05 Oct Turning to Family Recipes for Comfort
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
We all have foods that transport us to a distinct memory in our lives when we smell or bite into them. Back in early summer, Emma read this Garden & Gun article, Love is a Handwritten Recipe, by her former roommate and G&G Digital Editor, Dacey Orr Sivewright. The article stuck with both of us over the last few months. The author explores how handwritten recipes can help create intergenerational bonds and reinforce familial ties and our sense of belonging.
The article got us both thinking about how cooking can be a source of comfort and familiarity during times of global and personal crisis. When many things feel unfamiliar and out of our control, family recipes provide a sense of normalcy, connectedness, and meaning. Below, we’re each sharing one that’s special to us.
Plain Refrigerator Cookies
Recipe by Winnie Merriam (Heather’s Grandmother)
My late grandma, Winnie, was an incredible baker and an incredible woman. She’d bring a delicious apple pie (and usually a few other pies and cakes as well) to every family gathering. She could whip up just about anything back in her day. She was married to my grampa, Bob, for 74 years. They built their home together in 1946 – as in, they actually cut down the trees, had them turned into lumber, and built their beautiful yellow house in the woods, piece by piece. Grammy and Grampa were both handy; for work, my grandma helped manufacture the link-net layered fabric for the Gemini and Apollo spacesuits. She got to meet many of America’s first astronauts during their fittings. She and my grampa loved traveling together in their Holiday Rambler motor home – and I still keep a “Holiday Rambler” pin on my bathroom counter to remind me of their adventures and their love.
This cookie recipe from my grandma feels especially appropriate right now because of its simplicity and versatility. During a time when some grocery items are hard to come by and many of us are making fewer trips to the store, this recipe requires just the basics: brown sugar, shortening, eggs, flour, baking soda, and vanilla. Having grown up during the Great Depression, Grammy was adept at making unfussy recipes that tasted delicious. If needed, you could substitute the brown sugar for white sugar, the shortening for butter, or the vanilla for a sprinkle of cinnamon. These cookies taste like a chocolate chip cookie without the chocolate chips. You can leave them plain or toss in whatever you have on hand: chopped nuts, shredded coconut, raisins, chocolate chips, marshmallows, M&Ms, a little peanut butter, cocoa powder. Whatever you add, they’re delicious with a cup of coffee or tea.
Plain Refrigerator Cookies
- 1 lb light brown sugar (about 2.25 packed cups)
- 1 cup shortening
- 2 eggs
- 3.5 cups flour
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. vanilla
Grammy’s instructions read, “Roll in long roll. mix together and chill in ref. slice thin + cook at 375 about 7 mins.” I tend to use less brown sugar than Grammy did. I mix the flour and baking soda, then separately whisk the brown sugar, shortening, eggs, and vanilla. I mix the dry ingredients into the wet, then shape into a roll with parchment paper (like a tube of cookie dough at the grocery store). Pro tip: these cookies and the sliced dough freeze really well!
Amaretto Pound Cake
Recipe by Ann Weldon (Emma’s Grandmother)
My late grandmother, GranAnn, was the epitome of “the hostess with the mostest.” She could throw a party together in minutes. My Aunt Martha is the same way! Their number one hosting tip: have a collection of themed napkins on hand. As they say, “A festive napkin will make any occasion a party!” Their other tip: Always have a pound cake in the freezer ready to pull out and reheat if a guest stops by. Thanks to Aunt Martha, I too have a collection of festive napkins and a frozen pound cake ready for any occasion, any drop-in guest, or any last-minute gathering. From my aunt and grandmother, I have learned the value of connecting with others and the genuine delight of having guests over. Whether it be with family, close friends, or new acquaintances, welcoming people into my home is one of my greatest pleasures.
This amaretto pound cake from my GranAnn is my very favorite family recipe. Aunt Martha finally digitized it after it was passed back and forth between so many different family members! It feels especially meaningful during these times because this pound cake reminds me of visiting with friends and family. When I hear “pound cake,” I think of a sweetly wrapped, warm loaf pan – a gift of love and comfort in times of both celebration and sorrow. Of course, our pound cake stock has been low with fewer guests stopping by – but whenever I see that standby loaf in the freezer, it brings so many memories of simple joys, conversations, and connectedness. I have yet to meet someone who can stop eating the cake after one serving! It’s sweet enough for dessert or perfect for an indulgent breakfast. My two cents: it’s better to underbake than over bake.