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November 9, 2010

Preserving History: Surprise Cookbook Project Links Me to Family and Home

vegtimes_nov2010.jpgI suppose there’s one in every family. That eater so picky that she (yes, me) prefers a peanut butter sandwich to Thanksgiving turkey (at least once upon a time). Or she claimed to be “full” until a scrumptious chocolate cake or similarly delicious confection was revealed for dessert.

I have come a long way since then, but there’s still no denying my sweet tooth. And with a house full of aunts (mostly), uncles and cousins at the holidays, there was no shortage of cookies, cakes, candies and pies.

Oh sure, I nibbled at turkey and (some) of the trimmings, but couldn’t wait for dessert. And for the longest, I figured I’d be merely a spectator to what went on in the kitchen. Thankfully, things change.

I began dabbling in baking a few years ago, and that, I believe, gave me the courage to undertake and finish a special cookbook project. Though I’d deem it a success, I almost wish I’d first read Vegetarian Times magazine‘s November/December 2010 article titled “Homemade Heritage,” in which tips for preserving family recipes are discussed.

I ended up doing that for my aunt Joyce, who put together her own cookbook of appetizers, salads, soups, sides, and, of course, desserts. Naturally, I gravitated to “the sweet stuff,” which incidentally became the title of the book.

blueberrycreampie_november2010.jpgStarting in January and working through August, I re-created and photographed 35 recipes, all with the end goal of surprising her for her birthday. (To see all of these photos, please visit the Food MagaScene Facebook fan page. I’ve even included the recipe for her Blueberry Cream Pie there.)

In a former life, I was something of a designer and photographer, and I had to recall these skills to pull off this project. I also began to look at food magazines–particularly the photography–with a more critical eye, to get inspiration for angles, backgrounds, settings.

It sounds like a monumental project–maybe it was–but it never seemed like a chore. Instead, it gave me a connection to home, to my aunt, to my family, even to my grandmother who passed away far too many years ago. I would have liked her opinion on how my baking skills stacked up to hers.

Like Vegetarian Times suggests, I wish I had included more background on the recipes or even my aunt’s (or grandmother’s) cookware or an old faded recipe card if it exists. But, then, would it have been a surprise?

Or I could have done a blog instead. I could still do one, to keep adding to and writing history. But how do you give the “gift” of a blog?

With the cookbook, my aunt had something to hold on to, to pass around, to cherish–like a magazine, almost. I consider my copy (and my memories of putting it together) much the same, as well as an intangible link to home, often on days when I need it most.



About the Author

Michelle Ryan
Michelle Ryan
Michelle Ryan is obsessed with good food, great shoes and Alabama football way down South in Savannah, Georgia. She hasn’t met a kitchen gadget she hasn’t at least thought about buying (trying them is another story) and devotes her time to Bikram Yoga, baking and trying to overcome long-held finicky eating habits.




  • http://twitter.com/SummerH Summer Huggins

    I love this cover! I’ve never read Vegetarian Times, but this is the kind of cover that would stop me on the magazine aisle and make me pick it up.

  • Michelle Ryan

    Vegetarian Times is a great magazine. Not preachy about the vegetarian lifestyle at all. There’s always great content, and even the vegetarian recipes could be modified for those who wanted to add meat. I’m not a vegetarian, but I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the magazine.