Follow the Footsteps: Every Family Has a Secret Recipe or Two. Grandpa's Grits, Aunt Linda's Casserole, Nana's Cherry Pie-How Will Your Recipes Be Remembered?

By Ray, Heather | The Saturday Evening Post, November-December 2010 | Go to article overview

Follow the Footsteps: Every Family Has a Secret Recipe or Two. Grandpa's Grits, Aunt Linda's Casserole, Nana's Cherry Pie-How Will Your Recipes Be Remembered?


Ray, Heather, The Saturday Evening Post


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As youngsters restlessly listen for reindeer paws on the rooftop, 23-year-old Mandi Dick is bustling around her Tacoma, Washington, kitchen. Slippers on, hands washed, oven preheated--she's finally ready to bake the cardamom-spiced pulla dough that's been rising for the last hour.

On Christmas morning, when her family awakes, it's not the presents they'll be after; it's the sweet bread. "Before we open gifts or do anything," says Mandi's mother, Karen, "we gather for pulla and coffee. It's a Finnish tradition that's been in our family for as long as anyone can remember."

The holiday feast of yesterday--waffles, pancakes, eggs, sausage, bacon, pulla, and coffee--has slowly tapered to fewer and fewer offerings for the Dick family. "I don't know what we were thinking with all that food," Mandi recalls. "The pulla is the only thing we care about."

"It's what I grew up with," adds her mother. "My grandmother made pulla for my father, he made it for me, I make it for my family, and now Mandi is the family pulla maker: Mandi's is as authentic as it gets, though." She learned the recipe from her cousin Riikka, who was visiting her from Finland.

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"I followed Riikka's every footstep in the kitchen, recording everything she did," says Mandi. "I wanted to make pulla exactly how she would prepare it in her home."

While this mother-daughter duo each has their own way of preparing pulla, together they have experimented with every which way to twist, braid, ice, decorate, and dunk the dough. "Do you remember when we baked that giant cinnamon-roll pulla with frosting?" Mandi asks her morn. "That was my favorite." But the memories in the making are the sweetest tasting bits.

According to Gretchen Rubin, author of The New York Times bestseller The Happiness Project, traditions such as baking together strengthen relationships. "They provide the connection and predictability that people crave. They help us mark the time and the seasons in a pleasant way," notes Rubin. However, it's really up to the participants to preserve, teach, and pass the traditions along.

"I hope to hand this recipe down to my own children someday," says Mandi. "It always reminds me of home."

Common Ground

Jackie Kolber, a food writer and personal chef, describes food as "one of the few things we all have in common." The joy of sharing all things culinary with friends and family is what she lives for, but there's one recipe in particular that she and her sister will always remember. It goes by the name Grandma's Tornado Cookies.

Every year for Hanukkah, Jackie's grandmother prepared individual cookie tins for each of her grandchildren. Inside was an assortment of every child's cookie fantasy: M&M, chocolate chip, peanut butter, and Jackie's favorite, an anonymous rich and crumbly powdered-sugar cookie.

"I'm not sure what we called them back then," Jackie notes on her Web site, foodiereflections.com, where she dutifully documents personal and family recipes. But she found the directions for these unforgettable yet modest treats in her mother's kitchen written on a pink index card, simply titled, Mom's Cookies.

"My sister and I came up with our own name after we made them during a spring tornado. I remember starting the recipe, then having to abandon the dough as we ran to the basement when the sirens sounded," Jackie recalls. "Once they ended, we came back upstairs and finished making the cookies."

Now the chef mostly makes them during Hanukkah and on occasions when her younger sister, Marci, a 28-year-old CPA in Chicago, needs them most--tax day. "And I think it worked. At least it helped put the day in perspective and gave her a chance to remember our grandmother, who was always so proud of her grandchildren," Jackie recalls, adding that she wished she had more time to cook and learn from her grandmother.

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