My Grandmothers’ Christmas Legacy

My Grandmothers Emma Montgomery (nee Peterson on the right) and Mattia Aleo (nee Moceri, left picture)  had several things in common even though the worlds they came from were so different. Emma’s mother died around 1896 when Emma was ten. Mattia’s father died when she was seven-I estimate this was around 1901 or 1902. Both girls left home within a few months of their respective parents’ deaths to assume positions as servants or companions to wealthy families.  They were paid only in room and board, but their absence meant that their families had one less mouth to feed.

Emma lived in Southern Ohio and Mattia lived in Sicily. Emma met her husband-to-be a few counties over from where she was born; Mattia met her future husband in America where she had come to find work so she could send money back home.

Emma met her husband at an ice cream social; theirs was a love match. Mattia’s marriage was arranged by a match maker when her older sister and brother-in-law decided it was time for her to marry.  Both women  were married before the  United States entered the First World War and raised their children during the Great Depression and the Second World War.  Times were hard and life’s uncertainties took their toll on both families.  When my mother and father married, they brought this history to the new family they made. Our  family life could be stressful and unpredictable.

But one thing sticks in my memory: for some reason, the strife died down during the winter holiday season. I think this is because my parents felt safe at this time of the year. This tells me that their parents also felt safe during the holiday season and were able to create a temporary haven for their families. This is another tradition they handed down to my parents.

I remember that the safest I felt as a child was during the Christmas season. The craziness of the world was kept at bay and the adults seemed happier and calmer. My family was not big on extravagant gifts, but there were always decorations,  family and the smell of Christmas cooking.  This was part of my Grndmothers’ legacy-one I treasure.

Recipes are another important part of family tradition. We had Emma’s Brown Bread  and Mattia’s biscotti  every Christmas. Here are their recipes.

Mattia’s Biscotti

Three cups flour, one and one-half cups sugar, one-half teaspoon salt, four teaspoons baking powder, one teaspoon vanilla, eight eggs, anise seeds.
Beat eggs and sugar until well blended. Add vanilla. Add flour, salt and baking powder (I just dump it in) and mix until blended. Pour into eight by fourteen inch pan which you have lined with a piece of buttered wax paper. Sprinkle  liberally with anise seeds. Bake at 350 degrees until baked through, twenty to thirty mintues.
Remember this is not a cake so it will not rise very much and will seem a bit rubbery.
Remove from oven. Flip pan over on a work surface. The cake should fall right out. Peel off the wax paper and cut cake in half crosswise. Cut each half into long biscotti-sized pieces. Place back in pan cut sides up and return to oven set at 250 degrees. Leave in oven until the biscotti achieves  the desired level of hardness. If you have a gas oven with a pilot light, you can choose to leave the biscotti there overnight.

Emma’s Boston Brown Bread

Combine two cups boiling water, two teaspoons baking soda, one cup raisins. Let sit until warm. Cream together two tablespoons of unsalted butter, two cups sugar, two eggs and one teaspoon vanilla. Add two cups white flour, two cups whole wheat flour and the water/raisin mixture. Beat well. Add one cup chopped walnuts and mix to incorporate.
Fill four greased and floured #2 cans two-thirds full. Bake one hour at 350 degrees. Let stand in oven one hour after baking. The batter will rise about two to three inches above the top of of the cans. The bread should slide right out of the can although you will probably need to loosen the bread from the sides of the can by running a knife around the bread.
A #2 can will hold about one and one-fourth cups batter and give the bread room to rise. If you don’t want to use a can (this is an old recipe-people didn’t worry about doing this in the old days. The original recipe calls for “seeded muskets.” I don’t know where you would get raisins with seeds these days), you can try mini loaf pans. The bread is done when a toothpick inserted i. the bread comes out clean.
This bread is good sliced thin and spread with butter. It’s even better with cream cheese.

One response to “My Grandmothers’ Christmas Legacy

  1. Pingback: Holiday Cookie Swap in Bella Vista | Ornamento·

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