Holiday cooking and days gone by
Patsy Lawson | Dec 1, 2011, 3:17 p.m.
Mama and Daddy came from large families. Daddy had seven brothers and sisters, and Mama had nine. When added together, I ended up with sixteen uncles and aunts. By the time all of these uncles and aunts had children, I had more cousins than I could count. Holidays were big events at our house because at least half or more of these aunts, uncles, and cousins showed up at our house for the holidays on any given year. Since Mama and Daddy were the older siblings they got the job of family hospitality after the grandparents died.
Our house was always full of cousins, uncles, aunts, friends and neighbors, but holidays were quite bizarre at times because of the variety of visitors. My mother welcomed everyone and saw her primary job as a hostess to these many visitors. As soon as I was old enough, I was put into this role of hostess too. Honestly, I didn’t know that some families were small and easy because I had never seen it. I thought every family was like ours!
Christmas and Thanksgiving were the challenges for Mama. The relatives came, ate and slept for days on end, and we somehow fed them, found beds for them and then did our best to entertain them. By age nine, I was already involved in food preparation and house cleaning. Mama often started cooking weeks ahead before holidays so that she could have enough to feed everyone; I became her second right hand.
I liked to eat desserts, so I got the job of making them. Mama put me in charge of cake and candy making. It took a few years for me to get the process of cooking down, but I had a good teacher. She instructed and helped, but I did most of it. Christmas was exciting because I got to make Appalachian Stack Cake, German Chocolate cake, chocolate fudge and divinity.
I also had an aunt who loved to try new things. I remember the year she decided to try donut making and came to our house to get me involved in it. Mama fussed because it was something new; Mama always preferred working with the familiar rather than something new, and she said we would make a big mess which she would have to clean up. While the first attempt at donut making was not perfect, it was fun; we learned, and we got better at it.
After I left home for college, a lot of the holiday events changed. Aunts and uncles now had their own families and holiday traditions; Mama was older and less healthy; Daddy had died; and I had to put my focus on studying and making decisions for my future. The large family gatherings became smaller, and our guests tended to be my brothers and their families. Some cooking was still needed, but nothing like it had been earlier.
It’s now some 50 years later, Mama and Daddy died, aunts and uncles have died, and I now have adult children, but no grandchildren. Each year at Christmas I always remember the way it used to be and can’t resist doing at least one cake and candy recipe just for old-time’s sake. I love every minute of it because it takes me back to a very special time with my large extended family. I remember all the things I learned from these aunts and uncles and the joy of cooking in the kitchen with relatives milling in and out, sampling whatever was available, and the conversation that brought us all together. How I hope I eventually have grandchildren with whom I can share my love for holiday cooking. I want the chance to teach them the joy of holiday cooking as a way of making connections to a larger group of relatives and friends.
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