It’s That Time of Year

candleOnce a year, the kitchen is full of Mom. This mom, me, and my first mother-in-law, my sons’ grandmother, who originally gave me a banana bread recipe. The year’s perfectly-sized boxes, saved in the basement, are set in one kitchen corner along with the saved box of foam pellets, accumulated over the year, and I pack the banana bread I’ve once more made for the men in my life: two sons, two husbands (one of which I’m no longer married to), a grown grandson, and our mail carrier.

My kitchen rejoices.

The recipe, hand-written on some piece of paper I scribbled out more than forty years ago, lies folded in thirds in the back of my battered Joy of Cooking cookbook. I smooth it out, check the ingredients. They never change. The paper is stained and spotted, but the handwriting is mine, hurriedly written from one corner to another above a left-over drawing by one kid or another.

Perhaps I expected to transfer it to a proper card or something, but now, each year, I refold and replace once the baking is over: six bananas, butter, white sugar, leavenings, chocolate chips, nuts. Each batch makes two loaves. Except, for more than forty years, I have separated the batter after adding chocolate chips. I pour half the batter in a bread pan, and add nuts to what’s left in the bowl before dumping it in the pan. One son does not like nuts in his banana bread, the other son doesn’t care. If I make chocolate chip cookies, I do the same: half the batter without nuts.

I also make, and pack, the same oatmeal cookies, from the same cookbook, with chocolate chips, no nuts, seal them in plastic bags, and add them to the boxes that are mailed. The ones that aren’t mailed, the ones that stay here in the house, don’t last long. Which is probably a good thing.

Mary, my first mother-in-law, died twenty-five years ago, but she lives with me still in the kitchen at Christmas and in the chocolate mayonnaise birthday cakes which I make and which never change although they are only made for whoever is in the house at the birthday time. Mayonnaise cake, moist and fragrant, does not mail well. That recipe is also in my writing, quickly sketching down the direction as my mother-in-law dictated the ingredients.

One box goes to Florida, one to San Diego, the mailman gets his bread in hand, and the men here in the house have theirs.

And as I bake, I remember other times and other seasons. Mother-in-law Mary made banana bread when her boys came home; I usually limit mine to once a year: white flour and white sugar and chocolate chips are not our usual fare. But these are gifts of love, gifts of memory, gifts of tradition.

The mailman tells me his mother-in-law, no longer living, used to bake like this. His eyes shine as he takes my proffered loaf.

13 thoughts on “It’s That Time of Year

  1. Banana bread is something that no one in their right mind will ever tire of. I think your post is perfect and also beautifully written. I loved it. I need to find a recipe that uses gluten free flour for my pumpkin bread. I have not yet met anyone that didn’t love my pumpkin bread but my daughter and I can’t tolerate gluten. It sure does take the joy out of baking since I have not tried any gluten free flour yet. But one day I shall….

  2. A beautiful and touching sentiment, Janet! Those who love to be in their kitchens (with actual skills, unlike me), share traditions and wonderful memories! I’m in the “no-nut” camp (mild allergies to walnuts), so please send some to my address 😉

    1. How ’bout I send the recipe? (just posted it) Really, they’re pretty fool proof. And you can leave out the nuts! Have a great festival of lights and music and blessings whatever your tradition. J.

  3. It is that time of year: time for tradition, for extravagance, for not counting the calories or counting the cost. It’s a time for singing, and candles, and silliness — for daring to believe in Santa, and coming light, and finding the star, just once.

    And here’s something else I believe. If God hadn’t meant for us to give gifts, the Wise Men wouldn’t have been part of the story. I can demythologize with the best of them — but not at this time of year!
    Merry Christmas!

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