad to breaded dumplings and sour lentils. As in many ethnic cookbooks, the introduction discusses Czech cuisine and a bit about the Czech people. There’s also a chapter on beers, wines and spirits — including the Czechs’ famous pilsner. Hippocrene’s Best of Cooking series covers ethnic cuisine from Albania to West Africa.
Cooking the Italian Way by Alphonse Bisignano (Lerner Publications): Although the recipes here aren’t exactly the ones your Italian great-grandma prepared (it’s doubtful she cared about fat and cholesterol intake), they cover all the classics: spaghetti with meat sauce, chicken cacciatore, pizza, bruschetta, minestrone, risotto and my personal favorite, ossi dei morti (dead bone cookies). Along with the recipes, you’ll learn about Italy and its people, regional cooking differences, holidays and festivals, and how an Italian meal is traditionally served. While this is a good general Italian cookbook, also explore ones specific to the region in Italy where your ancestors originated. Lerner’s Easy Menu Ethnic Cookbook line encompasses African, Asian, European, Middle Eastern and South American ethnic groups.
Sowbelly and Sourdough: Original Recipes from the Trail Drives and Cow Camps of the 1800s by Scott Gregory (Caxton Printers): Looking for authentic cowboy recipes like Great-grandpa used to make or eat on the cattle drive? Sowbelly and Sourdough brings you the chuck-wagon cuisine of hearty meals made from scratch. Ingredients may have been limited out on the trail, but cowboy cooks knew how to create mouthwatering vittles. Experience iron-skillet corn-bread, real fried chicken, Wyoming beef stew, chopped-beef hash and Brown Betty. And for the full dining experience, take these recipes on your next camping trip and make them on an open fire, just like those 1800s cow-pokes did. Gregory explains how and why meals were prepared on the trail, and incorporates quotes and tidbits about the trail hand’s lifestyle.
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