AncestorNews: Readers Respond to heirloom recipes

By Nancy Hendrickson Premium

Thank you so much for all the e-mails about Mom’s applesauce cake and your family cookbooks. I got so many great ideas for family cookbooks that I’ve decided to revamp my original plan. Hope you enjoy everyone’s creative input&#151and the recipe.

Marjorie Osterhout writes: “I just read your article in the Family Tree Magazine Email Update about making a family cookbook. I’m in the middle of doing the same thing for my family, but thought I’d share one thing I’m doing differently. Rather than having the recipe collection bound at a copy shop, I’m putting each recipe in a sheet protector and then putting them in a three-ring binder. It’s a little more expensive&#151probably $3 or $4 each. But here’s why I’m doing it:

  • While you’re cooking, the sheet protectors keep the recipes clean and can be wiped off when you’re done.
  • You can remove recipes from the notebook permanently&#151a sad necessity for a couple of estranged members of my family.
  • You can add recipes later. I know I’m going to get more recipes once people see how wonderful this collection is. This way I can send individual recipes later for people to add to their notebooks.
  • I bought a three-ring binder with a “view” front so my professional photographer sister can make a beautiful cover&#151a project she’s really enjoying.

From Juanita Martinez of Birmingham, Ala.: “Since 1995, I have done two recipe books. The first was of Cuban recipes from a very close friend of our family. She was elderly and spoke very little English. Her daughter began measuring ingredients and writing cooking directions for me and translated some into English. I typed up each recipe and put each page inside archival three-ring protective covers and placed them (with a table of contents) inside a white three-ring notebook. For the cover, I typed out a fitting cover sheet, dated it and slipped the sheet down inside the outer sleeve of the notebook cover.

“As each recipe is used, should anything splash on the page(s), it can be easily wiped off. A copy of this cookbook was given to each of her children and grandchildren, and I did one for me and my children. ‘Cuca’ was my son’s nanny until he began grade school. He’s now entering his junior year in college and Cuca passed away two years ago&#151but her favorite recipes live on.

“My second recipe book was done the same way. These recipes were given to me by my close friend who has terminal cancer. Once Cuca passed away, my friend realized her mortality and began putting her favorite recipes down on paper. I typed up each one and gave a copy to each of her children (and one for me and my children as well). The works of these two ladies will live with us indefinitely.”

Rita Werner of Taylorville, Ill., describes a wonderful family book she wrote for her parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. “The second to last chapter is filled with scanned images of family recipes, many with food stains and most in the handwriting of Mom or my grandmas, and even one recipe for homemade salve that my great-grandma used to make. I also have a recipe for Kringlas that my other great-grandma brought over to America with her from Norway. It’s in the handwriting of her only daughter, since great-grandma hardly spoke English. What treasures these recipes are to me!

“The final chapter of the book is a list of the menus that Mom makes each year at Thanksgiving (Christmas is the same meal as Thanksgiving) and Easter. Every once in a while Mom will try a new recipe, or a different version of something like sweet potatoes. The food tastes fine, but you should hear all of us grown children say how we want the old recipe! We may be grown with families of our own, but we want/need the comfort food that we’ve known our whole lives. I asked Mom about every single item that she serves for the holidays, even down to what’s on the relish tray, and typed it up so all of us would have those memories once our parents are no longer with us.

“Having a cookbook with family recipes is a great idea, but when a person is lucky enough to have access to recipe cards in the cook’s own handwriting, it’s even more precious (as long as it’s legible! Misreading the ingredients could prove disastrous). I also typed notes below the scanned images if there was a particular occasion that the dish was served, or if it was Dad’s favorite recipe, etc. Of course, there are favorite recipes that we children now make and bring to family gatherings, and these are included as well.

“My mom also made many recipes from the Betty Crocker cookbook she received as bridal shower gift in 1951. Some of the pages are almost stuck together permanently from all the food splatters while mixing. If a cook used her cookbook the majority of the time, she often made notes in the margins about recipes. If you can borrow the cookbook and have a scanner, that’s the best way to preserve it because you can incorporate it into a book you may want to write someday, or send it as an email attachment to other siblings. If you can’t borrow the cookbook, or it’s too fragile to lay on a scanner, try taking a picture of the page with a digital camera so you can download it to your computer.”

Linda Miller of Clyde, Ohio, adds, “I just did a family cookbook for Christmas gifts last year and they were a huge hit! I collected as many as I could in the person’s handwriting and then included a picture of the person and a story about them and the recipe. For example, my aunt Katie’s apple strudel. I talked about how we would visit and she would have the dough stretched over her dining room table, thin enough to read through, and that she was a pastry chef at Stouffers in Cleveland. I would also include a brief family history story or expression they used. She was married three times and all of her husbands died. She always said she loved them to death and killed them with kindness.’

“Each person had a page or two and I made color copies of the recipe, picture, etc. The color copies made the handwritten recipes even more special. Some were on paper scraps, envelopes, etc. which seemed to add even more character to the books. I also did a page for each living family member with the recipe they were known for. Each page was done similar to a scrapbook. For my grandchildren, nieces and nephews, I used recipes that they liked and things like homemade chalk, play dough, bubbles and s’mores. When everyone opened them at Christmas, there wasn’t a dry eye&#151but I think that was a good thing!”

And now, Mom’s (Marjorie Dunn) Applesauce Cake recipe!


  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup shortening
  • 1 egg
  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1 tsp. nutmeg
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 cups applesauce
  • 1 cup nuts (your choice)
  • 1/2 cup maraschino cherries

Cream first two ingredients. Add egg. Mix in next four ingredients. Dissolve soda in small amount of water. Add soda. Add nuts and cherries (save some to sprinkle on top of cake before baking). Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour in an ungreased tube (angel food cake) pan. Let cool before removing from pan. You can cool on a baking rack, but Mom always put her cake on a coke bottle (the neck of the coke bottle went into the tube part of the pan). This allows the cake to cool really well from all sides.


Nancy Hendrickson is a contributing editor for Family Tree Magazine. She also is a family historian, freelance writer and the author of two astronomy books. Her Web site is at E-mail her at