It was Christmas cookie baking time and I was scouring my cupboards for all the necessary ingredients: flour, sugar, brown sugar, oats…but where was the shortening? I knew I had shortening in there somewhere, so I started pulling things out of the cupboard, finding stale crackers, a long forgotten pizza crust mix and multiple bags of polenta (because apparently you can never have too much polenta). And then there in the back corner behind the yellow cake mix and three bottles of Karo corn syrup was the stuffed-full recipe box I had grabbed during the fog and trauma of clearing out my mom’s house.
I had actually forgotten that I had that box, so I opened it up and started going through it, my heart clenching as I saw the notes she had taken in her dainty handwriting about each recipe. One of the recipes had a letter grade on it, and I remembered that there was also a binder that I had grabbed where she had gathered her recipes in a more organized way, with each recipe assigned a letter grade. I looked up at my cookbooks and there it was, her blue binder, patiently waiting for my attention and filled with recipes she had carefully cut out from various magazines, graded, and grouped together. I never did find the shortening, but instead I found something infinitely better.
Looking through these recipes, I was transported to the many family gatherings where her hostess skills were on full display: the crab dips, the cheesy potatoes, the rum cakes, and of course, the lasagnas. When I got to the end of the recipes, I noticed that there were 5-6 blank pages left to fill and realized that this must have been a project she had been working on, gathering and organizing her favorite recipes. As I flipped to the end, I found in the back plastic pocket, lists and lists of her menus for every party and gathering she had hosted over the years, noting the occasion, who was attending, who was bringing what, and what she would be cooking. And in that moment I could feel her presence so clearly – and her steadfast, unfaltering love. So, as when she was alive, we had a nice little chat.
My mom’s recipe collection got me thinking. Her gatherings always had such a spontaneous, light feel to them, but these recipes and lists gave me yet another insight into my mother. As with everything in her life, those parties were planned with so much care, so much energy, and such a purposefulness that we always felt, even if we couldn’t put a name to it, that we often took for granted. Her house was always warm, welcoming, beautifully decorated, and full of good food, with no expectation that you bring anything other than your good cheer and sense of humor – and perhaps a willingness to sing a song or two (especially at Christmas).
Her parties were legendary in the little desert town where I grew up, and I’m sure that they are talked about to this day by her friends, who have tried to carry on her legacy. But she was the spark plug for both her friends and her family. Though we kids were scattered around the state, she insisted on us gathering, even if we didn’t really feel like it at the time, and made it as easy for us as she could. The drive might have been a bear, but as soon as we walked into the room, the smiles, the laughter, the silliness began and we couldn’t imagine missing any of it. Our bellies were always full, and our cups were too. Cooking was her love language.
Thanks to my mom, I have years and years of fond memories of family card games, Sound of Music singalongs, glider flying contests, making mom laugh until she cried, inside jokes, and a bond that might have fizzled out without her constant fanning of the flames of family connection.
Thanks Mom, for such a lovely, unexpected Christmas gift. And thank you for reminding me to love as fiercely and to live my life as intentionally as you did.
These are my New Years goals.
(And to make a few of those A+ recipes that you gathered.)
Hello! My name is Pam Reynolds Baker and I am a mom/wife /English teacher and lavender farmer located in Dundee, Oregon.