One of my favorite Christmas memories happened at my Grandparents home. It was always so fun to go to their small ranch anytime I could, but one year I was privileged to spend a few days with them before Christmas. I suppose my brother and I were dropped off during the weekend before Christmas by my parents and I was under strict orders from my Mom to be a help and not a hindrance. My brother George was under orders to help Granddad as much as he could especially with chores like milking the cows. We were glad to help but I really am not sure how much help I actually was.
I loved spending time in the old log cabin and Grandma’s kitchen was not very large but it was filled with homespun love and warmth. She had a sink in the middle of her kitchen wall and next to it was a small apartment sized gas stove. There were a few cupboards and a small cabinet on the left of the sink and a window over the sink. The fridge was near the doorway to the porch where her washing machine, milk separator, washstand and deep-freeze were kept. In the middle of the room was Grandma’s table. Her rectangular table was her work station, baking station, kitchen island and dining table all rolled into one. After meals and a long day of work her table doubled as a card table where we spent hours playing the card game canasta with our grandparents.
Breakfast was finished and the dishes were done so it was time to start baking Grandma’s pecan pies. Christmas was a time for all the family to come together at my Uncle Bob’s house and each family was in charge of bringing something special. My Uncle and his family supplied the place to meet, the turkey and the mashed potatoes and gravy while my Mom would bring her home canned dill pickles, and whatever else she wanted to bring. My two aunts would bring homemade bread rolls and salads and desserts but Grandma was to bring her homemade pecan pie, it was traditional. Others could bring pies if they wanted to and often did, but Grandma was the pecan pie maker and it was now time to make her pies.
I can just see my little four-foot eleven inch Grandma with her apron on over her blue jeans getting all her baking supplies out. We had to make the pie crusts first and I was to help roll them out. Once the pie shell dough was ready, we rolled out a circle and put it into a pie tin, then trimmed off the excess dough. We did this several times in order to make several pie crusts. Now we were ready to make the pecan filling. Watching Grandma bake was exciting but I forgot to write down her recipe for the pie crust. She never really used a recipe and I wanted to know how to make her pies so I grabbed a paper and pen to write down every ingredient she used in making the filling.
“Grandma, what do we do first?” I asked waiting with pen and paper ready to write.
“Well, we have to beat some eggs, let’s try making just one pie first so that we can see what the measurements are, especially if you are writing all this down,” she suggested.
She cracked three eggs into her bowl and began to beat them with a hand-cranked egg beater instructing me that they were to be well beaten. I wrote down on the first line of my paper, 3 eggs well beaten. Next came a pinch of salt and she told me to write down ¼ of a teaspoon of salt so I did. Then she added a cap full of vanilla and told me that a cap held about one teaspoon and so I wrote down the vanilla. Now she was adding cornstarch and she told me to write down 2 tablespoons of cornstarch. Next it was time to add 2 cups of dark thick syrup, not the thin pancake syrup but the thicker kind of syrup she cautioned. I wrote it down and then she began to mix everything together until all the ingredients were well incorporated. Finally she added ½ cup of pecans. She said that they needed to be mixed thoroughly so that they would absorb some liquid and that way the pecans would adhere to the custard that formed the inside of the pie. We poured the mixture into the unbaked pie shell we had prepared earlier and popped the pan into a 400 degree oven for 45 minutes. She said to check to see if the pie was done by using a sharp knife to stick into the middle of the pie and if it came out clean then the pie was done.
As she made the rest of the pies I checked my ingredients to be sure that I had not left anything out of her recipe. I remember how we chatted as we baked and she explained every step of the process to me. I was her pupil and she was my teacher. I not only learned that baking can be fun but that baking with Grandma was a special delight. She explained to me how our family tradition of having a Christmas pecan pies came into being. She told how pecans were a Southern nut and that her family had once lived in the South, more than a hundred years before her time, and they had apparently picked up the tradition then and had continued having pecan pies every Christmas she could remember. I asked her if there ever was a time when they couldn’t get pecans. She said yes there were a few so they used walnuts which grew fairly well in Nebraska but there had been only a few years when pecans weren’t available. I learned some family history while learning to make Grandma’s pecan pie.
Isn’t that really what celebrations are all about? They are the perfect time to pass down some long-held family traditions, to take some time to learn your family history, where you came from and those who have gone before you. This is really a scriptural concept, passing down what you know from one generation to another. The prophet Joel told the people of Israel to tell the generations to come how God had sent the locust to make the people uncomfortable so they would repent of their sins.
“Hear this, you elders; give ear, all inhabitants of the land! Has such a thing happened in your days, or in the days of your fathers? Tell your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children to another generation,” Joel 1:2-3, (English Standard Version or ESV).
There is another example in the story of Moses freeing the children of Israel from Egypt.
“Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you may know that I am the Lord,” Exodus 10:1-2, (ESV)
Again in Psalms there is an example recorded for us to remember to teach our children.
“Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth! I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done,” Psalm 78:1-4, (ESV).
We are to remember the things that God has done for His people. We are to thank God but more importantly to tell our children and grandchildren how God has worked in our life. For one afternoon in a little log cabin in the woods of Northern Nebraska, I had the special privilege to hear some family stories of how the tradition of pecan pies at Christmas came about. Grandma taught me many things about my family, my ancestors,and where we came from and she also imparted to me a piece of her faith in God. I love that! Now it is my turn to pass on what I have learned about family, faith and pecan pies to my children and grandchildren. What are you passing down to the generations behind you?
Until next time…Katherine