Sitting on the windowsill in my kitchen at home is an unassuming wooden box. Inside are recipes divided into categories by haphazardly labeled index cards. Between the dividers is a combination of recipes cut out of magazines, handwritten recipes, and recipes typed out by an old-fashioned typewriter, both on yellowing index cards. Those written in curly neat script or typed come from my maternal grandmother. Those printed on cards that are less yellow or clipped from magazines belong to my mother. My grandmother’s recipes have names like “Oatmeal cookies (for Saturdays)” and “Christmas Candy for Children to Make.” These are recipes of imprecise measurements like “flour to thicken- perhaps 6-7 cups” for the yeast rolls that adorn our table at Christmas and Easter. “Lep Kuchen” is typed on a past-yellow-and-verging-on-brown card. We make this each year at Christmas. Apparently “Lep Kuchen” means “cookie” in German (or so I was told growing up), but these are something between a brownie and a spice cake dotted with walnuts and rolled in powdered sugar. They’re my Uncle John’s favorite, and we mail him a tin full every Christmas.
These are sent along with the fudge and banana bread, which are both traditions my mother started. Both of the recipes are pretty standard, but also an integral part of my memories of Christmas. We have pictures of a six year old Jessica standing on a kitchen chair, her apron tied twice, stirring fudge in a make shift double boiler with a wooden spoon the size of her arm. We prepare for the banana bread all year round, saving the overly ripe, past-yellow-verging–on-brown bananas in Tupperware containers in the freezer.
Cutter cookies used to be made four times a year: Valentines Day, Easter, Halloween, and Christmas, but as I’ve grown up and the number of school sponsored holiday parties dwindled, these have been relegated to only Christmas (and the occasional Easter). These are simple sugar cookies, but the cutters we use are the same as those used by my grandmother (with a few new ones- like all four of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). Making these cookies is usually a three-day process, with the dough made on day one, the cookies cut and baked on day two, and frosted on day three. Frosting the cookies has always been the best part. My brother Eric, who is now a chef at a five-hundred seat restaurant in Orlando, would make the most intricately decorated cookies, which took about four times longer than the icing smeared creations my mother and I produced. In recent years, the simple sugar cookies have are now accompanied by my meticulously cut gingerbread men; the first tradition that I have contributed to the family.
Every December, my mother’s routine becomes a never ending cycle of making these treats, wrapping them up with ribbon, and delivering them to her ever growing catalogue of friends and family, including everyone from her four brothers to our veterinarian and mail man.
Our holiday season resembles a list of traditions that must be mixed, chilled, left to rise, rolled out and baked. As I close my grandma’s recipe box and place it back on the windowsill during the last few hours of Thanksgiving break, I can’t help but smile. I know it and that list of obligatory desserts will be waiting for me when I return in just a few short weeks. It’s a list that has been built over three generations; it’s a list that I can already see forming as December unfolds. It is a list that I look forward to every year and one that I can see growing indefinitely.