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.
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.
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.