Granda Dottie


With all attention focused on the Big Day this Thursday I wanted to bring this gem to your attention. It’s from Emily Smith, a student from Austin, Texas, and her submission to NPR’s “This I Believe’.  I heard it on my drive to work this morning and it conjured up memories of family, history, recipes, and how food truly connects us to past and present.  Crank up the speakers and click on the “listen” button, and if you can’t I’ve included it here.

Here’s to Emily, a great story, and to Grandma Dottie!

"I have gone through 10 pounds of flour in three months. I know that’s not normal, but I believe baking is an expression of love — not only for the person being baked for, but also for the person who taught me how to bake, for the person who gave me the recipe, for the past and tradition.

Grandma Dottie lives on in her recipes that I continue to bake. Her molasses cookies are so good they need to be shared with the world. The batter is sticky and has to be refrigerated for four hours. It turns the whole thing into more of a production, but it’s impossible to roll the dough into balls when it’s that sticky. I know; I’ve tried.

So I wait — just like my grandmother waited four hours — while the dough chills. Then I roll the dough into balls, roll the dough balls in sugar and smash them with a fork twice, creating a criss-cross pattern, and put them in the oven. I look at the cookies instead of relying on the timer. I’m beginning to bake with my senses and my memory instead of with the recipe.

My Grandma Dottie abbreviated everything in her recipes so it took me a while to figure it out. Is the batter the right color? The right consistency? Does it smell right? My dad’s job is to compare my reproductions to the originals of his childhood. If they turn out the same, they’re more than cookies — and that’s what I’m trying to do. I like to watch my father’s face when he remembers his mother.

Because we’re Texan, my mother needs a pecan pie for it to really be Thanksgiving. Pecan pie is mostly corn syrup, a few eggs and pecans. It doesn’t look appetizing. But amazing things happen in the oven. The filling caramelizes and turns a dark brown. I baked my mom a pecan pie. I made the crust and everything—and even she doesn’t do that. The recipe I used yields a stiffer filling. It’s not the gooey pecan pie I grew up with. So I was worried at first that I’d done something wrong. But my mother said it was the best pecan pie she’d ever had.

And right then and there my pecan pie recipe, the one that I’d found in the cookbook my grandmother gave me, became the new family recipe. So, this Thanksgiving it’s my job to make the pie. For me, it’s a symbol of becoming an adult, and the pecan pie becomes my contribution to our family tradition.

I believe that as long as I keep baking, my grandmother hasn’t really gone. I believe baking is the best way for me to express love for my people in the present and honor the people of my past, all in one batch."

Online: NPR This I Believe


  1. says

    Not a dry eye in the house!

    Thanks Matt, for sharing Emily’s story. Just this weekend I found my grandmother’s old wooden recipe box that she gave to me about 25 years ago. It held (and still does) my first recipe collection, little dog-eared cards complete with fossilized flour and butter smears. the recipes are scribbled in the curly-cued chicken scratch of my youth but a few of her cards are still housed there too. I discovered her unbaked cookie recipe and decided that they should appear on our Thanksgiving table. Ed will be making his grandma’s pistachio cake for the dessert table as well. It appears that there are many more special people present at our dinners than chairs actually allow for.

  2. says

    So if “baking is an expression of love”, do you suggest I tell my fish boys that tomorrow when I bring them their brownies?

    I’m a bit scared…and a tad excited, at the same time.

    Must be those boots….

  3. says

    This is really awesome, thanks for sharing. I enjoy reading bits of your blog, as I am originally from Tx and a long way from home now. My grandmother makes a wonderful cake, and I too try to make it at least once a month in her honor.

  4. says

    Wow, I totally made that recipe last night! Actually, I had to write to NPR to get them to correct an error in the published recipe first. Dorkiest baker ever.

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