When I was a child, my family always went to Mammaw and Granddaddy’s house for Christmas. Both Mammaw, my mother’s mother, and Granddaddy, a pharmacist licenced in 1910, had grown up in hot, rural settings in Texas where it was customary to eat the big meal of the day at noon and, of course, have a little nap afterwards. In my memory they lived in a tiny town in east Texas—two hundred souls counting cats and dogs—and operated a combination drugstore/general store.
Mammaw had two jobs in life—cooking and sewing—and she did both marvelously. She cooked all morning, every morning, to be ready when Granddaddy came home from the drugstore. As soon as he hit the door each and every day, he would count every female in the house including the help and any girls down to one day old and shout, "What? Four women in this house can’t get dinner for one man?" He thought he was being funny.
Mammaw’s food was wonderful. Granddaddy ate well, and he knew it. Anything Mammaw wanted, all she had to do was ask. They had the kind of marriage all of us envy, helping one another through the vicissitudes of life and into old age with love and patience. Well, Mammaw had plenty of patience. They both had plenty of love.
Our Christmas dinner never varied—turkey, cornbread dressing (not stuffing), apple and banana salad, green beans, ambrosia served in Mammaw’s best crystal, and candied sweet potatoes. I thought about that dressing all year. Didn’t care much for the sweet potatoes or the ambrosia, a combination of orange sections, banana slices, and fresh coconut. For dessert we had fresh coconut cake, or Big’s fruit cake. My parents actually liked the fruitcake.
For the whole visit there was plenty to snack on—chunks of coconut left over from the cake, fudge, and my favorite, "sugared pecans". The binder for these is almost like a coating of white praline holding together the pecans. When I was newly married, I wrote to Mammaw and asked for that recipe. I’ll give to you just as she wrote it.
"Honey, you asked for the recipe for sugared pecans. Here it is.
½ cup heavy cream
1 cup sugar
2 cups pecans
Cook to soft ball, add vanilla, beat till thick.
I always knew it was the love that made them so good. Knowing Mammaw better than you do, I’ll give you a hint or two. Cook only the cream and sugar to a soft ball. Then add one teaspoon vanilla and a chunk of real butter and beat till thick. Then add the pecans and mix well. Turn out onto a greased plate.
Have a peaceful Yuletide and a blessed new year.
Patricia Frances Rowell