Looking back at holiday food memories

Published 6:01 am Saturday, December 16, 2017

Think for a few minutes about a time in your life before you were burdened by financial issues and a steady stream of headlines announcing what tribe was at war with whom and what the fallout had been or might be.

With mass bombing, acts of terrorism on crowded streets, and North Korea’s rattling of sabers, William Faulkner’s words in his Nobel Prize address resonate, “Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only one question: When will I be blown up?”

Travel with me to a time in your life that was positive and be mindful of what was special about it: The people, the sounds, the smells, the taste, the texture of that experience.

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Friends have shared such times with me, and perhaps you can “pay it forward” with your own memories. I plan to write a second column on these holiday memories, using a poem by Professor James B. Good as a center piece. If you have a memory from long ago or recently that you’d like to share, just email it to me for possible inclusion.

Poet Professor Cathryn Essinger writes, “My family used to make vats of cranberry relish which required getting out a meat grinder and setting it up in the basement where the mess wasn’t quite as hard to clean up. The cats and dogs often helped by chasing stray cranberries across the floor. Nowadays we use a food processor and make smaller quantities, but it’s not quite as good as those crushed berries.”

Engineer Michelle Cisco Collett defines her Grandma Dorothy’s sugar cookies as her favorite food memory. My husband and I can testify to their deliciousness because Michelle brought us seven of the masterpieces last week. Michelle has “wonderful memories of sitting around their big farmhouse table and decorating these cookies for hours. Funny thing is,” she says, “I couldn’t wait to grow up and get off that farm. Now I would live there in a heartbeat. There we learned the value of family and hard work.”

Retired educator, musician, deejay, business manager and golf instructor Tom Gallagher reports, “When I was a little boy, my grandfather would take us by train and ferry from Philadelphia to New York City. We would visit the original FAO Schwartz toy store and pick out Christmas presents. Would also visit Abercrombie and Fitch when they were safari outfitters, topped off with a meal at the Waldorf Astoria and then the train ride home. Seems I was exposed to the good life before I knew not all people lived this way.”

Author Lydia Dykes has a special memory for this week’s column. “My favorite food was, and still is, the old-fashioned apple stack cake. My grandma always made them with layers so high I wondered how they kept from falling over.

“She dried her own apples, and I can still smell the aroma of the different spices she added to the cake which was baked one day and served the next.

“After my grandmother was no longer able to make the cake, my mother continued the tradition. When my mother could no longer make the cake, the tradition stopped.”

“I was afraid to attempt the task- — ven though I craved it at holiday time. Finally, a few years ago, I got brave and gathered my ingredients- — including drying apples from our apple trees, got out the old worn recipe, and our tradition was renewed.”

In conclusion, I was recently getting my teeth cleaned when the hygienist asked me if I had completed my holiday baking. My response, “What holiday baking?” I decided that I should ask her about her baking, so once she had removed the instrument of torture from my mouth, I said, “What about your baking?”

The litany of sweets she detailed was long — at least ten items — including at one time making 17 dozen Hungarian cookies. I would have been floored by the complexity of this and her devotion to all that work had I not been seated.

I suggested that she write a cookbook, using a Word document and a template, include family photos, and send it off to make copies at one of the companies doing self-publishing.

She seemed interested, and that is exactly what I’m doing with the telecommunication employees I teach. Their deadline for completing their family recipes, stories, and photographs is Feb. 1, 2018. Two participants, eager to share family history regarding food, have already completed their cookbooks, and they have been printed. One will serve as a Christmas gift to a beloved niece, and one was printed in time for the author’s mother to see as she went into Hospice care.

Always the educator, I would encourage my readers to consider gathering those recipes, stored hither and yon, and maybe only available in the memory of an ancient aunt, in one format and preserving them for your descendants. Yes, your life is important and no one cares about misspelled words or poor grammar. I think they add to the magic that is you.

Contact Dr. Vivian Blevins at vbblevins@woh.rr.com.