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Creating cookbooks a fun way to preserve family history

Everyone has a favorite dish made by a relative, be it a grandmother, great aunt, mother-in-law or even an uncle. It is so easy to wish you had gotten the recipe after the person has passed away, and to wonder why you didn’t get it when they were alive.


Woman holding a cookbook.
Cydney Martin, New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service home economist in Santa Fe, created a cookbook of her family favorite dishes to preserve her grandmothers’ recipes. (NMSU photo by Jane Moorman)

Cydney Martin, New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service home economist in Santa Fe, encourages people to collect those recipes and create a family heirloom cookbook.

“When my Grandma was 92, I realized I needed to save her recipes,” Martin said. “She made most recipes from memory. I realized our family might lose these recipes.”

Martin decided it was time to make a family cookbook so her children, family and friends would have these treasured recipes along with some photos and memories.

“It’s our history, our legacy to our children,” she said. “Nothing provokes memories better than the smell of something you ate in your childhood.”

So Martin watched her grandmother for the millionth time making her favorite foods and wrote the recipe down. They also went through her grandmother’s collection of old recipes and memorabilia, which she added to her cookbook.

“My Grandma clipped recipes from magazines and newspapers forever. One that we prize is from a well-known Texas restaurant, Underwood’s, which is no longer in business. She had the recipe for the barbecue sauce that was unique in flavor,” the Farwell, Texas, native said.

Her collection of recipes and memories has been published in “Apron Strings,” which Martin sold in her Clovis antique shop before joining NMSU’s Extension faculty.

Now she is sharing her experience creating the cookbook in workshops in the Santa Fe area. She has taught the workshop several times and is scheduled to work with students at the Santa Fe Indian School to help them create a cookbook.

“There are three reasons most people don’t do a cookbook,” Martin said. “They say they don’t have time, they have lost the recipes and they don’t know where to start.”

Martin experienced lost recipes when her paternal grandmother’s house burned down.

“I am sad that I only had a few of her recipes,” she said. “I hadn’t gotten others before they were lost in the fire. So I tell people the time to do it is now.”

She tells people that their collection could be just in a notebook, which they can copy for others, or a three-ring binder. They could also self-publish the book as she did.

“Creating a cookbook is fun,” she said. “You can add family memories and stories, pictures and letters. It can be any theme. It could be what we had for Thanksgiving since 1960.”

One family’s unique cookbook idea was organized by centuries.

“They were good about keeping their family’s history,” Martin said. “They had kept recipes according to years. It was titled ‘These are our family recipes from the 1600s to 1700s, 1700s to 1800s, and 1800s to 1900s.’”

It’s fun to read those old recipes because of the ingredients and measurements.

“One of my recipes calls for a 15 cent bag of Fritos,” she said. “People get a kick out of that. It dates the recipe to the 1960s automatically. I left it that way, because I wanted the recipe to be the way it had originally been written.”

Before measurements were uniformly used, cooks would set their portions by a specific cup or jar, or a measurement was the size of a black walnut, because people knew the nut has a uniform size. Also if they didn’t have a clock, they would measure time, such as how long to boil the sauce, by singing a song that they knew lasted the correct length of time.

Martin’s collection of cookbooks includes those she has bought from restaurants where she enjoyed a specific dish.

“Some of my favorite dishes are from the Peach Tree Inn in Fredericksburg, Texas,” she said. “I’ve included some in my cookbook, and given credit to where I found them.”

Other cookbooks are from restaurants in the Clovis area that are no longer in business, and church cookbooks.

“I have most of the cookbooks created by the First United Methodist Church in Clovis, because there are recipes in them from by husband Robert’s grandmother and mother,” she said.

“Cookbooks record our cultural history,” she added. “It’s fun to read them and try the recipes.”