Columns

Made with Love: Kitchen Memories

During the holidays my house smells like sugar and spice and everything nice. The aroma doesn’t come from scented candles; it emanates from the shortbread, sugar cookies, three kinds of fudge, and two loaves of Amish cinnamon bread I’ve made.

Shortbread and sugar cookies

The cinnamon bread cools in my mother’s aluminum pans. Last month, I wrote about the memories those pans hold for me and invited readers to share their stories of memory-laden kitchenware.

Below you’ll read about everything from pie tins to rolling pins, as readers reminisce about recipes, traditions and warm memories made in the kitchen.

Tom Peacock said his mother and grandmother were “pie goddesses.” It seems he inherited their skills, along with her flour sifter and Spode Christmas dishes.

“I baked my first pie (cherry) when I was around 12,” he wrote. “I picked the cherries from the next-door neighbor’s tree, pitted them with Mom’s old-school pitter, and the pie turned out nicely.”

From there he progressed to banana cream, pecan and blackberry cream pies.

“I did get to bake side by side with Mom, especially in her later years. The last few years before she went into assisted care, I did most of the Thanksgiving cooking using the skills I learned from her,” Peacock said.

Every baker knows you can’t make a good pie crust or sugar cookies without a quality rolling pin. John Kafentzis and his family use an irreplaceable one.

“A rolling pin from my grandmother is still very much in use at our house,” he said. “It was carved by her grandfather from a single piece of maple around 1920. It’s substantial. The family joke is that it was carved from the last tree in Kansas as that’s where they lived at the time.”

Pier Sanna’s mom was a pastry chef and taught Sanna to make everything from croissants to wedding cakes.

“After her death in 1980, I had first dibs on her bakeware – 50-plus-year-old cast iron pizza pans and cookie sheets. Try finding those at Williams Sonoma,” Sanna wrote. “Every time we use her bakeware, we suspect she is standing next to us smiling and resisting the urge to supervise.”

Jan Erickson uses a braising pot that her grandfather gave to her mother on her wedding day in 1947.

“I remember wonderful roasts, ribs, and so many favorite dishes coming from this pan,” Erickson said. “My grandparents did not have much money, but they splurged on this pot for my mom. Granddad told Mom that this pot would last her through her entire life. It surely did!

“I know my daughter wants this pot when I’m done with it, so it will continue in our family for years to come.”

Many of us revel in holiday baking traditions. For example, Leslie Olson Turner’s mother embraced her Norwegian roots when it came to Christmas cookies, making spritz cookies, berlinerkranser, rosettes, almond crescents and krumkake. Turner has continued the tradition, using her mother’s cookie press and rosette irons.

“I reserve the holidays to kick in my own version of a baking frenzy,” she wrote. “The krumkake iron I now use I inherited from my Aunt Sonja. It’s identical to the one my Mom had used – made of heavy-duty cast iron. And while I could have bought an electric one, it just wouldn’t have been the same.”

Michael Paul also continues cultural traditions. His great-grandmother was born in Hawaii to Portuguese immigrants.

“The Portuguese brought with them many new foods, including what is today known as Hawaiian sweet bread. Each Christmas, Nana Schultz would bake sweet bread for everyone, blessing each loaf with a cross and a tiny piece of garlic in the center of the cross as it went into the oven,” Paul wrote. “Today, I am just about the only one left in my family making this bread and the pickled pork also served at Christmas time.”

He still uses his grandmother’s metal measuring cups and Nana Schultz’s recipes.

“There’s no telling how old those recipes are. They came ‘around the horn’ from Portugal in the late 1800s,” Paul said.

Sometimes, the most practical items are treasured.

“After my dear mother passed away, going through her things there was one kitchen item, in particular, that was the golden ticket – the jar opener,” Julie Hoseid said. “Since I did most of the help for her, I rewarded myself with it, however, my sister and I are discussing shared custody.”

It seems pie-baking stirs up many memories.

“I’m not sure how old I was when Mom taught me her pumpkin pie filling tweaks, but I remember her setting me up at the kitchen table the first few times because I was too short to reach the countertop,” Carol Nelson wrote.

When Nelson married her, mother gave her the LustreCraft stainless mixing bowl, the pie plates that ensure an evenly baked crust, and her rolling pin. But it was her mother-in-law that gave her a never-fail pie crust recipe.

“Fifty-one years later, both moms have passed, but each time I take out my pie plates and the now-stained recipe card, I think of them, and their gifts of love to a new bride.”

Gail Justesen said her mother was known as one of the best pie-makers in Whitman County. When her mom was out of town, a teenage Justesen decided to step in and bake two pies for a pie social.

“The first two I cooked too long: the crust was brittle, apple filling overflowed. The next batch, the crust was raw and the filling soupy,” she recalled.

But Justesen kept trying – making seven pies in all before she had two that were pie social-worthy. Her dad didn’t mind gobbling up the mistakes.

“My friends moan when they think of making pies and usually cave to the store-bought pie crusts. However, I love to make them and am so thankful for the ‘pie genes’ I received from my mom,” said Justesen.

I’m not the only one with aluminum bread pans. Lisa Meiners treasures four that belonged to her mother.

“My mother passed away Aug. 1, just four months shy of her 100th birthday,” Meiners wrote. “She raised six children in Alaska and was a wonderful cook and baker. We always had homemade bread. Four of Mom’s bread pans moved with her from Alaska to Washington. I’m the only one of her five daughters who bakes bread regularly, and now have the honor of owning those bread pans that were used to bake loaves of love every week.”

So readers, as you sit at your holiday table this week, I hope you’ll enjoy more than just delicious food. Sometimes sharing memories and traditions with those you love is the most satisfying feast of all.

Columns

With 20/20 clarity, I see change ahead

I don’t remember ever having 20/20 vision. I got my first pair of glasses in fourth grade, my first pair of contacts at 15, and my eyesight continues to decline.

That’s why I’m really looking forward to this new year – I can finally see 2020! And every time I glimpse the date in my new calendars and planners, I smile. There’s just something exciting about turning a page.

2019 brought change to our household. In the fall, our third son moved into his own place, and we’re officially down to just one kid at home. That kid will graduate from college in the spring, and while he’ll likely stay with us while pursuing a second degree – our empty nest years are looming.

So far, meal planning has been the most challenging thing about our shrinking household. Because Sam works mainly evenings, I foresaw a lot of cooking for two in my future. As usual, my vision was faulty, because at least once a week there are five at my table.

When Zach moved out, I told him I hoped he’d join us for a weekly family meal. Our oldest son also lives nearby, and if I’m cooking for four, it’s certainly no stretch to make dinner for five.

The result? I now get to have my three in-town sons around my table on a regular basis, and nothing makes this mama’s heart happier. Besides, I haven’t yet mastered the art of cooking for three, let alone two.

The holidays revealed more opportunities for adapting. In recent years, our two youngest sons have been in charge of tree decorating. My penchant for holiday décor seems to grow each year, so it’s nice to leave the Christmas tree in their capable hands. However, this year, varying work schedules proved problematic.

I’m all about problem solving, so for the first time in at least 25 years, Derek and I trimmed the tree by ourselves. What might have been melancholy became delightful. We took a lovely, romantic stroll down memory lane as we hung ornaments and remembered Christmases past.

Then came the cookie-decorating conflict.

In 2011, Sam made us a book featuring his treasured Christmas memories. In it he wrote, “I love making and decorating Christmas cookies with you.”

That was then.

This is now.

As usual, I baked dozens of sugar cookies, and then checked with our sons to see when they’d be available to frost and decorate them. Sam seemed ambivalent and told me to check with Zach.

I’ve never wanted to try to squeeze my sons into traditions that no longer fit, so I texted Zach, “How strongly do you feel about decorating Christmas cookies? I can leave them out for you guys to do when you come over Wednesday, or Dad and I can just do them tonight.”

He replied, “I don’t feel strongly either way.”

So for the first time in our 33-year marriage, Derek got to be part of the Christmas cookie fun. He’s artistically inclined, so our cookies looked fabulous. And honestly, I don’t much miss the Cyclops angels or graphically anatomically correct snowmen that our sons were inclined to include.IMG_20191216_194208217

Derek and I further simplified our holidays by skipping stuffing stockings for each other. Less shopping equaled less stress and more fun.

As someone who cherishes the familiar, and relishes ritual and tradition, I’ve been surprised at how readily I’ve adapted to this new season of our lives, and how eagerly I’m anticipating the unknowns that await.

Because whatever 2020 brings, the one thing I can clearly see ahead is change. And instead of dreading it, I’m choosing to embrace it.