It seems that almost all of our family’s special occasions are somehow punctuated by the food we share. It’s not that we don’t enjoy spending time together or that we don’t value the reason for the holiday; it’s just that the love of good food runs deeply in our family. I have a nine-year-old nephew who puts every family get-together in the context of the food that is served. He remembers a beautiful, spontaneous, autumn outing on Summit Lake as “that day when Aunt Trista fixed that chili that I wouldn’t eat” and a certain birthday celebration as his introduction to peanut butter “scream” cake (also known as peanut butter sheet cake). He gets his love of food honest.
When I was a little girl, I remember family members making a big deal about my maternal grandma’s from-scratch walnut fudge, her crunchy peanut brittle and her fluffy white clouds of divinity. That stuff was all right for the grown-ups, but I was mesmerized by her cocoa brownie cubes that had been individually rolled in powdered sugar and piled high on a cake stand and her buttery, gooey caramels that had been individually wrapped in wax paper. In later years, I remember helping my mom to make some of these same sweet treats, and I still continue to make some of them for my little family today. I have learned to appreciate the focus it takes to get that peanut brittle to just the right temperature and the patience it takes to cut and wrap all of those caramels. Not to mention the expense of all of that butter!
The memories I associate with my paternal grandmother’s holiday food center more on the savory—namely her turkey & noodles with mashed potatoes. For a number of years, I completely skipped over the roasted turkey, stuffing (especially if it had oysters in it!!) and cranberry sauce in favor of Grandma’s perfect turkey & noodles. I still can’t get mine to taste like hers! Even when I make noodles from scratch, there’s still something not quite right about the consistency. She was a self-described “pincher and dumper” when it came to measuring, yet her food always turned out heavenly!
My mom has continued the tradition of good food for our family. Whether it’s angel food birthday cakes topped with whipped cream and toffee bits, Polish mistakes served piping hot at Christmastime, oven-baked porcupines for family dinners or ginger ale with cranberry-juice ice cubes, Mom makes sure that we are fed well and that get-togethers are festive occasions.
One of my favorite food traditions involves making tender cake doughnuts on Thanksgiving morning. I guess I was probably 8 or 9 when this tradition began with my mom and siblings. I remember that Dad would often go hunting on Thanksgiving morning and would come home to enjoy the sweet treats Mom left for him under the cake dome. When I got married and discovered that getting together on Thanksgiving Day was especially important to the Hill side of the family, my mom graciously suggested that we move our family dinner back a couple of days to the Saturday after Thanksgiving. What a blessing that was to us! Our crew makes every effort to wake up at Mom’s on that Saturday morning to continue the doughnut-making tradition. Oftentimes, my brother and my nephews are there to join us when we pull out my mom’s worn Betty Crocker cookbook and turn to the batter-splattered doughnut recipe. We put in an old Kenny Rogers Christmas CD and make a lot of noise–as well as a lot of mess–in our breakfast production. We also make a lot of memories. And, of course, those memories are what are truly the sweetest.
This article was originally published in HER magazine.