Friday, December 23, 2005

I can’t stop making Christmas cookies! I have no control. It’s in my genes, literally, my mother’s family name is Baker.

Since I was a little girl, I remember being at Grandma Baker’s side in her kitchen. Baking, baking, baking.. Homemade bread and donuts. Pies. Cakes and cookies. And of course the best part of watching Gram was learning that measuring wasn’t all that important. Some of this, some of that. She knew how much. Of course that didn’t mean I did.

Henceforth, I’ve learned how to bake by many mistakes. Don’t even ask my family about the 1991 fudge fiasco. And the 1987 lemon meringue pie? Well the crust worked out and the lemon filling was delicious. But forming those stiff peaks, impossible. Lemon meringue soup. Traumatized, I never tried that pie again. Grandma Baker never goofed up. At least not in our presence.

I learned from the best. I even followed in Grandma’s footsteps by entering my baked goods in the Chautauqua County Fair as a child. (Country nerd, I know, say no more!) My double chocolate brownies? First place. And the very first time I made a Devil’s Food Cake. Blue Ribbon. Grandma Baker always won too, of course.

The bustling sounds and smells of Christmas from my kitchen today, brings back fond memories of childhood. My kitchen is full of the same scents. Same ingredients. My hands get just as messy, so do my shirts. My measurements are just as imprecise. And if I do say, my results are usually delicious. Just like Grandma.

And even though I know the Jell-O cookie and Great Grandma Kennedy’s fluffy sugar cookie recipes by heart, I still find myself consulting my baking bible every year. The best Christmas present I ever received. Ever.

You see, our family never grew up with that much money. One weekend a few years ago, I spent the night at Grandma’s house to learn how to make her “award winning” bread and she shared stories of baking hundreds of loaves when she was younger to make extra money to help put food on the table. Learning how to make that loaf of bread became a part of my family history. Even if there is no way I can ever duplicate her method of “fill the sauce pan with hot water.” Um, and how much water is that? What if I don’t have the same size sauce pan? “Just guess.” Of course. Guess. I suppose I should be grateful, when Grandma taught my brother (and his now wife) how to make the bread, she told him to “knead the loaf like you would a woman’s breast.” Gotta love that Grandma.

One year for Christmas, Grandma decided she had enough of those phone calls from her children and now grown grandchildren. “Grandma, how do you make your lasagna? What about one pan meal? Do you have that recipe for play-dough we used to make as a kid? How much fruit cocktail goes in the PP salad again?” Grandma took down every question asked and every family recipe she knew and typed them out on her typewriter. The typewriter she bought and used exclusively to type up the Sheridan Happy Senior minutes each week. When she was finished, typos and all, my Aunt made enough copies for each and every family member and put the pages into binders.

Christmas morning, the entire Baker family gathered round the living room. Every one of us opened the same present. “Grandma’s Cook Book and Hints 1950-1997.” My family bible. The best present I have ever received…and it probably cost less than a dollar. And people wonder why I make so many cookies each year…

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