DECEMBER 19, 2020
Christmas Kitchen Memories
I knew immediately that I was in trouble. My mom, Grace, asked my five-year-old granddaughter, Tori, what her favorite meal was that I made for her. She replied: Toast. For a cook as gifted as Grace, that was a crushing blow and an abomination.
Our mom was one of the best cooks that I ever knew. My sisters each have inherited her skills, while I feel like Charlie Brown: I got a rock. Over the years, Bev and I attempted to bake three different desserts, and our failures are legend. Once we tried our hand at a caramel cake and used salt instead of sugar. When we tried to make a cobbler, we discovered that we were working from two different recipes – that would not have been so bad but after the cobbler was finished, I dropped a glass and it broke into the finished product. And lastly, when we were old enough to get into serious trouble, we made luscious devil’s food and cream Whoopie Pies. As evil teenagers, I am afraid to say that we got into the cooking sherry and created a real fiasco. We were grounded for a month, and the kitchen cleanup was not worth the fun.
During the month of December, we never knew what we would find Grace working on. And now that I have moved beyond the “Toast” phase, I realize that mom’s Christmas treats were far more than the physical food itself. Making the delights that Grace did took love, patience, painstaking skill, and devotion. Our dad was the perfect guinea pig. When the food looked pretty, he’d say, “It doesn’t matter how it tastes as long as it looks good.” When it looked awful, he’d say, “Well, at least it tastes good!”
Looking back, I realize now that Grace’s sugar cookies were a thing of beauty. Each cookie had a different motif, but I never thought of our mom as creative. Boy was I wrong. Mom used 8 different cookie cutters and many different sprinkles, red hots, icings, and silver decorations. In my home, folks know better than to touch what I am making. At the Couch home, we were allowed to sample as Mom went. Even today, there are Couch recipes that make a holiday something special. My first “Meltaway” of the season was earth-shattering back then, and each year I experienced Nirvana. We ate Cheese Cookies, Peanut Butter Fudge, Date Kisses, Cheese Balls, Sausage Balls, Baked Brie, Chocolate Fudge, and Pepper Jelly. Teri’s specialty is Chex Party Mix, which we call Trash. Since she has the patience of Job, she’s the one who has to fix it. First of all, it takes $795 to make, and secondly, it requires four hours of back breaking sweat to continually turn the ingredients in the pan.
Penny Overby and I have a baking day each year, but I promise, our efforts do not contain that secret ingredient – unconditional love. While we have a great time and dancing is always an integral step of each recipe, I don’t think my confections will ever measure up to Grace’s or Penny’s. For me, I just want to get it over with so I can move on to something else. But we three Couch girls were given a gift that we can never repay. Hopefully, we can carry Mom’s time-honored traditions to our grandkids and their children. We were able to count on those goodies showing up year after year and we were fortunate to have a loving, faithful chef in our midst.