New Rockford Transcript - Official Newspaper of Eddy County since 1883

Eyes that see the good in things: Sept 9, 2019


September 9, 2019

The harvest season makes me think about the coming holiday season. This year is no exception. The other day I was remembering one holiday season, not so long ago, when I was really lonesome for some special family members. My sister and mother-in-law had both died that year, and I was not feeling overly thankful as I was making Thanksgiving preparations. I was dreading the Christmas season even more.

I sat in the chair, paging through cookbooks, trying to decide what to make for Thanksgiving dinner when I finally picked up a copy of our family cookbook and came across the recipe for my sister’s pecan pie.

When I looked up for a moment, my eyes landed on my collection of rolling pins. When my paternal grandmother passed away, one of the things my parents brought home for me was her wooden rolling pin. So, when my maternal grandmother passed away, my mother made sure I also received her wooden rolling pin. Now, I also have my sister’s and my mother-in-law’s rolling pins as well. As I looked at that collection, while I thinking about Thanksgiving, I suddenly felt like making pies.

My mom’s flaky pie crust recipe is included in the cookbook. Although my pie crusts are pretty good, they’re not like hers. In any case, after mixing up that first batch of pie crust, the first rolling pin I reached for was my sister’s. As my hands wrapped around the same rolling pin handles that hers had when she made her pecan pies, my thoughts turned to happier memories and not just how much I missed her. I finished that pie feeling a little better.

When I picked up my mother-in-law’s rolling pin, I knew I wanted to make her apple pie for my husband. I finished the pie her way, by sprinkling the top with cinnamon and sugar and was happy to make him a Thanksgiving pie the way she made it.

My heart was hurting a lot less by the time I reached for my maternal grandmother’s rolling pin, thinking about the many holidays that we had spent at her house. Her rolling pin was well used, but well cared for, and I thought about all the things she had made with that rolling pin. Mountains of sugar cookies, doughnuts and pie crusts. I remembered the stories of preparing food before the threshing crews would come in. I smiled as I rolled the crusts for pumpkin pies, thinking about other family members— how much my cousin loved pumpkin pie and how much he are at Grandma’s house.

I grabbed my paternal grandmother’s rolling pin to make one more family favorite. I rolled out those scraps of pie crust into a rectangle, covered it with butter and then sprinkled it with cinnamon and sugar before rolling it up, slicing it and baking it. This has always been a favorite treat and by the time that I was finished, my house smelled awesome, my doldrums had disappeared, and I didn’t even mind washing all of those rolling pins. I haven’t been on a pie baking spree since, but that year, it was just what I needed.

Those family recipes are kept alive as they continue to be made for special family occasions. That way, they continue to be passed down from generation to generation. The recipes and the memories they invoke are the ingredients that seem to tie family memories together.

Our family recipes tie us together by helping us to remember the family occasions from the past. Holidays, birthdays and Sunday dinners all have special recipes connected to them. When you think about a family dinner, you can almost close your eyes and smell those special occasions— like the hours before Thanksgiving dinner, when the aromas of roasting turkey, sage from the stuffing and pumpkin pie seasoning waft through the house.

Or it could be a special recipe or tradition that your grandparents or great-grandparents brought with them when they first came to America. In my case, those recipes carried names like rommegrot, lutefisk, krub, klub, gamal oest, hjiling med Gjetost saus, kransekakke, lefse, sandbakkels, fattigman, and sprut bakkels.

My sisters-in-law say there is nothing like opening the door to the smell of their mom’s Sunday dinner. Sunday dinner at her house was almost always meatloaf, baked potatoes and corn pudding. So, to her kids, the smell of all of them baking together says home. She never served dessert right after the meal but there was always her homemade chocolate cake, which was much loved by her boys, to go with afternoon coffee later.

It’s also family recipes that we rely on when we are dealing with the bounty of a garden’s harvest. I still use family recipes to pickle beets, make chokecherry jelly, rhubarb jam and freeze creamed corn. Those recipes remind me of the hours I spent in family member’s gardens­— Picking peas in my grandma’s garden, learning to love raspberries at one aunt’s house, trying currants and gooseberries for the first time in my uncle’s garden, and enjoying the plates of freshly sliced garden tomatoes and cucumbers.

Spending time with them in their gardens taught me there was a process to picking everything at is ripest, and that you had to be patient and time the harvesting just right. We learned when to pick the corn for it to be at its best, how to deal with tomatoes that just weren’t going to ripen before a hard frost and how to prepare pumpkin for pumpkin pie.

The memories we share become the reason that we gather together around the family table. They remind us of happy times when we enjoyed each other’s company over home-cooked meals, loud laughter and conversation. You realize it’s not the food that draws you, because food is just food. The pretty display cases in the grocery stores don’t evoke the same kinds of feelings as a treasured family recipe.

The food made with those recipes link you to a moment in time when your grandma would save the beaters for you to lick, or your grandpa would get up in the middle of the night to make you a piece of lefse. It’s the time when your grandma helped Mom bake her famous brown bread for your wedding. It’s the love behind it that makes it special that we often take for granted, but always remember.

That brown bread my grandma made was used at every family occasion I can remember. One year, my sister and cousin went to learn how to make brown bread with her and got the recipe. It was more difficult than they thought, because Grandma baked like many other cooks of her time. Those cooks just knew how to cook, they poured enough salt into their hand until it looked right, but we needed to measure it to find out how much that was. They added flour until the dough felt right when they kneaded it, which turned out to be about 12 cups. They stuck their hand into the oven to see if it was hot enough, we preset to about 375 degrees.

I haven’t tried baking that brown bread in years, but it was recently served at my aunt’s birthday party. It’s also possible that the taste of that bread triggered all these memories. Although she doesn’t even like brown bread, my cousin’s wife has perfected the recipe and makes it for all the people in the family who love it.

And that’s what are family recipes are. They help us to remember the past as we bake the recipes of our great aunts and great grandmothers, they link families together when we come together, and they are preserved for future generations as we teach them to our children.

Our recipes are love. They are compassion. They feed the soul and create the moments that are supposed to be lasting. They help the next generation understand tradition and link us all together, as family.


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