Tips and ideas for preserving and displaying family recipes

A shadow box containing a recipe card, a photo of a woman smiling, a small jar of herbs, and two decorative measuring spoons hangs on a white brick wall near a baked pie in a pie tin and a vase of white flowers.

Family recipes are a special kind of priceless heirloom—the kind that transport us back to our favorite times with our favorite people. And getting them can be a challenge.

That’s why we put together this list of tips for tracking down and preserving your family recipes. We’ve also got four easy ideas for displaying them, which you can use to honor a family member in your own home or make a gift for someone’s wedding or housewarming. Go on, dig in!

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Tips for preserving family recipes  

The challenge: Getting exact ingredients and precise amounts

I found the difficulty of preserving family recipes out myself during a phone call to my Dad a few years ago when I was trying to duplicate his famous inari sushi rolls for a party. Our conversation went like this:

DAD: To the rice, add some of those marinated things.

ME: What are they called?

DAD: I don’t know. I think the can is orange.

ME: How much do I add?

DAD: Just some. But not too much.

Uncovering a family recipe can take some work. If it’s not written down, you’ll have to interview someone who knows how to make it. If it is written down, but incomplete or illegible, you’ll need to find someone familiar enough with the recipe or the writer to translate. You may even have to swear not to share it outside the family or assume the responsibility of making it for special occasions!

“My grandmother Wese tried dozens of shortbread recipes until she found one that tasted exactly like the one some friends from Scotland brought her,” Hallmarker Trish B. said. “I’m not allowed to share the recipe—but I’m very popular when I share the shortbread.”

The solution: Join in, ask specific questions and be prepared for non-answers 

A lot of the best home cooks learned by doing. They ignore recipes in favor of cooking by feel, flavor or aroma, using a little of this and a pinch of that until it’s just right.

Grandma may not have any idea exactly how much sugar goes in her pie, so join her next time she makes it and have a kitchen scale or some measuring cups nearby. The secret(s) might be simpler than you think! 

“My dad’s mom’s southern vegetables got their flavor from ‘a little bit of salt, a little bit of water, and half a stick of margarine,’” said Trish.

Family chocolate chip cookies in tin for Preserving Family Recipes


The challenge: Making sure the memories live on

Your recipe will benefit from some details about the cook and the way this dish was always served, or why it’s a family favorite. Who was the first creator? What was that person like? Who has cooked this recipe since then? Has anyone made any variations?

The solution: Add a little story or color commentary

Make sure to record any sweet or funny details like these when you write down the recipe. Hallmarker Tommy D. shared:

“My Great Grandmother’s chocolate chip cookie recipe will forever remain a closely-held family secret that many have tried to get their hands on. I can tell you, however, that her recipe card specifies [amount withheld for secrecy] of Crisco shortening—THE ONE WITH THE CHERRY PIE ON IT.  

You might be asking yourself, ‘What’s different about this particular can of shortening that makes it integral to her recipe?’ It was simply because she thought it looked better in her pantry than the one with fried chicken on it. Go figure.”

Family recipe in box - Preserving Family Recipes


The challenge: Preserving the cook’s handwriting

There’s something about seeing a loved one’s handwriting that makes cooking family recipes even more of a bonding experience.

Hallmarker Stephanie Y. recalled how her grandmother’s recipe box contains large numbers of important recipes written on the backs of receipts and old envelopes—as well as even more random bits of scrap paper that her great-grandmother had filled with notes.

The solution: Future-proof your loved one’s handwriting

You could make a copy of it with a copier or scan it to create a digital file. You could even take a photo of it with your phone and isolate the handwriting to overlay it on another image or in a new document—phones can do a lot these days!

But if you’re not sure how to do all that, and you don’t know anyone who does, you could always go the simplest route and have those old scraps of paper laminated. This will keep them from deteriorating any further than they already have, and keep them clean and dry when you use them.

4 easy family recipe display ideas  

So, you’ve made the calls, stood in the kitchen, sorted through the scraps and did everything else you needed to do to preserve those family recipes. Now let’s give them the honor they deserve by finding simple, pretty ways to present them around your home…or someone else’s!

Recipe Block - Easy Ideas for Displaying Favorite Family Recipes

Easiest: Block Recipe Card Holders

These little recipe card holders are made from scrap wood with a notch cut in the top. But if you don’t want to get out the table saw, just about any place card holder will work. It’s a fun way to show off the recipe along with the cooked dish at a family gathering. Print extra copies on card stock for thoughtful party favors.

Art - Easy Ideas for Displaying Favorite Family Recipes

Easy: Recipes as Art

Handwritten recipe cards carry more than a memory of the meal—the cook’s penmanship makes it extra personal. For this gallery wall, choose a variety of frames in the same color and print recipes to fit. If you have a scanner and printer, this one’s easy to do at home. You can also print a photo taken with your phone. Otherwise, head to a print center or office supply store. You can also tweak the color and texture with photo editing software or apps.

Tea Towel - Easy Ideas for Displaying Favorite Family Recipes

Pretty Easy: DIY Recipe Tea Towels

Just scan in the recipe and print it onto fabric transfer paper. Then follow the instructions to transfer the image to a linen tea towel. Several towels printed with different family recipes and tied with a gingham ribbon would make a wonderful holiday gift.

A shadow box containing a recipe card, a photo of a woman smiling, a small jar of herbs, and two decorative measuring spoons hangs on a white brick wall near a baked pie in a pie tin and a vase of white flowers.

Moderately Easy: Heirloom Shadow Box

Combine recipe cards, photos, and mementos to make a meaningful heirloom shadow box. You can scan and print your recipes or use the original. Hang this one in the kitchen for lasting inspiration.

•  Start with a shadow box or tray about 1” deep.
•  Gather and arrange the contents: recipe cards, photos, kitchen utensils, even dried herbs or flowers.
•  Once you’re happy with the arrangement, attach items to the frame. Use a photo-safe spray adhesive or rubber cement for photos and recipe cards. The rest can be hot-glued or attached with craft adhesive.

Of course, not every recipe will end up on display. For those that become staples or you just simply want to keep for a certain time of year, check out these recipe binders, cards and boxes to use in your kitchen. You could even gift a binder or box already filled with precious, preserved family recipes!

We hope these ideas for preserving and displaying your family’s favorite family recipes have sparked some inspiration—or at the very least, an appetite for something delicious and nostalgic. 😊


Want more memory keeping ideas? You could say we have a few of those: