In 1916, my Great-Grandma Viola Ikenberry was given a small red leather book at her bridal shower. Her family and friends had shared family recipes and homemaking tips in the book, and she added to it all her life. The homemaking tips were practical for the times of the Dust Bowl days, and even included a recipe for grasshopper powder. Great-Grandma’s cookie jar was full at all times, and friends and family were always welcome to join the family for her delicious dinners of “just scraps.”
Like her grandmother, my mom, Sylvia, is a skilled cook, gardener and homemaker. When Mom was growing up, her family always had a large garden, and all the children were expected to help with the planting, weeding and canning. Mom says it never occurred to her that canned food could be bought in a grocery store. To her way of thinking, if you wanted canned vegetables for the winter, you preserved them yourself. My mom is a self-taught whole foods cook. Her older sisters did much of the family cooking, and Mom was on clean-up detail.
Mom has always loved to eat, especially what she refers to as the “holy trinity” of flour, butter and sugar, so baking came naturally to her. She learned to cook by reading, and by trial and error, of course. When I think of my mom cooking, I think fondly of coming home from elementary school to find her chopping vegetables and rolling dough at her low wooden kitchen counter, with National Public Radio blasting. I learned the value of wholesome good foods and how to prepare them from my mother.
When I got married in 2005, my family gave me my own small red leather book filled with their favorite recipes and homemaking tips. My mom shared her Grandma Viola’s cinnamon roll recipe, which has now been passed down through three generations. My family always has these rolls for breakfast on Christmas morning. The rolls can be prepared the day before and put in the refrigerator overnight, and they’re ready to bake the next morning. Mom has improved on the recipe, saying they like to be crowded in the pan, not over-kneaded or over-baked, and adding that you should be generous with the maple syrup in the bottom of the pans.
Here’s our treasured family recipe.
1. Combine and let rest: 2 tablespoons yeast, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1⁄2 cup warm water.
2. Combine in large mixing bowl: 2 teaspoons salt, 1⁄2 cup sugar, 2 eggs, 1⁄2 cup melted butter, 2 cups warm milk.
3. Add 7 cups flour. Mix well after each cup of flour. You might need more or less – a soft sticky dough works best. After 3 cups of flour is in dough, add yeast mixture. Turn dough onto floured surface and knead, adding flour as necessary. Put dough in buttered bowl, turn to grease top. Let rise until doubled.
4. Punch down. Form into logs. Roll in melted butter, then cinnamon and sugar, and tie into knots. Generously butter sides and bottom of 9-by-13-inch pan and 8-by-8-inch pan. Pour maple syrup in pans to coat bottoms, then place rolls in pans. Let rise until doubled, then bake at 350 F for about 45 minutes. Immediately turn out on cooling rack.
NOTE: Alternately, tightly cover rolls and put in refrigerator overnight to rise slowly. In the morning, uncover and put rolls in cold oven. Turn oven to 350 F and bake.
Read more stories about home cooking in Heart of the Home: The Good Cook.