Here's how I turned my grandmother's messy recipe collection into a family heirloom.
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My grandmother, June Stephenson, was about as organized as a person could be. Her well-ordered existence was practically a love letter to tidiness and discipline.

She was a math teacher who approached her life and household like an algebraic equation—nothing made sense unless everything was in its assigned place.

That’s why I was shocked to find her recipe collection in a state of disarray. The jumble of loose index cards, college-ruled sheets of notebook paper, and magazine pages was recently rediscovered a few months ago during an impromptu basement purge.

Recipe mess
Credit: Corey Williams

Corey Williams

A conversation with my mom revealed that the mess started innocently enough: My grandmother started collecting family recipes in a delicate blue binder toward the beginning of her marriage. True to her nature, my grandmother divided the handwritten book into chapters, each one named after a person and followed by recipes they contributed. For example, one yellowed page reads, simply, “Evelyn.” The next page is (presumably) Evelyn’s recipe for chocolate waffles.

Evelyn recipes
Credit: Corey Williams

Corey Williams

Over the years, though, the neat little cookbook became a congested hodgepodge of loose index cards, papers, and hastily torn magazine pages.

I can only assume that my meticulous grandmother, who preferred mastering a few dishes to experimenting with many, was simply overwhelmed by the sheer volume of ideas coming at her from all angles. The bulk of her recipes were accumulated during the cooking revolution of the ‘60s and ‘70s, after all.

Recipe tout
Credit: Corey Williams

Corey Williams

Though I’m my grandmother’s antithesis (shockingly messy and averse to anything resembling minimalism or orderliness), I found the chaos jarring. It just wasn’t her.

That’s why I did something uncharacteristic: I organized. Well, kind of.

I purchased a nice leather photo album and used it to create my own family cookbook. I originally intended to sort the recipes by course, but my grandmother’s affinity for chocolate made that kind of a pointless endeavor (she had 15+ recipes for fudge and and only one for meatloaf). Instead, I laid them out neatly on scrapbook paper—a dessert here, an appetizer there—and called it a day.

Credit: Corey Williams

Corey Williams

There are plenty of better-looking DIY family cookbooks floating around the internet, but I’m partial to my little creation. I love that it’s an imperfect collection of recipes from my grandmother, my mom, my great grandmother, and plenty of others who contributed along the way.

You don’t have to follow my lead, though. There are plenty of other ways to preserve inherited recipes. Here are a few of my favorites:

Make a recipe box.

Open Recipe Box
Credit: Annie Campbell

Annie Campbell

I made about 10 of these wooden boxes last year and gave them as Christmas gifts to my coworkers, family, and friends. While they’re not ideal for full-sized pieces of paper, they’re perfect for storing 3x5 recipe cards.

Thrift a recipe box.

Thrift stores not an option? The internet is absolutely teeming with vintage treasures just waiting to be discovered. Etsy is always a great choice, but my favorite retro finds have actually come from Instagram. I got this little yellow beauty from Sunstone Marketplace (@sunstonemarketplace), a virtual antique shop.

I’ve purchased from this account a couple times and definitely recommend giving it a follow.

Frame your favorite recipes.

Make your kitchen your own by decorating its walls with framed vintage recipe cards. One-of-a-kind art never looked so good. Plus, you’ll never lose your favorite recipe again.

Learn more at Cleverly Simple.

Make a recipe memory box.

Often, our favorite foods are tied to our favorite people. This sentimental craft is the perfect way to preserve old recipes and pay homage to a person you love.

Learn more at Home Cooking Memories.

Transfer recipes to tea towels or cutting boards.

You can also purchase similar items from artists who specialize in making kitchen items from treasured memories (here are two well-reviewed online shops: Gracious Bridal and Nesting Project)—and there’s certainly nothing wrong with supporting small businesses. But if you’d rather go the homemade route, there are plenty of tutorials out there.

Learn how to DIY recipe tea towels at It’s Always Autumn and how to DIY recipe cutting boards at My Home Matters LLC.