What do you get someone who loves to cook but already has all the gadgets and gizmos she could possibly need? How about a handmade cookbook that contains recipes and anecdotes from all her friends and loved ones?
It's a great gift for milestone birthdays, going-away parties, and especially bridal showers (it's been known to bring so many tears!). "I don't think I received a more thoughtful or practical gift," says Emily, a recent bride from Michigan.
To make one, all you have to do is contact your fellow party guests and ask them to submit a favorite recipe, then print the recipes and tape or insert them into a recipe book or binder.
Although it's a tough gift to mess up, here are some things I've learned while doing this for multiple bridal showers.
Some Books and Binders That'll Work for This Project
1. Ask friends near and far.
Don't leave out Aunt Mildred just because she won't be at the party. Work with the party organizer to get the email addresses of all the guests. It's an easy way to make sure everyone gets involved — even those people who can't make the trip or the date.
Kelli Dorey, a friend of mine and party-thrower extraordinaire, organized the first group recipe book I'd ever seen (and inspired me to make them for future brides!). She recommends asking people to forward your email to others. "What started out as an email request to about 20 people expanded to at least 50 people," she says about one such book. "I think the bride and groom were surprised by how many people participated, which was really neat."
For one of my friends, I also emailed people who weren't on the guest list. She appreciated that, saying, "It was such a nice way to include family and friends who couldn't be a part of the bridal shower in person — especially my good guy friends and long-distance loved ones."
2. Offer formatting guidelines.
When you send out your email, give specific guidelines for what the contributions should include — and how they should be formatted. You could even send out a template with the format: recipe name, contributor name, anecdote, ingredients, and instructions.
I recommend sending it out in both Google Drive and Microsoft Word, so guests can use the platform they're more comfortable with. (You could have people simply add their recipe to a shared Google document, but then you run the risk of someone making accidental erasures or edits.)
Even if you don't use a template, tell participants exactly how you'd like their recipe to be formatted. Trust me: This will save you SO much time when it comes to putting them all together.
3. Make sure people share a story.
Yes, the anecdote part gets its own mention here, because it's that important. Some people might balk at the idea of having to write something, but remind them it only needs to be a few sentences — and will mean a lot to the couple. You can even offer prompts like: Why do you want the guest of honor to have this recipe? What does it remind you of? When or why do you like to make it?
"It was really fun for people to include recipes that reminded them of our relationship and experiences we've had together," says Maggie, a newlywed from Alaska. "Certain entries still crack me up every time I go through the book."
Another bride I spoke with agrees: "Every time I make pumpkin muffins or maple granola or roast chicken, I also have the benefit of thinking about a dear friend — and their well wishes for our marriage."
4. Set a hard deadline (with wiggle room).
Another thing you must include in your email? A deadline. Make sure it's a few weeks before the bridal shower, so you'll have time to add the stragglers.
And, a few days before the deadline, send out a reminder. You don't want anyone missing their opportunity to contribute simply because they forgot what day it was.
5. Encourage a variety of different recipes.
If you start receiving a lot of recipes that fall in the same category — too many desserts, for example — don't be afraid to send another email asking people who haven't yet submitted to send something different. The more variety, the better!
"Be clear about what you're looking for," recommends Dorey. "Mention if someone has an allergy or doesn't eat certain foods. And make sure you have enough for the different categories: appetizers, entrées, salads and desserts." You could even include drinks. Of course, if you get only desserts, then you can make an all-sweets book. There are worse things!
6. Be prepared for last-minute recipes.
Think you've received all the entries you're going to get? You're probably wrong. There's always someone who wants to sneak in under the wire — right before the party starts.
So it's wise to be prepared with extra tape or plastic sleeves. It's also nice to leave some blank pages or empty sleeves in the book itself, so the bride can add new recipes as she comes across them. Because, if your cookbook is anything like the ones I've been a part of, it'll be in the family for a long time.
Have you ever created a group recipe book? Any tips to add?