Christmas from the Kitchen
My favourite Christmas traditions begin in the kitchen. When I was a child I was always in awe of the beautiful and delicious creations that would come out of that magical place when my mother was in there doing her mysterious thing. She would spend hours in the kitchen creating masterpieces…every single year…until the torch was passed along to me.
When I was a kid, my fondest memory at Christmas time was watching my mother create elaborate, magnificent gingerbread houses. Now, I am not talking about a simple kit, like what I make with my kids now. I am talking doll house patterns, cut and baked out of a homemade gingerbread recipe, glued together with royal icing, and topped with so many candies it was like a candy store all in itself. She spent weeks working on her houses, and the details to make it unique from the previous year. She even made a few years with open windows, and full scenes set up inside with miniature toys and lights! She was featured in the local news paper for the small town I grew up in for her amazing creations.
For a number of years, my brother and I got to make simple gingerbread houses out of our favourite candies. All homemade recipes and icing, any colour desired was possible. It was really cool. Everyone involved had fun. We would sit together in the kitchen and listen to Christmas carols, building and decorating and laughing and sometimes even crying. Mom was so proud of us. And as a teenager, I remember making a gingerbread barn with a friend, as a gift to a boy I had an enormous crush on, for his family.
This is a tradition I am now passing along to my kids. Every year for as long as I can remember I have let them make a small gingerbread house…from a kit, but something simple is better than nothing at all. In fact, I believe we even did graham cracker houses when they were really little. This activity brings me so much joy because I feel like it not only keeps my mother alive in my heart, but I feel her present, smiling as she watches her grandchildren enjoying her gift to them, through a tradition she began.
The other holiday tradition passed down through generations in my family is the homemade pie crust. You see, most baked goods have a recipe, where everything is measured with precision. But my family’s pie crust is mixed and kneaded by feel and intuition. I was a teenager when I was finally allowed in the kitchen to witness this magic lesson. Too much flour and it will be tough and heavy and dry. Not enough flour and it is weak and sticky. You have to add just the right amount, until it “grabs”. Make sure you mix all the flour in evenly, but don’t work it too much. And each time is different depending on the temperature. It takes focus and experience to get just right. And crimping the edges, I recently learned, is a talent that not everyone is aware of, despite its simplicity.
I am always on pie duty now, and I take great pride in this responsibility. Pumpkin is by far my family’s favourite flavour. Apple is my favourite to create because it is so pretty when it is finished. I often will use small cookie cutters to make the cover rather than simply cutting vent holes.
Sometimes I feel like I have dropped the ball, and let my mother down because I don’t go to the same lengths to provide tradition for my family as she did. But then I think of all I do that is different than my mother from my childhood, and I am pretty proud of myself for what I do actually accomplish. I know that she is smiling down on me from heaven, as I am providing myself time to create delicious treats in the kitchen for my family, and memories and stories to last a lifetime.
Written by: Liz Chamberlain; Lizzielou Mixed Media