Family. Traditions. Legacy.


One of our holiday traditions is making homemade rolls from my mom’s recipe. Years ago, when I hosted my first Thanksgiving as a young woman, she made a copy of the recipe and sent it to me. I pull it out every year on both Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve. Her scrawled notes in the margins, along with her voice in my head explaining the nuances of the recipe, are my favorite part of making the rolls.

Ella is the baker in our family. She says it relaxes her. Cliff buys her the giant bag of flour at Costco, and at least twice a week she makes cookies or biscuits. I taught her how to make the holiday rolls years ago. Although, in my frantic and exhausted brain, I sometimes want to say, “Let’s skip it this year and buy some at that awesome bakery down the street” I don’t, because I know she loves to make them. And eat them.

​She wasn’t always roll-maker. When she was about twenty months old, she was the roll-destroyer. That Thanksgiving, I’d gotten up early to make the complicated recipe that requires two risings. I’d shaped the rolls and they were on their second rising with great success by the fireplace. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Ella march over and rip the towel from the pan. With what can only be described as glee, she systematically punched them all into flat disks. I let out a shocked scream. She looked up, burst into tears, and then hid her face in the cushion of the easy chair. I couldn’t help but laugh as I scooped her into my arms and kissed her fat cheek. 

The young woman in my kitchen right now still has the same eyes, but the rest of her has changed. She can no longer be scooped into my arms. She no longer has fat cheeks. The one constant of raising children? They change and change and change.

Because we only make them twice a year, Ella and I always have to familiarize ourselves with the complex recipe. 

This morning, after she had the yeast portion under control, I slipped away to get dressed. A few minutes later, I got a text from her. (See photo). 

I rushed back to kitchen to supervise, catching the milk at just the right moment. However, it made me curious about why this old recipe called for scalded milk when modern yeast bread instructions do not. I looked it up and, of course,  found a cooking blog with the answer. Basically, it was needed before pasteurization as a way to destroy bacteria. 

Old recipes have this as a must, whereas now it’s not needed. Truthfully, it’s always been the step of the recipe that worries me. The milk has to cool to room temperature before you pour it into the other wet ingredients or the eggs will curdle. Curdling is bad, unless you’re making egg flower soup. (I just made that up. I have no idea how to make egg flower soup.) But I digress…

​Being me, this prompted thoughts about the bigger picture. Traditions. Family. Legacy.

What we keep and what we leave behind.

Ella and I could choose to eliminate this step. According to the food blog I just read, she makes her old yeast bread recipes with cold milk with no discernible difference to the end product. 

Regardless, on this day of thanksgiving, I choose to keep the tradition alive. I choose to pass it on to my girls. Why? Because there are no guarantees in life other than constant change. What is today will not be tomorrow. There is comfort in the known, the familiar. Family traditions, as outdated as they may be, matter. They are our connection to the past, the thread that cradles families through constant change and uncertainty.
​So, twice a year, I pull out the battered recipe with my mother’s handwritten notes and the remnants of melted butter spatters in the margins, and we scald some milk.

​And, twice a year, my heart fills with all that recipe represents. There, between the instructions to combine yeast and sugar, scald milk and beat eggs, and the kneading and punching of dough, is the love between my mother and me. The love between my daughters and me. No matter what changes, I will have the memories of that love. I will have my mother’s voice in my head. I will have the image of my little Ella punching the rolls with her tiny fists. Each time I make the recipe, or take a bite of the crusty, buttery roll, I will remember.

​For all of us who rose from bed to put turkeys in the oven, or answered calls from our children with frantic questions on how to roll out a pie crust, or passed the torch to the younger generation, this day is not about the food, or being perfect, or God forbid, an argument over politics at our table. It’s about love. It’s about thankfulness for our past and our present and all that came between. 

​Happy Thanksgiving. Many blessings to you and your families. 

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