You start with a heavy aluminum pan. . .
The conversation amongst a core of women at a family
member’s funeral in October turned to an unrealized promise made almost 11
years ago at another family member’s funeral.
That previous funeral was my mother-in-law’s, and the promise made at
the time by her two daughters and a handful of close relatives was that they
would get together during the next Christmas season to keep alive the family
tradition of making angel food candy “just like Sue used to make”.
The geographic reality of the women of the promise
certainly contributed to the delay. The
aunt lives in southern Minnesota, her two daughters are in the Chippewa Falls
area and my wife lives just west of Green Bay, and her sister lives on a farm
near Suring, an hour north of us. And of
course, everyone’s life had its own complications and commitments that made
coordination of calendars challenging.
It took that most recent family funeral to find the resolve to finally
make good on the promise. So, a date was
finally set and a couple of hours of travel found everyone together and ready
to make candy.
The required pan was most fitting. Not only was it large and heavy, but it has
history. The pan has served three
generations. My wife recognized the
value of the pan as a family functional heirloom and she brought it to our home
after her mom passed. It was originally
her grandmother’s pan – another sturdy and practical farm implement that was used
primarily for boiling potatoes – the staple of a farm dinner. That’s also what her mother primarily used
the pan for as well. If one estimates
that at least three pounds of potatoes were boiled in the pan each week for 75
years, which is very conservative, that would be 11,700 pounds, or nearly six tons of boiled potatoes. But, for one day
every December the pan provided not only the staple, but the delight, because
that’s when it was used to make angel food candy.
My wife has the pan and she also has her mom’s
handwritten recipe. My wife and her
sister remember helping to break up the angel food candy – it kind of oozes out
of the pan like tannish colored lava and quickly hardens into a slab that then needs to
be broken into more shareable sized pieces – and they also remember helping to
dip those pieces in chocolate, but no one in the group had actually made angel
food. Although they lacked specific
experience, there were four generations gathered around
the kitchen table. Since this was a
family recipe and family tradition, that was as it should be.
After careful reading and re-reading of the recipe,
noting the required temperatures, and boiling and stirring directions, and
discussing the trickier parts carefully, a final plan was made of who would add
ingredients and when and who would stir.
The point of no return was reached, and the burner was lit under the first
batch. All seemed to go as expected and
the brown ooze was poured out on a sheet pan to cool. Encouraged that it “looked right” a second
batch was started. Soon the second batch
was poured out; it too “looked right”.
When the first batch was cooled they began to break it
into smaller pieces. Lots of tasting. Heads nodding approval. Success!
The next few hours were filled with ample storytelling and laughter around the kitchen
table as the pieces were dipped in chocolate and spread out to cool once again. They divided the spoils and all was well.
It was good; it was right; it was part of what Christmas should be.
How do we honor our heritage? How do we not only remember, but make present
dear loved ones? How do we celebrate
You start with a heavy aluminum pan . . .
His Peace <><