The Great Gathering
Send invitations at least a month in advance.
The great thing about hosting a family-recipe bonanza around Thanksgiving is that your clan will all be in the same place. Still, give fair warning or risk losing some people to football. Paperlesspost.com and cocodot.com have festive online invitations that even a cranky grandpa couldn't resist. Ask your guests to suggest dishes they ate as a child or to send old family recipes and the stories that go along with them. For good measure, encourage each attendee to e-mail or bring an old photo or two.
A week before the cooking class, nail down the lesson plan.
Let Grandma -- or whoever's the time-honored family chef -- decide which recipes you'll learn to make together. Try for an entrée, side dish and dessert. Three recipes are manageable without being overwhelming, and you'll have a full meal at the end of the affair.
Before your guests arrive, do major prep work.
Conquer big-ticket, time-consuming tasks, like coring a pineapple or marinating meats, ahead of time. Easy peeling and chopping are good group activities (knives are adults-only, of course) and can help stimulate memories of the good old days.
You've already designated the master chef. Now choose a photographer and/or videographer to document the day and a dishwasher (or two) to keep the workspace clean.
Let the stories flow.
Cooking the food your grandmother and great-grandmother made is like creating an edible family tree. Ask questions: Who first made the dish? Why did she use that specific ingredient? Maybe your ancestors lived on a blueberry farm. Maybe they used Crisco because there was a shortage of butter during wartime. Where there's food to eat, there are stories to tell.
After the fact, collect the recipes in one place.
Gather the pictures, recipes and stories and put them in a photo album. Or a website like heritagecookbook.com can do it for you ($12 and up per book). Input the recipes and images and, about a month later, you've got yourself some cookbooks. (Just in time for the holidays! Can you say,"perfect Christmas gift"?)
get it write
If you're not careful when documenting recipes, you could end up with pages of illegible (and incorrect) chicken scratch. Follow our recipe-writing tutorial.
Assign a single person to secretarial duties. If everyone tries to take notes, you'll end up with five different versions of the same chicken soup.
Measure everything out. Your mother may think "a good pinch" is an official measurement. Shadow Mom while she's cooking, measure the approximate amount she's using, and take note that her good pinch is everyone else's tablespoon.
List the ingredients in the order they'll be used. This is standard recipe practice, so stick with it to make life easier on your family chefs. Include visual cues. Note that Mom cooked the onions "until golden, about 5 minutes." It might take you longer to achieve the same result.
Make directions short and to the point. An at-home chef, especially when among family, can talk each step to death. For the purposes of your recipe, edit each explanation down to one specific instruction.