Christmas Memories

Contributed by my friend Scarlet Pumpernickel from The Pink Fuzzy Slipper Writers~

I was just thinking about my grandmother, we called her Ma Ma. Something Barbara M. said in an email made me think of her. You see, Barbara cooked a duck today–said it turned out wonderfully and she was looking forward to not doing the dishes. The not doing the dishes part was what reminded me of Ma Ma.

I love to cook, but I hate washing dishes, where my grandmother really didn’t care for cooking, but loved washing dishes. We had the perfect relationship for holiday meals, I’d cook and she’d wash dishes. Every holiday she’d be up early, cleaning up behind me as I prepared all the family favorites. Oh, I didn’t say she never complained, she did, but still she’d wash the dishes. Her pet name for me was Tootsie, and she would say, “Lord amercy, Tootsie, I don’t know how you manage to mess up so many dishes.” It was easy, I knew I wouldn’t have to wash them!

She spent her last nine years living with me and my family. She was quite a blessing for us. I never had to worry about the children getting home from school before I got home from work because Ma Ma was always there to watch them.

Now Ma Ma had a favorite Christmas cake she called Lemon Cheese. Why she called it Cheese was a mystery, since it didn’t contain cheese! Anyway, her Lemon Cheese Cake was famous in our family and all over the neighborhood. People always came by to sample “Belle’s Lemon Cheese Cake.” Nephews had been known to drive transfer trucks half way across the country just to get a piece of Aunt Belle’s Lemon Cheese cake.

The last couple years with her health failing she wasn’t able to stand to make the sugar icing for the cake because it had to be stirred constantly, so she asked me to make it for her. This was somewhat of an honor, because she guarded her recipe for Lemon Cheese Cake, even from me, her only granddaughter. So, early one morning she joined me in the kitchen and instructed me on making “Belle’s Lemon Cheese Cake.” It was a fairly simple recipe, a boiled sugar icing with grated lemon rhine. “No, ma’am, I won’t give out your recipe, Ma Ma. Yes, ma’am, I promise. I’m just telling the story.”

Sorry, where was I? Oh yes, we were making the icing. Remember I said it had to boil? I stood over the stove and stirred and stirred, then finally Ma Ma came over took the spoon from me lifted it to make the syrup spin a thread and pronounced it ready to spread. I took it from the stove, followed her directions to cool the icing, then spread it on the cake. Most of the icing ended up on the table! It just would not set! Finally, Ma Ma said, “It’s alright Tootsie, we’ll put it in the frig and it will set.” So with the icing still trying to drip off the plate, we moved it to the frig and sure enough, it set up. But, I didn’t recall Ma Ma having any such problem in the past.

The next year we again made the cake with the same result. I cooked and stirred, she declared it ready and it ended up on the table again. So off to the frig it went! Ma Ma had her own little kitchen in our basement, so she kept the cake in her frig to serve to her friends and family when they came by.

One afternoon a cousin stopped by and I decided to go down and visit with Ma Ma and her company. As I neared the bottom of the stairs I hear Ma Ma open the frig offering her guest a piece of her cake. “Tootsie made this one. It’s not as good as mine used to be, she can’t get the icing right, but still it is good.”

Suddenly I realized I’d been had! MaMa had been deliberately having me take the icing off the stove before it set! She’d done it on purpose because she didn’t want to share her prized Lemon Cheese Cake! The next year, sadly after she’d passed away, I used a candy thermometer and the icing set perfectly. The only detail she’d left out of the recipe was how to make the syrup spin a thread to tell it was set!

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