Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
Recipes a powerful tradition
by Mary Cronk Farrell
(From the Jan. 18, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)
I came back from visiting family over the holidays with a batch of new recipes. Italian Cheese Bread, Sweet Potato Bake and Peanut Butter Fudge came from two of my sisters-in-law, Jen and Michelle Cronk, and a fabulous Christmas Tree Bread from my brother’s brother-in-law.
I see a good recipe as an opportunity to share friendship as well as food, and I was touched when my brother’s wives offered me theirs. I can’t imagine what it’s like for them joining our huge family, but it must be difficult at times.
There are 12 of us siblings – six sisters and six brothers. We’re strong personalities. And we’re loud. When I left for college, my brothers ranged from toddler to age 13, so some of their wives are a decade or two younger than I – closer, actually, to the age of my oldest son. We live far apart and visit only about twice a year. So when my brother’s wives reach out to hand me a favorite recipe, I feel they want to connect and share something of their family life with me.
Sharing recipes also preserves tradition like the one I got from my brother’s brother-in-law, which I’ve re-named “Frank Jr.’s Christmas Tree Bread.” You would not expect to meet 42-year-old Frank Cain Jr. in the kitchen. He’s a big guy, a logger by trade, and he looks like one: hickory shirt, jeans cut off above the ankles and held up by suspenders, and Roman slippers that make way for cork boots.
I was surprised to hear he was the baker of the oven-rack-sized, steaming, sweet breads shaped into Christmas trees – “One almond, and one plain powdered-sugar frosting,” he said.
“Come on. Get a piece now.” His mother called out to the room full of people at brunch. “They’re better when they’re hot.”
She was right. This was the best sweet bread I’d ever tasted. And I’ve tasted a lot of them. I had to know how Frank Jr. got into baking.
“It was a tradition,” he said. “Mary Straka made this bread for us every Christmas when I was growing up. When she got to where she couldn’t make them anymore about 10 years ago, I didn’t want to lose the tradition. I asked her to show me how and I’ve been making them ever since.”
I, too, had known Mary Straka in our parish when I was a kid, but after moving away I’d lost touch and was saddened to hear she has Alzheimer’s. That made the recipe more than just a list of ingredients and instructions. Making the Christmas Tree Bread will keep alive the spirit of a cheerful and generous woman. And remind me of a logger with a soft heart.
Patty Driscoll, a friend who has a passion for cooking, says recipes passed on from her Italian grandfather bring her joy, even though she can’t read them. They’re written in Italian. But the memory of her grandfather teaching her to cook when she was a child is precious.
“We did a lot of family things that revolved around cooking, like going to the garden to pick vegetables, or going to the beach and harvesting mussels, or smelt fishing, and then we’d have a big feast,” says Patty. “It was fun, all my cousins were there, the house was full. There was lots of noise. How wonderful it was to feel loved. I felt that warmness of being together, and the ritual of the whole thing.”
Recipes handed down through generations or traded with friends and family offer a deep connection. Sharing a meal, or “breaking bread,” as they termed it in Jesus’ day, can be sacred in and of itself. When the food dished up comes with a story, with the memory of loved ones, or the reminder of someone reaching out to us, we’re blessed with the sustaining power of knowing who we are and where we come from. That gives us strength and hope for where ever we’re headed.
© 2007 Mary Cronk Farrell
(Mary Cronk Farrell is a Spokane free-lance and children’s writer.
Request recipes by contacting her through her web site: www. marycronkfarrell.com)
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