Written by Pam Grant
As we dive headlong into yet another holiday season I am brought back, as I am each year, to the memories of my childhood. So many of those memories center around food. I can fondly remember watching my mother while she spent hours rolling and cutting out gingerbread dough for cookies and gingerbread houses. The smell of warm gingerbread filling the house, the knowledge that more wonderful, “special” things to eat would still be to follow such as touchiere pie, German chocolate cake and peanut butter fudge are some of my fondest holiday memories. I am sure all of you have similar things that conjure up memories of your special times.
Food is, more often than not, a centerpiece in our lives and our long term memories. I am a self confessed “old fashioned” lady. I love tradition and sentiment, love of God and country, home and family. As an adult, I wanted to make a lasting memory for my granddaughter, so I turned to the traditional things that had meant so much to me as a child. I had for years watched my mother create beautiful gingerbread houses. She would create 3 each year - one for each one of her children. They were big, brightly decorated and 100% edible. Every crumb on them could be eaten and usually was. Many of the gorgeous creations I have seen in magazines and on shows have many non-edible parts. What is the point of that? Gingerbread houses are to be eaten and enjoyed - at least they were in my house.
I made up my mind that I would whip up a couple of houses and have my then 6 year old granddaughter over to “help” decorate them. Let me tell you friends, I gained a whole new appreciation for my mother that day. That is a big project and takes an engineering degree to complete. To be fair, I didn’t make the 6 inch by 8 inch little house that is made by most folks. I wanted to make the houses like Mother used to make, one jelly roll pan per side, cutouts for windows and doors, chimney and all. In the end I scaled it back just a little and after much frustration and sweat (and even a little swearing when the walls fell down numerous times) the houses were completed. I searched high and low for all the “traditional” candies to use to decorate our masterpieces. After getting our glue prepared (frosting), my granddaughter and I went about the job of decorating.
Grammy was exhausted and the houses looked much less than perfect as my mother’s houses always had, but we had made a memory. Recently my granddaughter who is much older now saw a picture of her with her house ((pic 1a and b)) and said, “Grammy, we need to do this again.” Without a second thought to the work, mess, frustration, or expense, I said, “Yes, we do”.
The point I am trying to make is that no matter the cost, no matter the trouble or look of the finished product, food, its preparation and one’s participation in its preparation can make a life-long memory. It doesn’t have to be gingerbread houses at Christmas time. It might be cakes at Easter, ((pic 2)) or perhaps that special dish for someone’s birthday, a home-made cake for a friend’s wedding, ((Pic 3)) or a picnic lunch. It is the food, family and friends that make it special. It doesn’t have to look good - or to be honest, even taste good - to be special (although I admit it helps if it is tasty). The cake, pie or cookie serve to spark that moment in time which lasts forever in our minds - just as the smell of baking gingerbread does each year for me, and now for my granddaughter.
This year, make a food memory with someone you love. I promise you won’t regret it. Happy Holidays from my family and all of us at Cheftalk.com.
Gingerbread Cookies or House
1 cup molasses
4 ½ cup flour
2 teaspoons ginger
¾ cup butter
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
In a sauce pan bring butter, sugar, and molasses to a quick boil. Cook about 5 minutes. Cool. Stir in sifted flour, baking soda, salt, spices and all other ingredients. Mix well and chill in refrigerator for a minimum of two hours.
FOR GINGERBREAD COOKIES:
Using only 1/3 of the dough at a time, roll out dough on floured surface to a desired thickness (thickness depends on how you like your cookies, but I use about 1/4 inch thick) and then use cookie cutters to shape into cookies. Arrange on greased cookie sheet and bake at 375 degrees F for 8 – 10 minutes. Cool and then frost.
FOR GINGERBREAD HOUSE:
I would suggest first making a paper template out of construction paper for your shapes: walls, roof, and cutouts for doors and windows. It will make cutting out your shapes easier. Roll out into jelly roll pan and bake until cooked, but still soft. Cut to shape while warm and then let stand overnight to dry and harden. In addition to the walls and roof, don’t forget to cut out windows and doors.
TIP: To make great looking windows, pour slightly caramelized sugar onto parchment paper into square or round shapes slightly larger than your window opening. Allow to cool and harden. Peel off paper and then glue them with frosting to the inside of your gingerbread house. It looks like old fashioned glass - tiny bubbles and all. Use a small decorating tip to divide into panes.