As a child, much of my time in the weeks preceding Christmas was spent in my mother’s kitchen, turning the handle of a little nut mill, while Mom and her friend, Betty, made cookies with intriguing names like Joe Froggers, Thumbprints, and Swiss Chews.
As we worked, Mom would reminisce about the holiday kitchen of her childhood – where she learned from her own mother, among other things, how to make a perfect pie. As a result, many of my treasured images of my maternal grandmother (who died when I was only three) come not from hazy memory or aging photographs, but from stories told in my mother’s kitchen, evoked by the aroma of warm walnuts and thick chocolate.
Holiday kitchens are filled with family history – heirloom recipes and family stories fold together as readily as melted chocolate folds into beaten eggs and brown sugar. Spend some time with your ‘family chefs’ this season: take pictures, write down “secret recipes,” record recollections – and add another rich ingredient to your family history.
Today, it is my eight year-old turning the crank of the little nut mill, surrounded by the smells of Christmas. Sitting on our kitchen stool, she listens to me as I tell her about baking Swiss Chews with her Grammi; and gaining, I hope, a few sweet memories of her own.
12 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups walnuts, finely chopped
Melt chocolate over boiling water and let cool. Beat eggs and add sugar gradually, beating until thick. Fold in chocolate and remaining ingredients. Drop onto non-stick cookie sheet or parchment paper covered cookie sheet. Bake at 325 degrees for 10 minutes. Store in an airtight container. Makes 2 dozen.
Tips for gathering heirloom recipes:
- Watch and learn—For those with relatives from the “pinch-and-dash” school of cooking, time spent together in the kitchen offers a unique opportunity to gather family recipes that may not otherwise be accurately recorded – Grandma might “forget” to write down that extra pinch of a special something on a recipe card, but she’s sure to remember to throw it in when she’s making a batch with you.
- Ask questions—Find out as much as you can about the history of the recipe. Ask, Who first made this? Do you remember the first time you made it? Why is this a family favorite?
- Record it all in your Family Photoloom account. Try to take a picture of the item, and then record the recipe in the “Picture Notes.” The picture and recipe can then be indexed (attached) to Grandma by using the “Other” field in the Relationship Setter.