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Oct 12, 2006 12:18 PM

I'm Compiling a Family Cookbook... Any Hints?

This Christmas, I am working to assemble a family cookbook; essentially a collection of recipes and stories that are frequently enjoyed in my extended family. The only other book I have written was my margarita book a while back, so I am looking for any hints from those who have taken on the task.

One big question I have is about writing recipes. Anyone know of a standard when writing about measurements? For example, I use two medium onions in my Pork Jambalaya recipe, which translates to 4 cups, chopped. Same with garlic - 2 tbsp., or 6 cloves? I am a practical cook and all of my written recipes have the quantity, such as 2 onions, or 6 cloves, but many professionally written cookbooks have the measurements. Which one do you relate to better?

I know there are several options out there for publishing and right now I am leaning toward the Self -Published route (Kinko's) with plain white paper, comb binding and a cool looking cover. The other option would be a type of self publishing company that is frequently used by fundraisers for schools and churches. My only reason for self publishing would be the free-form use of text and stories that may not fit into a one-size fits all template. I want this to be a book full of stories that go along with each recipe.

Anyone else taken on this task? For the writing, the compiling or the publishing?

Anyone have any suggestions?

Thanks so much!


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  1. Kevin - To answer only a small part of your questions: quantities such as 2 medium onions and 6 gloves of garlic are perfectly acceptable to me. In fact I prefer that over measuring such things. Best of luck with your project!

    2 Replies
    1. re: kstroble

      I'm the opposite - I prefer actual measurements - and I think if your audience includes people who may be novice cooks, I think the actual measurements would be safer. I hate figuring out if an onion is "medidium" or whether to use the large garlic clove or the small one. Good luck - sounds like a fun project.

      1. re: MMRuth

        Why not give both - "2 medium onions (4 cups chopped)"?

        Regarding the book production - are you producing this book as a family Christmas gift, or are you planning to publish and sell it? If it's a family gift, I would definitely go with self-publishing. If you're planning to sell it, you can still self-publish - I know I would, but I'm very hands-on about that kind of thing and have lots of amateur design experience.

        My mom made a small family cookbook in 2000 which she produced entirely on her own - she wrote up the recipes and short introductions to each, set up the text with clip-art illustrations, and copied and hand-bound it! (She had taken a couple of classes in bookbinding, and bound it hardcover. Not actually practical as a cookbook, but it's a gorgeous little thing.) But we're a very small family - she only made 12 copies. She passed away in 2005, and I treasure the book, even though the thing I actually cook from is the big old blue 3-ring binder full of recipes...

    2. There are a number of books available on how to write a recipe. Here's a link to one of the best ones:

      There are also many books available on self-publishing as well as quite a bit of information online.

      Either method of listing ingredients is entirely acceptable. Many cookbooks will list both, as in "3 ounces Gruyere, grated (about 3/4 cup)." The most important thing is that you be consistent throughout and not do it one way in one recipe and one way in another.

      How you decide to have your book produced depends on what you are willing to spend and how much work you're willing to do yourself. You imply that self-publishing may give you more options in terms of layout, but there are a number of software programs that will allow to you set up the book any way you choose. You need not be locked into a one-size-fits-all template. Some of these programs, such as Quark, are professional programs and have quite a steep learning curve. But Microsoft Publisher, which you may already have, affords quite a bit of flexibility and may suit your needs.

      1. Kevin... I don't know if this will help you or not, but I asked some similar questions last year in this thread Unfortunately, my cookbook is not coming along very well due to reluctant participants! The people I knew I could count on came through, but the rest are being difficult! Good luck!

        2 Replies
        1. re: Katie Nell

          Thanks for the link Katie; I had actually read that thread when I did a search for "family cookbook," it was very helpful. I figured I would ask again anyway in case there were some new members here and had some recent experiences.

          As far as the measurements, I'll probably do both, though I don't make a habit of measuring how much yield I get from an onion or a clove of garlic.

          I'm going to do a self-publish on this one, probably spiral bound with the wire, not the comb. Thanks for the suggestion on MS Publisher... I don't use it regularly, but I believe I have a copy. I did a Margarita book a couple years back and a graphic designer friend did the layout for me in Quark; though I believe she lost all of the software in the hurricane.

          Anything else I missed?


          1. re: UptownKevin

            I was hoping you would get some new suggestions as well! I think I'm going to do my own as well; it seems like a lot of the companies have more restrictions than I would like.

        2. I printed a collection of Christmas carols a while back.

          For binding, I chose spiral plastic wire-bound instead of the wider plastic "Cerlox" (comb?) for durability. The wire looks less bulky, and the book can still open up completely flat. It seems the wider plastic becomes brittle after a few years.

          Good luck with your project!

          1. By the way, thanks for posting this... it's made me realize I need to get on the ball with my project! Anyway, as I was searching around today, I ran across this blog: I haven't read through it entirely yet, but it seems to have some good information.