“How is your celebration of the holiday influenced by previous generations?” asked a recent survey in The Weekly Genealogist. The first item in the list of answer choices was “I serve food or drinks that are traditional in my family.“ I quickly checked it off, as I was in the midst of baking, making sure that my kids would come home to the seasonal treats they – and now their spouses – expect.
One thing I have baked at Christmas in recent years is nisu, a sweet Finnish bread I remember eating at the home of my Finnish-born grandmother, known to all her grandkids as Mumma. When I visited Finland in 2012, a second cousin (granddaughter of Mumma’s sister) served it to me, and the scent of the cardamom took me back to my childhood. It is this cousin’s recipe that I now use, and I like to think that it’s the same as Mumma’s. Nisu requires a large bowl. As usual, I got out the big old pottery bowl that belonged to my husband’s German-born grandmother, known to her grandchildren as Granny.
“Mumma, meet Granny,” I thought, as I poured flour into the big bowl. “Granny, meet Mumma.”
It struck me that I was experiencing the melting pot of America in a hands-on kind of a way. “Mumma, meet Granny,” I thought, as I poured flour into the big bowl. “Granny, meet Mumma.” That evening, my daughter and English-born son-in-law came into the kitchen and, exclaiming “Nisu!” began pulling pieces off the warm loaves. The next day my son and his new wife, a daughter of Iranian immigrants, also eagerly dove into the loaves.
Sugar cookies, Linzer tarts, spice drops, and snickerdoodles: all are essential at the holidays at our house, and all are baked using the recipes on my mother-in-law’s well-worn recipe cards. Were some of those recipes Granny Stratton’s German recipes, or did they come from my mother-in-law’s New England family? I don’t know, but they – as well as peanut butter–filled “buckeyes,” made to remind us all of my Ohio roots – are this family’s favorites. It makes me happy that they are enjoyed now by an English son-in-law and Persian daughter-in-law – and that they are sometimes created in my kids’ kitchens, too.
“Where there is a family tradition, there is often food!” read a recent tweet from FamilySearch. “Food brings people together, creating experiences to add to your personal and family history.” To that I say, Amen. And now I will return to reading the Persian cookbook I received for Christmas. Did you know the Persians also use a lot of cardamom?