by Annie Fenn
A few years ago my then eight-year-old son dared the family to give only homemade gifts for Christmas. Reluctantly accepting the Christmas challenge (aren’t the holidays busy enough?), this not-very-crafty family got to work. My husband tied flies, my youngest son made a board game, and my older son created photo calendars on the computer. I had always wanted to write a cookbook; this challenge put my dreams into action. If you love to cook and share recipes, your own cookbook is the perfect gift for everyone on your list. Anyone can publish a professional looking cookbook nowadays using online bookmaking software, or you can simply put together recipes and photos and have a local office supplier help print and bind it for you. But how do you get from a pile of treasured recipes to a printed book?
Consider your audience. My cookbook was written for family and friends. You may want to write a cookbook to sell for your favorite cause, to document your family history, to give as a wedding gift, or to honor your parents’ golden wedding anniversary.
Pull out a few of your favorite cookbooks. What is it that you like about them? Most great cookbooks have a common thread, or theme. Your theme could be very specific, such as a book of chocolate desserts, or more general, like a collection of your family’s favorite Sunday suppers. My cookbook is a photo album with recipes, with my family and friends as the star subjects. I focused on food for celebrations that are kid-friendly and easy. By including only recipes that had been tested numerous times on kids of all ages, I ended up with a collection of food we really eat, and hopefully others would want to make. My boys each contributed their “specialties,” as did several friends. Even my husband, who rarely cooks, shared his special recipe for wild game chili.
Start sorting. If you are like me, your recipe collection is an unruly tangle of files, cards, scribbled napkins, and dog-eared books. Remember your high school writing class? Write about what you know—it is easier to write about the recipes you use all the time. Have you made your Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake hundreds of times? Does it always turn out perfectly and does everyone ask for the recipe? That would be an easy recipe to write, and a good addition to your cookbook.
Get into the kitchen and start cooking your way through all the recipes you’d like to include. Examine the recipes with a critical eye. Are the instructions clear? Are the ingredients easy to find and the measurements precise? Is the dish as good as you remember?
Crafting a clear, concise recipe is more difficult than it seems. Start rewriting your recipes in your own words. Pretend that you are explaining how to make them to a friend who is an amateur in the kitchen. Starting each recipe with an introduction will give your collection a personality. If the recipe is not an original creation by you, be sure to give credit to the recipe writer, whether it’s your Aunt Carol or Julia Child.
Add photos or illustrations. Choosing which pictures to publish in your cookbook will bring you back to your overall theme. If you want your family and friends to be the focus, then your book may include casual photos of your favorite people cooking, eating, and enjoying your recipes. If your cookbook is about a specific type of food, such as desserts, you may want to focus on taking high-quality photographs of your creations, beautifully plated. Don’t have photos? Family cookbooks are fun with scanned kids' art or handwritten recipes.
Ready to publish! There are numerous online publishers with software that can help you create, print, and even sell your book. As you peruse your choices you’ll be faced with many decisions, most of which will be dictated by your budget. Hardcover books, with a full color dust jacket and high- quality paper, will be more expensive than a paperback. I published my book on Blurb.com, which has many cookbook-specific templates to choose from. The template is the background of each page and the layout of your cookbook. You will need to choose font style and size, a cover design, title pages for chapters, and an index of recipes. Photographs or scans will need to be uploaded to the publishing company’s site, then formatted and captioned.
A good cookbook project requires a lot of time and attention to detail. My cookbook did eventually get done, but not in time for Christmas that year. Hot off the presses the following Christmas, it was a gift I could be proud of, and my friends and family loved it. I even sold a few dozen copies on the Blurb bookstore to total strangers.
Sources in PrintThe Recipe Writer’s Handbook by Barbara Gibbs Ostmann and Jane L. Baker (Wiley, 2001). Experienced food editors explain how to write a successful recipe. Will Write for Food: The Complete Guide to Writing Cookbooks, Blogs, Reviews, Memoir, and More (Da Capo Lifelong Books, 2010) by Dianne Jacob. Includes how to self-publish a cookbook. The Deluxe Food Lover’s Companion (Barron’s 2009) by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst. A culinary encyclopedia of terminology, ingredients, and cooking tools.
Sources on the Internet blurb.com for cookbooks with beautiful photographs. createmycookbook.com for affordable spiral bound cookbooks. cookbookpublishers.com for fundraising cookbooks. heritagecookbooks.com makes smaller orders affordable. lulu.com specializes in cookbook-making at a low price. morriscookbooks.com for fundraising cookbooks.
Local printing resources Powder Mountain Press in Driggs for custom publishing and professional bookmaking. 110 East Little, 208.354.3466 Peak Printing in Driggs provides custom printing. 76 South First Street, 208.354.7337 Staples in Jackson can help you make an affordable, spiral bound book with color or black and white photos. 520 West Broadway, 307.354.7337
When Annie Fenn, a gynecologist turned food writer, is not in the kitchen making huge pots of marinara sauce, she's skiing the backcountry, whizzing around the nordic centers, or bundled up just watching her boys ski race. You can find her recipes and snippets of mountain life on jacksonholefoodie.com