The Graber family — Esther, the matriarch, her five daughters and one daughter-in-law — are creators of "The Daily Feast Everyday Meals we Love to Share," which was published in April by Good Books, the company that publishes the popular "Fix-It and Forget-It" cookbooks.
The family members involved are Ellen Rose Graber, southern Indiana; Jane Graber Davis, Nashville, Ind.; Ellen Graber Kraybill, Elkhart; Sibyl Graber Gerig, Goshen; her twin, Ann Graber Miller, Goshen; Susan Graber Hunsberger, New Zealand; and daughter-in-law Yvonne Schussler Graber, married to Steven Graber and living in Scottsdale, Ariz. All are Goshen College graduates, including except for Yvonne.
Esther authored the book and her daughters and daughter-in-law worked with her to cook all the recipes in the book to be photographed.
Food has always been a way to celebrate and draw together as a family, according to the three local Graber sisters, Sibyl, Ann and Ellen. Growing up, the evening meal was an important ritual.
"Dad was a busy surgeon in Puerto Rico," Sibyl said. "That time around the table was sacred. A time of catching up on the day."
As the girls and their brother grew up and moved away, food remained a central focus to their family gatherings and trading recipes became a big part of that, too.
"We often eat together," Ann said. "We like to try things out on each other."
About 15 years ago, Esther, now 81, took all the favorite family recipes and put them in plastic, three-ring binders for each of her children. Each year, more recipes were added. When those first binders began to bulge at the seams, a second one was started.
"They were very well-used," Sibyl said. "We even shared them with friends. But they became so unorganized. We even tried color coding."
Ellen suggested her mom, the sisters and Yvonne get together and make a cookbook just for themselves — the original idea was to use a self-publishing Web site.
Then Ann's husband, Keith Graber Miller, chimed in.
"Keith said 'Sure, great, but let's run what you have by a publisher and see if they like it,'" Ann said.
To the surprise of the family, Good Books sent a positive response: They wanted to publish the book.
And so began the family's immersion into the world of "food styling" and food photography. They hired an expert to do a lot of that, but also ended up doing quite a bit themselves. The Grabers are a family of artists: watercolorists, book illustrators, potters, designers and musicians, so they already placed a great deal of attention on the presentation of their dishes.
"There were always three things we make sure of," Sibyl said. "That the food tastes good, looks good and looks good together (as a full meal.) It also has to be easy to do."
They took that concept to a whole new level for the cookbook, first cooking and then and styling every dish that went into the book. It often took several tries to get the perfect look for the dishes.
Some of the cooking was done at Sibyl's C.R. 19 home in Goshen, but about four weekends were spent at Esther's home near Nashville, Ind.. They spent hours cooking, arranging photos and — the payoff at the end — eating. Susan in New Zealand also cooked and took photos for the book. All of the work had to be accomplished from August to October 2011.
Meanwhile, Esther was busy painstakingly transcribing all of the recipes into a new format required by the publisher. She also wrote the forward and most of the cook's notes.
"It is mom's voice speaking throughout," Sybil said. "She is a good writer."
The sisters are also full of praise for Esther's aplomb during an April book tour organized by the publisher. Sibyl, Ann and Esther spent time at book signings in Pennsylvania, but the most intimidating event was a satellite-fed interview session in New York City. The three women did 13, one to three-minute interviews with 13 different television stations.
"We are so proud of mom," Sibyl said. "She is 81 years old. That (satellite) interview was grueling and the camera always went right to mom."
The three sisters said they enjoyed the experience, though it was a tremendous amount of work, but they have no plans to pen another cookbook.
"We never set out to be published," Ann said. "We just wanted to organize our three-ring binders."
But she said, tapping the cover of the book, "This really is the cookbook we wanted for ourselves."
Information from: The Goshen News, http://www.goshennews.com