Preserving Family Memorabilia

Every family has something that they are proud of.

Often it is objects; a momento from emmigrating to this country, a relic from a war, some thing from an era gone by such as the family farm or something related to their cultural heritage.

It could also be something handmade; scrapbooks, embroidered household items, knitted sweaters, handcrafted furniture, or even something as large as a family home that was built by hand.

My Grandma Sokolitz
If I ask myself what my extended family was proud of, it would be my grandmother's recipes.  She was Hungarian and emmigrated to the United States when she was 5.  Back in the 1920s, women spent much of their time cooking for their household and because it was that depression era, they were thrifty and creative with the ingredients they cooked with.  She was a master chef by her own design, and closely guarded her recipes, deciding to share them with a few close family members, when we showed some interest and she realized her days were numbered on this earth.

In my experience I've found that clients let these sorts of items accumulate in their homes either because they wanted them saved when they were offered or more likely, someone in the family passed away, and so these objects were simply passed on.

In many instances, these valued things are stored in boxes, stacked up in basements, garages, attics where they are out of site.  Often no one remembers the contents much less where they are located.

When the time comes to deal with these items (and the time always comes...) family members can be dismayed to discover that these once valued items have been ruined by mold, dust, rust and decay and now regardless of preference, they must be thrown away.

This process can be extremely hard and filled with anxiety and sadness, which is why many people choose to hang on to such things long after their usefulness has passed, their joy forgotten.  It is just too hard to face all of that emotion and decision-making when what we really want to be doing is to go out and about, enjoying our lives.

It's no mystery why the clutter we inherit can take over valuable space in our homes and leave us feeling hopeless to do anything about it.

But back to my grandmother....

Before she passed away, I was lucky enough to inherit a large shoe box crammed full of her recipes. Excited to have them and be able to cook with them, I opened the box.

To my dismay, it was filled with recipes alright, but most of them were from other women in her neighborhood, many were scratched out on the backs of Crisco labels, and some were incomplete or indecipherable.

So, just like all of my clients, I closed the box and put it on a shelf in my basement....for 22 years,
3 states and 4 houses later.

Until now....
I unpacked the box!

I spent a few hours sorting the recipes into categories.  It wasn't easy, but it sure was fascinating!

What do you think this is for?
Rolling dough into noodles!
There was another tool in there that I couldn't bear to photograph or keep, once I found out what it was.  It was a bundle of chicken feathers, neatly tied together.  I found out from my Dad that it was used to brush eggwash on to pastry.  Eeeew, out it went!

There were a couple of recipe books that I quickly flipped through, looking for notes from my grandmother in the margins.  And I cut out a few of the recipes too.






There were many recipes written on ephemera like this label from a can...
See the edits handwritten at the top?  The edits make it HER recipe.

How about this?
A recipe written in Hungarian!
This made me cringe, but I couldn't look away.
Then there were interesting other things that had nothing to do with cooking.
How to keep flies away and how to grow violets? Hmmm.
This made me think was she looking for a job?

Or merely figuring out which pens still had ink in them?
But I digress...

I took pictures (obviously) of everything that wasn't a recipe as during the sorting process, I decided that I would indeed compile all the recipes and photos into a digital book for my family as a surprise for Christmas!

First I had to winnow down the 50+ recipes into the 30 that were truly her own and for that I needed the help of my Dad.  Without knowing exactly what I was up to (it was a surprise after all), he went through the stacks of recipes with me and even told me a few stories along the way.  

I've heard it said that when the oldest person in your family passes away, it's like the library burned down, so this was a special time with him hearing more about our family history.

Then the real work began....typing them all up.  It took looking up incomplete recipes online using Google translator for Hungarian recipe websites.  I wanted each entry to have the correct Hungarian name for the food and a picture too!  Thank you Google Images.  

Then it was off to the virtual world of Walgreens Photo Books to create this masterpiece. They have hundreds of book templates (even a recipe template to my delight!) and many choices for the book itself - softcover, hardcover, etc.  Plus they always have a sale or special going on! 

 It was simple to upload all the food pictures and the photos of the ephemera I had.  Then I copied and pasted the recipes from my word document into the templates.  

It took a little fiddling to get it all just right and truth be told, there are a few minor errors, but done is better than perfect! 

I was able to create it in a day, order multiple copies and pick them all up that evening.  How does this even happen?

Here's how it came out.


There are photos of the ephemera throughout; such as this cookbook cover.

I  just HAD to include these specialties. (Cringe.)

And, my family LOVED it!  A fitting tribute to a great cook and the memories made around her table.  

AND I threw out the box of recipes and freed up some space in my basement - BONUS!
Pardon the flour dusting...I'm off to bake!

What inherited objects in your home could you turn into a digital family memory?

Do it soon, "before the library burns down."