Share Your Food Heritage
An important ingredient in your heritage over the years has been served up right at the family dinner table. Follow our recipe for discovering and preserving your family history through meals and memories.

Recipe for success
Getting started on your family's food heritage isn't hard. You have to be part detective, part food lover and part diplomat. The process involves five simple steps:

  1. Make a plan.
  2. Interview relatives.
  3. Get recipes and memories.
  4. Document life stories.
  5. Design your heritage collection.

Unless you already have all the recipes and know everything about the people you want to include, this will take time. Time to interview people. Time to get the recipes. Time to test the recipes and time to write the life stories of the people who cooked these meals. But that's OK. The stories have waited this long—they can wait a little longer. The important thing is to get cooking on your family food heritage.

  • A good place to begin is at the end: choose which form you want the finished product to take. As a writer, it was natural for me to make my finished "family feasts" product look like a small book. I kept that goal in mind as I gathered the information. But that may not be the best format for your family food heritage. Consider the options:
  • A life-story book
  • A more traditionally styled cookbook
  • A memory scrapbook
  • A video
  • A Web site
  • Or whatever else you imagine...

The next step is creating a system for collecting and organizing your materials. Whether you keep scraps of paper in a large box or scan the information into a computer, make sure the information you gather is all in one place.

You also need to decide how you will actually gather recipes and related family lore. If you're contacting a lot of people, mail is a good method; you can e-mail the techno-savvy people on your list. Just make sure you give them a deadline for getting back to you.

The phone can be a convenient way to work with your relatives, particularly if they're scattered across the country. Schedule a time to talk, then be prepared with your list of questions.

Of course, in-person interviews are a great way to relive memories, see old photographs and get recipes and stories. (For tips on interviewing your relatives, see the April 2000 issue of Family Tree Magazine.) Before the interview, decide whether you'll videotape or audiotape the conversation (you'll still take notes, of course). And stock up on supplies that suit your approach, such as:

  • Pedigree charts and family group sheets (which you can download for free from this site)
  • Large envelopes for storing photos and recipe cards
  • A lined notebook
  • Recipe cards
  • Tape recorder and blank tapes
  • Phone headset to leave your hands free for phone interviews