This grandmother from CT has become famous on TikTok. Now she’s written ‘a different kind of cookbook’

Photo of Alyssa Seidman

Bethel’s Barbara Costello was preparing a simple sheet pan meal in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic when her daughter Elizabeth, of New Canaan, suggested sharing the video on TikTok.

“I thought it was going to be a one-time thing. … That was several hundred videos ago,” Costello joked. “People were cut off from their family, their jobs, so they had time to explore cooking. The idea of (learning from) an older person who reminded them of their mother or grandmother gave them a lot of comfort. The outpouring of emotional connection we discovered was totally unexpected.”

Two years later, Costello has amassed more than 1.7 million followers on TikTok under her name “Brunch with Babs.” She joined Instagram shortly after, and has nearly 650,000 followers there.

Now Costello is whipping up something new for fans to sink their teeth into.

In the book “Celebrate with Babs,” out April 12, readers can find holiday menus direct from Costello’s recipe box. Most of the dishes can be prepared ahead of time to take the stress and anxiety out of hosting, she said.

Each chapter begins “a little memoir” about how the Costello family celebrates certain holidays and how those traditions have changed through the generations. It also provides readers tips on starting their own traditions and advice on entertaining for large groups.

The 73-year-old mother of four and grandmother of eight has been hosting for nearly half a century. The first holiday she hosted for her family was New Year’s Day in the early 1970s.

Costello lived in Ridgefield for more than 30 years; she opened and operated The Growing Tree Nursery School. She and her husband, Bill, downsized and moved to Bethel 10 years ago.

Hearst Connecticut Media had a chance to speak with Costello ahead of the book’s launch.

Question: Where did you originate the idea for “Celebrate with Babs?” Did it follow your notoriety on TikTok or was it something you’ve always thought of doing?

Costello: I never thought of doing this. Once I had this presence … a publishing company reached out to me and asked if I would consider writing a cookbook … and I said ‘I’ll give it a shot.’

What we thought people were missing in this whole dark period was family connection and celebrating life, so we decided to do a book celebrating traditions and special holiday family recipes.

Question: Can you recall the recipe you made or a party/holiday you hosted that solidified your zest for entertaining?

Costello: I love Thanksgiving (because) it’s just about family and tradition and food. There are wonderful Thanksgiving recipes in the book.

My overnight breakfast casserole — I clipped the recipe out of the newspaper and I’ve been making it every Christmas morning for a half a century. Certain dishes have been synonymous with our traditions, and it’s just become part of the family. It’s now being passed down to my grandkids.

Question: Your recipes, party tips and life hacks have already received thousands of views on TikTok and Instagram. How was it different translating them into the form of a book?

Costello: I have this little wooden recipe box that I’ve been collecting recipes in forever. When you went to somebody’s house and enjoyed a dish you got a little recipe card. Now it’s different, people find recipes everywhere.

Many (of the recipes in the book) are from my little recipe box. They’re special for holidays; we wanted to take a different direction than (what’s on) TikTok and Instagram

Question: Is there a particular recipe or tradition in “Celebrate with Babs” that you’re most excited to share with fans? If so, which?

Costello: My grandmother’s Easter bread. My kids would say the most memorable memory … is Christmas morning monkey bread.

Question: How do you believe the book will resonate with readers as people begin to gather post-pandemic?

Costello: It’s a different kind of cookbook. I hope it resonates well with everyone and they (can) relate. Just the food alone is something that people will enjoy and hopefully share.

It’s all about connecting with family and friends on those special days and starting your own traditions. They’re kind of like (the) cement that holds family and friends together, (and) the food (and) the memories evoked from them brings it all together.

Costello will be at RJ Julia Booksellers in Madison on April 12 for a Q&A and book signing. For other dates on the tour, click here.

“Celebrate with Babs” is available for pre-order on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books A Million, and QVC.