There are few gifts more meaningful than a hand-crafted book of delicious old family recipes. And when you want your family recipe book to also convey your family history, complete with photos and family memories, we call that an Heirloom Cookbook – and it’s priceless.

This series is covering how to make a cookbook with family recipes from start to finish. In our first post, we covered organizing your family recipe cards. If you missed it, you can find our tips for organizing and consolidating old family recipes here.

If you’ve decided to create a family heirloom from your recipes, here’s what you’ll find helpful in our next posts:

  • Choosing family photos for your book
  • Adding your family history and memories to the book
  • Recreating family recipes & DIY food photography
  • How to make your family photos & recipe cards digital
  • How to design & build the perfect family cookbook
  • The best cookbook printers we know
  • Advanced DIY cookbook creation & how to make a book online
  • Downloadable cookbook templates, graphics & recipe cards

Getting Started with Your Cookbook

Creating a family cookbook can seem like an overwhelming and time-consuming task, but it doesn’t have to be. We believe every cookbook based on family recipes should have a little bit of family history woven in. Whether you want the emphasis to be on family, or you want your family photos to support the food – including special, personal elements in your projects is what makes them priceless.

Keep in mind that although you want it to be amazing, this is not a cookbook being created and designed for commercial sale. It’s a memento for your family to keep and share for generations. Make it meaningful to your history and traditions.

vintage family photo for cookbook
My mom and grandma at the Sunday dinner table in the mid 1970’s

Choosing Family Photos for Your Book

Focusing on history and family for this project doesn’t mean you have to take on the digitizing of your entire family archive, or explore the depths of your genealogy – it means food is important to your family.

When it’s time to choose photos, start by looking for ones that relate to food or holidays. When working with such a specific theme, you’ll have less trouble consolidating your photos and choosing your favorites for the book.

Here are some photo subjects to consider that I started with when choosing photos:

  • Everyone seated at the dinner table
  • Family members in the kitchen
  • My grandmother cooking or washing dishes
  • My grandmother standing with her dining room table place settings

Anything happening in the kitchen or at the dinner table can be a contender! If you end up with too many photos, utilize the three pile method from our first post to pick the best.

grandma at dining room table
My grandma and I at a table I set for my birthday. I inherited this china set!

The most amazing things about projects like this are discovering new memories. As I sorted through photos, I found tons of shots of my Grandmother sitting at her set table. Whenever she let me set the table, she liked to take a photo of the tablescape with her and me together. I always loved the ceremony of it, and I thought it was something special that she and I shared.

The more of these photos I found, the more I realized it was something special she had shared with me on purpose.

You may find themes of your own as you are sorting, and if you have trouble finding photos that are obviously related to cooking or eating – look for your favorite family photos. Rather than the meal itself, focus on the reason you all would have been gathered for a meal.

Adding your family history and memories to the book

Eames Family
My grandma’s Eames ancestors

A project like this is incredibly nostalgic. You may find yourself discovering things about your family history from the backs of cards and old family recipe cards.

For example, I found it very formal that my Grandmother referred to her mom as “Mother Cross” on all of her recipes, or “Mother Brattlof” for my Grandfather’s mom. One day, I took the afternoon and traced their roots on and Google. I followed her family back to an English crossing in 1634 and found the source of my Grandfathers Swedish meatballs from his Swedish side of the family, which migrated years ago.

I included a lot of this information at the beginning of the book because it became as much about my family as it was about the food, and why making that book was important. If your family is invested in the project, it will mean as much to them as well.

If you want to include quotes or memories from family, get their input with a few simple questions:

  • What’s your favorite food memory?
  • What dish do you look forward to most for the holidays?
  • Have you learned anything about cooking that you’ll always take with you?
  • If you could eat one thing cooked by Grandma again, what would it be?
  • Have them share fun stories, and share their special photos to be included

Expand your family legacy and add your own recipes. Add them to the back of the book, with space to write in more, or add your recipes to each section with a special something to indicate they’re new additions. Your family can share their own recipes to include, too!

Recreating family recipes & incorporating DIY food photography

food photography of apple crips with family recipes
I don’t have marble countertops, but it looks like I do!
How you incorporate food photos into your book is going to come down to two decisions – whether or not you want to, and how you want to do it.

There are tons of places to find gorgeous, completely free stock food photography on the internet. Many photographers are proud of their work and release their images on sites like or and only request that you give them credit. You’ll find plenty of food photos on sites like these, and to find photos that work well with your family photos and scanned recipe cards won’t be hard.

If you want all the photos to match your food, and be true to your family old fashioned cooking recipes, you may consider taking your own.

Food photography will be a little bit of work, but it will be so much fun and worth the effort. It also doesn’t have to be difficult – here’s how we suggest getting your family involved and making this extra step a breeze!

Plan a Family Get-together:

Consider the reasons you’re making this book. Your family loves food, and they love each other. Let your family know about your new project, and invite them over to participate!

  • Send each attendee a scanned recipe card and ask them to make it and bring it.
  • If you prefer to do all the cooking, invite your family over to do some sampling. They’ll know best what grandma’s dinner recipes should taste like – and make sure there are no leftovers!
  • Print out these free recipe card printables here and here, and ask everyone to fill them out and make their dish so you can add contributions from the whole family to your book. The cards are editable in Adobe Illustrator, or you can print the PDFs and cut them out!

Work the recipes you want to make into weekly meal prep:

If you prefer to plan your family dinners and lunches in advance, work these recipes into your weekly plans.

  • Make all the desserts on Sunday and take photos so your family can enjoy them through the week
  • Make one dish a week for dinner and save a plate for taking photos. Take the photo the next morning when you have good light, then eat it for lunch!
  • Make menus from the recipes you want to make, plan weekly or bi-weekly Sunday dinners for your family, and take photos of each dish that day.
behind the scenes food photography
A behind the scenes look at some of my DIY food photography

You don’t have to be a professional! Here are my food photography tips and tricks:

Your photos don’t have to be perfect, but it would be great if they were consistent. Try to shoot them all against the same backdrop – like the dining room table you inherited. Too much change between photos will be jarring when you’re viewing the final book.

  • You don’t need a real marble or porcelain counter to make it look like your food is on a fancy background. Pick up a single 12” x 12” bathroom tile at Home Depot, or a roll of marble vinyl to cover a piece of foam board.
  • Natural light is your best friend. Aim for the golden hour or an overcast day, or even early morning. Put your backdrop under a window or on the floor in a room full of light, and let the daylight do the work for you. Use an extra piece of poster board or a white sheet to reflect the light and balance any shadows.
  • When in doubt, shoot from overhead. Food photography can be intimidating, and oftentimes hard, and you may not have a lot of photography experience. If you find yourself struggling to compose a shot, go for simplicity and shoot from above against a light background.
  • If you do want props, we find all our favorites at places like Savers and the HomeGoods clearance section.

How to make your family photos and recipe cards digital

family recipe card
No matter how you build your cookbook, you’re going to need all of your handwritten recipe cards and family photos to be digital files so you can work with them.

  • To make digitizing simple, organize your photos and recipe cards with your end goal in mind.
  • Use plastic bags and group your photos and recipes together as you’d want them to appear in the books.
  • Label the bags “Desserts” or “1960s” so you can stay organized when everything is digital.
  • Ask the digitizing service you use to maintain your organization completely, or be sure to do it yourself!

DIY Scanning:

If you already own a scanner, DIY is a good option for a project with less than ~50 scans if all of the original items are in good shape. Many modern printers have an attached scanner unit and could give you good scans of a flat recipe card or photo with enough resolution to print in a book.

For 50 – 100 scans, you can also consider a mobile photo scanning app like Google PhotoScan to get digital files of your recipe cards and family photos. We’ve used it before and we think it’s good for small jobs, but you can read our full review of the app and how it works here.

If you have a large number of recipe cards and family photos to scan, and you’re interested in investing the time this project would require, you can also consider investing in a high-quality flatbed scanner of your own for creating digital files.

family project example
Beautiful scans make for beautiful books

Professional Scanning:

Working with a professional on this part of your project will not only save you the time it takes to learn how to do your own scanning, but also free you up for the actual creation of the book!

Here are our recommendations for when you should strongly consider opting for a professional scanning service:

  • If you’re scanning under 500 items, the cost of a scanner is likely to be more than the cost of the service and we suggest opting for a professional.
  • Whenever the condition of your photos is poor – photos that are curled, torn or very fragile should be handled with care and scanned on quality flatbed scanners.
  • Recipe cards, especially the handwritten ones, could be in especially delicate condition and your local professional will know how to handle with archival care.
  • If you have non-standard formats like slides and negatives, it is much more of an investment in the equipment and learning curve to do on your own. The best services can handle a variety of items.

Ask the service you’re considering if they’re comfortable working with non-standard formats like letters & documents. Even vintage family photos in albums need to be handled with care.

Once you have the digital files you need to get started, the design and creation of your family cookbook can begin!

Now you should have everything you want to include in your book. In our next post, we’ll review three major platforms popular for cookbook creation, plus advanced DIY methods with downloadable templates.


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