Gifts That Fill You Up

I remember my husband, boyfriend at the time, opening the package shipped from his grandmother. Inside sat neatly packed metal tins decorated with winter scenes and holly. My husband knew the gloriousness hiding within the cold round boxes. I had no idea. I stood next to him, craning my neck to get a good peek at his special gifts. He opened them one by one and offered me something unexpected: a Christmas cookie. Each tin held goodies more delectable than the last: butter cookies sprinkled with colored jimmies, almond crescents dusted with powdered sugar, and something called springerle, a German anise-flavored cookie imprinted with flowers and like nothing I’d ever tasted. The flavor still makes me swoon.

Baked springerle, showing typical "foot&q...

Springerle with typical foot after baking. (Photo credit: Wikipedia, Andreas Bauerle)

I immediately knew two things: I had to stay in that relationship long enough to get the recipes, and I had to get him out of the room so I could have more of those cookies that he had quickly put aside.

Every year while my husband was a bachelor, Grandma sent him tins of Christmas cookies. When she died, we got the recipes and the tradition was up to us. The springerle were a bit of a legend in the family. As a child, his grandfather used to spend 30 minutes of vigorous beating by hand to get the eggs to just the right pale yellow. I’m a bit spoiled with my kitchen gadgetry now. I make my stand mixer do all the work, mainly because my arms resemble vermicelli more than an anatomical structure.

Every Christmas, we make at least one of Grandma’s cookies and we’ve added our own through the years. The cookies don’t come from Grandma anymore, but they’re her legacy, still her gift.

springerle board

Grandma’s springerle board, a well-loved heirloom.

When my husband set out on his own, his mother gave him copies of the recipes she made when he was young, along with some of the basics. During the rest of the year, we use those recipes too: Lemon Chicken, Sweet and Sour Chicken, Barbecue Meat Loaf, cinnamon toast. “I don’t know why she thought I didn’t know how to make that,” he said. But two duplicate cards sit in his recipe box. I guess she worried.

Some recipes have been a bit more elusive, but still a gift nonetheless. When I was a kid, everyone spent a day at my grandparents’ house making tamales. No one knew the recipe when my grandmother died so my grandfather tried to replicate it. I spent a day with him mixing masa and filling corn husks. Though it was trial and error, I wrote it down. When he died months later, I was so grateful to have that recipe.

Recipes tell the timeline of your life. When my husband and I first married, we had a repertoire of entrees we liked to cook together. We eventually grew tired of them. We reminisce about them now, but we still don’t cook them. Our tastes have changed. I’ll never throw those recipes away because when I see them, they remind me of less chaotic evenings cooking with him in our first house, talking about our day without the interruption of squawking children.

Those recipes are all gifts to me. They have provided more memories and more smiles than any store-bought present. You know the saying: The way to a person’s heart is through the stomach. I can tell you, my heart is always full.

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27 Comments

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27 responses to “Gifts That Fill You Up

  1. Those look like amazing cookies, the Springerle.

    • They are so good and like nothing I’ve ever had before. Lightly licorice flavored. When I don’t have the time at Christmas to make them, we sometimes do them after or I cheat and make anise biscotti.

  2. This is so lovely. And it made me hungry. :) Great post as always, Karen!

  3. love that your heart is always full. i’m a little jealous. i don’t have any recipes handed down.. but i do have the dishes…

  4. Even though I’ve been taught how to make the dishes of the matriarchs gone before me, I’ve noticed that even when I replicate the recipe precisely, it still never tastes quite as delectable as it did when my grandmother’s hands did the stirring.

    • Yeah, it’s never quite the same as I remember either but I tweak too, and I figure one day my kids will be in their kitchens trying to figure out what on earth I did to give something that little oomph. That’s what I hope anyway. ;)

  5. What a lovely post, Karen.

    I am the family baker, and in the last several years I haven’t done any. Lack of time, extra inches on the waistbands. I think I may need to bake some this year. Just as soon as we decorate the tree we put up on Sunday ;(

  6. We have a lot of recipes from our early marriage, too! Like lasagna, which I used to make weekly.

  7. This post touches me. I really don’t like cooking, yet, when I think of recipes being a timeline or a herritage, it makes me want to spend a little more time in the kitchen to create something special for my family. Nice post.

  8. Love family traditions! Thanks forswearing yours . Now I want to find that recipient and try it

  9. It’s so true how those are still the greatest gifts. I was just going through my recipes the other day looking for Gram’s Fudge. I failed trying to replicate it a couple of years ago. I’m ready to try again. Her gorgeous fudge dish is just sitting there all empty and I refuse to put anything else in it.

    • I’m just lucky I haven’t lost any of those recipes. I am always misplacing recipes because I have so many and I can never remember where I filed them. If your fudge doesn’t turn out, make a different one and put it in the dish. No one will ever know and you’ll be happy you used it!

  10. This was so lovely. There is something about recipes handed down that brings our loved ones closer to our hearts again. When I’m in the kitchen, trying to make the homemade donuts my gram used to make, I can almost imagine her there with me. Such a gift to have these recipes with us through the years.

  11. That’s a beautiful post, Karen. I completely agree with you about filling your heart during the holidays with food traditions! For us, it’s cranberry jelly (with pancakes on Christmas morning) and sugar cookie dough, baking them into little shapes to decorate on Christmas Eve. It wouldn’t be Christmas for my kids without them!

    I have an envelope and tin box full of family recipes, but turning vegan this year changed our eating habits enough so that many (if not all) of them can no longer be made (I’ll leave them to my sister). No, my girls and I are making new food traditions, but I will still treasure the old recipes (many are hand-written by grand and great-grand mothers!) and pass them on to the next generation in tact. If nothing else, that unique history of our family will be cherished.

    Merry Christmas, Karen! I hope you get a nice break with your husband and the kids and fully enjoy the beauty and joy of the holiday season.

  12. Recipes are like a trail of cookie crumbs leading from generation to generation. I have cook books from my mom’s mom ( a woman I never knew as she died when my mom was 18.) I have a box or two or recipe cards, all handwritten, by family, friends, friends of family, friends of friends, people I don’t know. I keep them all. I have gotten smarter over the years and created another box of recipes, ones that I actually cook, so they are easy to find and not mixed in with ones that are just there holding their place in the line up of history.

    Your husband’s Grandmother’s cookies sound wonderful – glad you stuck around long enough to get her recipes (and her grandson too!)

  13. Beautiful story, Karen. I love the traditions handed down in your family and got the chills seeing your husband’s grandmother’s cookie board. I’ve resisted learning how to make some of the Italian specialties my mom is known for, but after reading your words, I feel more willing to learn. It’s time. Thank you! And happy holidays!!

  14. Mouth watering post, just lovely.

  15. Those cookies look awesome! On the recipe memory lane note- my mother gave my husband and me a binder with a bunch of plastic sheet sleeves. Some of the sleeves held my favorite recipes that she made for me from childhood. Some held my sister’s favorite recipes. Some held the recipes that I would make when I learned how to cook and bake. The rest of the plastic sheets were blank. She wrote a sweet note that my husband and I should add recipes that we love. 6 years of marriage later, I look at some of the recipes and reminisce about all the stages of our time together and it is fun to add new ones to the book as well. Thanks for sharing. A very sweet thing to share.

    • Recipes really do show the different stages of our lives. I love being able to add to mine, like the pumpkin bread my daughter demands. The cookies the kids like in their lunch. One day I may be sending them in care packages to college.

  16. I read this while smiling.All of my sisters were home for Christmas and we got to talking about Grandma’s recipes.Next thing you know one was making this and one was making that because I have her recipes.The most amazing thing to us was when my mom got out the Springerle recipe and the rolling pin that you just guided over the dough.Thanks for making me think of it again.

    • There is a trick to that. Nothing is worse than getting dough stuck in all those details in the springerle board or rolling pin! I certainly have. It obviously takes years of practice to know when that dough is just right. ;) How wonderful that you could all be near for Christmas and share memories and recipes. I bet it was fantastic.

  17. The cookies look soooo good! I would be stashing them away in my hiding places, but I don”t think they would stay hidden long. ;-) I love how you say that recipes show the evolution of being with someone, I am looking forward to that evolution with cooking and trying recipes for the first time.

  18. Thank you for sharing to us.this is fantastic.

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