Growing Up Boomer: Holiday Edition

I’m a cusp Boomer/GenX child — too young to share the cultural experiences of Boom Boomers, too old to share the cynicism of GenX. My father was a Depression baby, which left a mark: He was, to put it nicely, frugal. My mother was a farm girl who shared my father’s, um, practicality. Needless to say, Christmas was always a struggle between the commercial “buy stuff” message and my parent’s inability to part with a dime unless it was for good reason. Where these two ideas met was in the gift of food. My father used to say “food is love.”
My father was the cook in the family, having learned it from his mother — Grandma Winslow taught him to cook in self-defense because he might marry “an Irish girl who couldn’t cook.” And sure enough, he married a smart, lively Irish-English-Welsh girl who couldn’t cook her way out of a paper bag. My mother, however, could bake like no one’s business. She kicked out goodies for friends and family from pre-Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve. Our spice cupboard overflowed, sugar, flour, baking soda, and sundry other ingredients dusting the yellow and red linoleum of the kitchen floor and gold-flecked formica countertops. We kids were in charge of licking spoons and measuring, decorating frosted cookies, keeping the dog from getting underfoot, and taste testing.
Mexican wedding cakes, chocolate chip (with and without walnuts), oatmeal scotchies, peanut butter rice krispie treats frosted with chocolate and butterscotch (!!), scones (the Scottish shortbread kind), and at least one “experiment” per year came out of the kitchen and into gift boxes for neighbors. We packed the smaller boxes into a big box full of fruit from my grandfather’s orchard, bags of Germack pistachios (dyed red) and odd things we picked up at Eastern Market in Detroit during our annual pilgrimage. These boxes were delivered a few days before Christmas on a long car ride that involved several stops that included hot chocolate for us kids and the sharing of news and like-spirited gifts in warm kitchens and on living room couches wrapped in protective plastic.
One year my mother took a candy-making class and everyone received boxes of handmade chocolates for a couple of years. I learned to make super-easy peanut brittle and that was added to the boxes as well, creating new traditions.
Gradually, my parent’s friends moved or passed away, and the tradition of pistachios and salamis, of red apples and oranges, and the frenzied baking sessions disappeared. Illness took its toll as well, as my mother’s mobility declined and baking became difficult for her.
In a way, I carry on this tradition, by buying food for Gaia Works and community food boxes in the neighborhood. Though not a baker or a cook, I follow my parent’s lead: food is love all year round.