After the death of a loved one some families make quilts from their loved one’s clothes. Other families compile memory books. I did something different for my family; I made a memory cook book. After my mother-in-law died my sister-in-law and I looked through her old recipe box. Actually, there were four boxes, and the recipes inside were grouped loosely into categories.

There were hand-written recipes, lots of newspaper and magazine clippings, and many duplicates. We threw out the duplicate recipes and saved family favorites – recipes that grandchildren and great grandchildren would enjoy. Reading the recipes brought back memories of family picnics, holiday dinners, and snacks Nana prepared for her three growing boys.

I typed the recipes (one per page) and compiled them in a three-ring notebook. The title of the book: “Favorite Recipes From Nana’s Recipe Boxes.” For the cover I used holiday stationery with a candy cane border. Each cover had a photo of Nana on it. To protect the recipes from splatters and drips I put them in plastic notebook sleeves. There were only 25 recipes so I didn’t index them. However, I did write a short introduction and it contained a story that is still clear in my mind.

Nana served Sunday dinner at 1 p.m. After one dinner she announced that supper would be cake and ice cream. I laughed because I thought Nana was kidding. But Nana, the only person I have ever known who would eat cold butter rolled in sugar, had a sweet tooth, and supper was just as advertised. We had huge bowls of French vanilla ice cream and hefty slices of yellow cake with Penuche frosting. What a memory.

Because the cook book was a glimpse of family history, I typed the recipes as Nana wrote them, including abbreviations such as “refrig” for refrigerator, and references to family members and friends. I grouped the pages into sets, put the pages in the notebooks, and tucked rubber spatulas inside. Then I wrapped the books in holiday paper and ribbon, and tied measuring spoons to each one.

So much love had gone into the cook books that I could hardly wait to give them to family members on Christmas morning. A few fancy gifts were exchanged , but my homemade gifts were the hit of the day. Family members told Nana stories as they paged through their cook books. If you are looking for a meaningful way to remember a loved one, think about compiling a memory cook book.

Your cook book will spark stories about the meals you have shared, and link the older generation with the younger. I didn’t have time to put more photos in the books, but a photo on each page would make the cook book extra special. Now you are probably wondering about the recipes. My favorite recipe is the one for fudge. Though I don’t make fudge, I love the ending. Here is the recipe, just as Nana wrote it so many years ago.


2 c. sugar

3/4 c. milk

2 sq. chocolate

1/2 t. salt

1 T. butter

1 t (teaspoon) vanilla

Mix and cook all ingredients except vanilla & nuts. When it boils up once lower the heat to a slow boil. After 5 min. begin testing for the soft ballstage (1/2 4sp. fudge in a saucer of ice water.)

When you can pick up a soft ball in 3 fingers it’s ready. Cook it 1 minute more. Remove from stove and cool completely before stirring. Add vanilla and nuts and beat until it looks [like] it’s glass and begins to set. Pour into a small square cake pan.

Cut when hard. (If it gets too hard add a few drops of cream at the end of beating.) Cut, enjoy. Save some for mother and dad. Be a good scout and clean up the kitchen afterwards.

Copyright 2006 by Harriet Hodgson

Harriet Hodgson has been a nonfiction writer for 28 years and is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists and the Association for Death Education and Counseling. Before she became a health writer she was a food writer for the former “Rochester Magazine” in her hometown of Rochester, MN. Her 24th book, “Smiling Through Your Tears: Anticipating Grief,” written with Lois Krahn, MD, is available from A five-star review of the book is posted on Amazon. You will find another review on the American Hospice Foundation website under the “School Corner” heading.

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Harriet Hodgson

Harriet Hodgson has been a freelancer for 38 years, is the author of 36 books, and thousands of print/Internet articles. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Minnesota Coalition for Grief Education and Support, and Grief Coalition of Southeastern Minnesota. In 2007 four of her family members died—her daughter (mother of her twin grandchildren), father-in-law, brother (and only sibling), and the twins’ father. Multiple losses shifted the focus of Hodgson’s work from general health to grief resolution and recovery, and she is the author of eight grief resources. Hodgson has appeared on more than 185 radio talk shows, including CBS Radio, dozens of blog talk radio programs, and dozens of television stations, including CNN. In addition to writing for Open to Hope, Hodgson is a contributing writer for The Grief Toolbox website, and The Caregiver Space website. A popular speaker, she has given presentations at public health, Alzheimer’s, hospice, grief, and caregiving conferences. Hodgson’s work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, World Who’s Who of Women, Contemporary Authors, and other directories. For more information about this busy wife, grandmother, author and family caregiver, please visit

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