I posted this originally a year ago. Since I’m too lazy to create something new this year, I’m re-cycling this one.
When my Grandmother lived with us on the farm, Thanksgiving and Christmas was always a big deal. Many of our relatives lived at both ends of the state. My Aunt Anna May and a bunch of cousins lived near Cairo (rhymes with Aero. Kayro is a syrup. The other is a city in Egypt.), Illinois. My Aunt Clara and Uncle Bill lived near Chicago along with their batch of kids and cousins. We lived betwixt them with a local batch of cousins and therefore often hosted the gathering of the Clan at the holidays.
In the late 1950s, most of the cakes and pies were hand-made including pie crust. Betty Crocker was expensive and not to be trusted according to Mom and Grandma. A week or so before the guests arrived, Mom and Grandma started making pie dough. They would make it in small batches, enough for a couple of pies and then store it on the porch. The porch was unheated and was used as a large refrigerator during the colder months.
Mom and Grandma had collected pie filling most of the year. When cherries were in season, they canned cherries. When blackberries and raspberries were in season, they canned the berries—along with making a large batch of berry jelly and jam. When apples were in season, they canned and dried apples. When the holidays arrived, they were ready. About the only things they didn’t can was pumpkins. Mom and Grandma purposely planted late to harvest late. I don’t remember a year that we didn’t have pumpkins or sweet-potatoes for pie filling.
The count-down started with the pie dough. When the dough was ready, Mom began baking pies. When a pie was finished, it’d go out to the porch covered with a cloth. The division of labor was that Mom would make pies, Grandma would make cakes.
Grandma liked sheet cakes. I rarely saw a round, frosted cake unless it was someone’s birthday. Grandma’s cakes were 12″ by 24″. Icing was usually Cream Cheese or Chocolate. Sometimes, when Grandma make a German Chocolate cake, she’d make a brown-sugar/coconut/hickory nut icing. The baking was done right up until it was time stick the turkeys, hams or geese in the oven. The last item Grandma would make was a apple-cinnamon coffee-cake that was an inherited recipe from her mother. It was common-place that when everyone arrived, we’d have a dozen pies and another dozen cakes ready. That was our contribution. The guests brought stuff as well.
The holiday gathering wasn’t just a single day, it was several. Thanksgiving, for instance, lasted through Sunday. A Christmas gathering lasted through New Years. We weren’t the only relatives in the central part of the state, but we were the gathering place. Come bedtime, the visitors left with some of the local cousins and would gather again the next day at another home and the visiting continued.
It was not unusual for us to have twenty or thirty folks at the house at one time. Our barn was heated for the livestock, so the men and boys—and some girls, gathered there. Dad would turn a blind eye to the cigarettes, cigars and bottles—as long as no one started a fire. Grandma’s jugs of Applejack appeared present as well.
The women would gather in one of our side bedrooms where Grandma’s quilt frame was set up. They would sit, talk, quilt and plan future family affairs. A number of weddings were planned in those sessions. Sometimes before the bridegroom was aware of his upcoming fate.
Over the years, the clan has dispersed. Most moving to locations where jobs were available. The elders have passed on and with them the traditions. Cousins have lost touch and few live on the old homesteads.
It was a different time, another era. Some families still maintain the old traditions. They are the fortunate ones.
Update: I changed the title of this piece to a more appropriate one. I’d orginally started to describe the preparations we made for the holidays and the story kinda morphed into something else.