Posts Tagged ‘family stories’

The mixer poised, ready and willing, sat on the counter’s edge. Sifters and spoons, cake flour and powdered sugar – part and parcel to a plan to make kourambethes early the following Christmas Eve morn.

Keziah and I had been chatting away, as we often do, wondering what we would make for supper and what delectable treats we would bake next. I mentioned that I wanted to bake Greek powdered sugar cookies (kourambethes) and that I could use her help. Well . . . that quickly became an action plan to bake them early the next morning, with Kezzie suggesting that we bring some to share at church on Christmas Eve.

Keziah helped me make peppermint kiss cookies for a ladies event I would be attending when our Up North family visited at Thanksgiving. I was impressed over how precise and efficient she had become,  forming dough into cookies, molding them “just so”. in a way remarkably resembling that of my Yia Yia, so many years ago.

So it was that Kezzie sifted flour ( 4 or 5 times, Yia YIa,  really? ). The mixer whirred and blended the butter and egg yolks (Yia Yia, you can’t use just the yolks!). A taste of pinched off dough determined that we needed more sugar (Yia Yia, you can’t eat cookie dough!).













I explained to Keziah that my Yia Yia could not read or write (oh, Yia Yia, everyone can do that!) which was why this recipe did not have precise measurements. I told her that this recipe was written down for me by my mother, who I called Ma (like Little House on the Prairie?) but Auntie Jenny and Kezzie’s Mommy called Yia Yia (could she read and write?). I replied that yes, she could, but that she did not finish 8th grade, nor did she read or write or speak Greek.

My sweet granddaughter, perched upon a stool, pinched and rolled with an uncanny ease for one so young. She lined the dough on cookie sheets as we talked and baked and tasted our results. Keziah did the work her Yia Yia couldn’t quite handle this year. We talked, she asked questions and we puzzled out family history. She reminded me to check the cookies in the oven and anticipated “dusting” the cookies with powdered sugar when it was time.

When we were done, 100 cookies were made, tins were filled, and Ezra helped us taste test – just to make sure they were good.

This recipe for kourambethes came to me like taking the long way home.

It begins for me with a young woman, Penelope, for whom I am named. She brought this recipe and others in her mind as she traveled down a mountain, more than a century ago, a donkey employed to carry their possessions. She came down the mountain and boarded one ship, then another and sailed across the ocean to New York, then traveled on to Massachusetts and finally Chicago. Her daughter-in-law, my Ma, wrote down what she saw and in time gave it to me. The measurements in saucers-full and baking until done.

This year, 2020, five generations strong, I will convert my cursive writing to print and provide more accurate measurements*, confident in the knowledge that a new generation is now becoming the keeper of family recipes, especially those that have traveled so very far.

  • My one true test of knowing when the dough is sweet enough to bake is in tasting the dough. Yia Yia would always pinch off a little piece of dough for my sister and a piece for me before she would start forming cookies to bake. This pinch is how I know they are sweet enough. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.









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“Pete, what happened to your tie?”

“Bull Dog cut it.”

“Bull Dog cut your tie?”

“Yeah, he cut it with a knife.”

“Why did he do that?”

“I don’t know, Violet, he just cut it”.

“Didn’t he offer to pay for it?”

“No. He just stood there and cut my tie. I told him it was my favorite tie, too”.

A story told, many-a-time around the table as we were growing up, my aunt and uncles laughing, my mom being a little miffed but smiling sweetly. The story of Bull Dog cutting Pete’s tie, with a knife, and Violet incredulous that a friend could possibly do such a thing. Only, Bull Dog never did cut my father’s tie, a very nice tie that my mother bought him for some holiday or birthday.

I miss those days of neighborhood stories about the guys on the block who stood on street corners; gangs when it was okay to be in a gang of guys and the worst offense was maybe having your tie sliced in half.

I loved to hear this story, usually rendered at the family table, my dad cutting a loaf of bread, holding it close to his chest, slicing the knife through, just so. “Hey, Pete” my Aunt Christina would say, “remember the time you had Violet thinking Bull Dog cut your tie?” and on it would go, laughter begetting  more laughter, we kids begging for more.

The story took place in our house on Congress Street on the west side of Chicago. My dad, Pete, was cutting a loaf of bread in our large kitchen. My grandmother was stirring a pot of something on the stove. My mom was setting the table and my aunt was tending to some other mealtime chore.

We all lived in the same house, though this story came before we children did. No matter. I can still see the table, the stove, the “fridgidaire”, the pantry and the familiar faces around the table. I can imagine my dad, just home from work, slicing the bread.

Bull Dog was nowhere to be seen.

All the guys in the neighborhood had a nickname. My dad was Spud (as were his brothers before him and a nickname that managed to follow me as well). There was Blindy, whose name I believe came from his love of the drink, and Bull Dog, who was really a very handsome fellow. Ralphie was, well, Ralphie, and Romeo was really Vincent. I would have loved to have heard how he got his nickname. These are just a few of the characters who met on the corner like clockwork. They were the men who went off to war, some coming home, to marry and have children. They were like a secret club to me . They all came to my father’s funeral, some carrying his casket, all telling stories of their times on the corner. I will never forget one fellow, who I had never seen before, shake my hand, offer his condolences, and say “she looks just like Petey”. Little gifts at large moments.

As the tie story goes, my dad was slicing the bread, telling some story or other, perhaps talking baseball, not paying attention, when he suddenly cut through his tie, which he was still wearing. Aunt Christina saw him do it, as did Uncles George, John and Joe, and probably my grandmother as well. Daddy kept cutting, his expression never changing, as my mother looked up and saw the tie dangling there, almost in half, a mangled cloth, swiped like a slice of bologna about to be put on a piece of bread.  A tie sandwich! Hold the mayo!

Oh, the laughter and merriment that a simple slice of tie can bring.

I don’t think my mother ever bought my dad another tie, though.

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