Its too late to help you with Mothers Day this year. With only a few days left, you should just throw yourself on the mercy of the nearest florist.
But next year? Oh, we have the perfect Mothers Day gift for next year. And you have 369 days to do it:
Make a cookbook of your mothers recipes.
You get something you can keep, share and cherish. Your mother gets something that shows how much you value her.
Its the perfect Mothers Day gift, says Tricia Childress. As an English and writing teacher at Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte, she assigns her students to create books. A lot of them end up making family cookbooks.
With todays print-on-demand programs on websites, its so simple, even a mothers grown child can do it.
Its easy to do something that looks professional, Childress says. The quality has gotten much better.
Help on the Web
Making family cookbooks is such a big deal that the Internet is crawling with sites.
Anne Curran, a digital strategist in New York, started a new service in November, cookbookcreate.com, after she went looking for the secret to her grandmothers chocolate cookie recipe and stumbled on her own mothers handwritten recipe notebook, started by Currans aunt in 1969.
Flipping through the pages of scribbled notes and handwritten recipes, including her great-grandmothers iced tea, she was struck by the emotional value of the collection.
It was so visible to me this was the story of our family. Curran had wanted to start her own Web company, so she asked herself: Whats the digital version of this cookbook?
She came up with a site that lets people compile recipes into collections that can be kept private or shared with friends and family.
Its free to set up a collection online, and you pay to print cookbooks, from a single copy to hundreds.
Childress students use services such as Blurb.com, Lulu.com or Shutterfly.com. Like Currans service, most are free to upload recipes and design a book. You pay to print it: Usually, a 20-page book costs $13 for a small softcover or up to $50 for a large hardcover with a photo on the front. Editing or design services are extra, but you dont have to use them.
With Blurb, students can create a book and family members can buy copies through Amazon. So a school project ends up being something everybody can experience.
One of Childress students uses images of the handwritten recipe, with all the different handwriting, as the art.
It had such an emotional impact, Childress says. You get the food-splashed-on-the-card experience.
If the Web isnt for you, you can go the low-tech route. Matt Kinney of Charlotte says his family cookbook is as simple as it gets: Copied pages in a three-ring notebook.
He thinks it started 10 years ago, when his mother came to a Christmas gathering of their extended family with copies of her great-grandmothers biscuit recipe for everyone.
It was such a hit, they started having everyone bring a recipe with enough copies to go around. Theyve even brought a three-hole punch to the gatherings, so recipes can go right into binders.
It ends up being a mashup of family recipes and things, he says. Everybody writes the story of (the recipe) I discovered this here and we had it every Sunday.
Its so popular, his wifes family started doing it. Then her uncle made a collection as a tribute to his mother, a retired home economics teacher.
Kinney loves how the collections trace changes through the generations. Older family members share recipes that are sort of similar traditional Southern. Younger members contribute things that are more eclectic, like guacamole, or with more exotic ingredients, like agave syrup. With far-flung family, they get a peek inside each others lives.
Its so neat to have access to those recipes, he says. The family member you dont see that often you realize whats on their table.
Gathering the recipes
So how do you get the recipes? Weve all known older cooks who dismiss requests for a recipe with Oh, this old thing? Or they give a recipe, but the measurements and method arent clear.
Thats why you need to do this now, while older family members are still around.
One of the problems people have is this aging population, says Curran of Cookbookcreate.com. Many of them have amazing recipes, but theyre all in memory. And so someone in the family has to actually transcribe and create the recipe.
Her suggestion: Before you get together to watch your grandmother make that chocolate coconut cake, look up similar recipes online. That way, when you watch her make it, youll know what to expect and youll be able to spot what she might be doing differently.
It also might help to divide up the work: One person can be in charge of nagging family members to share recipes while another takes charge of typing and formatting.
Childress had used Shutterfly to make books of her vacation pictures, but she had never tried a cookbook herself until last Christmas, when her Lebanese mother-in-law came to stay for a month.
Her mother-in-law doesnt speak English, so they couldnt talk about cooking on the phone. But when they were together, they could shop and cook.
Childress was able to get enough recipes to create a book, and she made two copies, one for herself and one for her mother-in-law.
However you do it, remember that recipes arent just dishes you cook. They are the story of your family.
Childress students end up learning a lot more than what their families eat. One student included a chicken liver story that she said was better than the recipe. Here it is:
The student hated chicken livers and remembered coming home from school to find the windows open to let out the smell. But it turned out the reason everyone made the recipe was to honor his great-grandmother, who emigrated with Russia wearing a heavy coat with the recipe hidden in the coat.
At Ellis Island, an inspector made a chalk mark on her coat, indicating that he thought she was sick and shouldnt be allowed into the country. She snuck into a bathroom and ditched the coat, but she kept the recipe. She made it into America with nothing else.
So the whole family now makes the dish, even though they dont like it, Childress says.
Are there great stories waiting in your familys recipes? You can make book on it.