My Dad’s Holiday Baking Challenge (2013)

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Being raised on a small farm and raising our own food, it should be obvious that most of our meals were homemade. My cooking memories go back as early as the age of three. I remember standing in a chair next to the kitchen counter helping my mom make meatloaf. I always thought it was so fun mixing the hamburger, egg, cracker crumbs, and spices with my little hands. It was like making for-real mud pies.

Growing up surrounded by good cooks puts a lot of pressure on a young girl from the south. It’s just expected that I would be a good cook, too. Fortunately, that worked out well for me. I love to cook and entertain. I’ve taken several family recipes and changed them here and there to meet my family’s tastes. We didn’t have a lot of different types of spices growing up. It was your basic black pepper, salt, oregano, some kind of season salt, and your basic fall spices – cinnamon and nutmeg. (Side Note: Now that I’m thinking about it, we never grew fresh herbs; and I have no idea why. They would have grown so easily with all of the other things we planted in our huge garden. I must remember to ask my mom why we never planted herbs.)

Now, when I cook, I incorporate cumin, coriander, smoked paprika, chipotle chili powder, and several others. It’s fun for me to present a family dish to my mom and dad and for them to rave about it like they’ve never eaten it before.

Even though I can cook, I have never really been a baker. My dad’s mom always made a pineapple pie on different occasions, and I was blessed enough to have been entrusted with that recipe before she died in 2009. It’s one of my dad’s favorite pies, and he requests it every year during the holidays. Therefore, it’s really the only thing I’ve ever “baked” other than something in a box by Betty Crocker or Duncan Hines.

However, for the past few years, I’ve been asking Santa (whoever accepted the role) for a stand mixer. I aspired to baked breads, cookies, and any other sweet concoction I could come up with. My husband never took the hint, but my dad overheard a conversation with my mom about my wanting a mixer. The next thing I knew, my dad was Santa.

So I received a new, shiny, white Kitchen Aide stand mixer for Christmas. However, he gave it to me the week before Thanksgiving – along with a list of baked goods he was requesting for our holiday dinner. Nope, he’s not a subtle man at all!

I gladly accepted the gift and his baking challenge. He requested pumpkin bread, some kind of cookie, and something with persimmons. (We have some good friends who have tame persimmon trees in their yard. and they gave us almost 20 pounds of tame persimmons. Please check back later for a post about the fruit that grew on our family farm so you will understand how much 20 pounds of persimmons is worth.)

I started scouring the Internet for recipes that matched his criteria. I knew I already had canned pumpkin, persimmons, prunes, pecans, walnuts, and dried cranberries. Therefore, those items were the focus of my searches. My collection of baked goods concluded with two loaves of pumpkin bread, oatmeal cranberry cookies, pecan prune cookies, and persimmon muffins. (It’s really amazing what one can find on the Internet these days. I actually found a recipe online for persimmon muffins, and they were fabulous!)

I have to admit that I was nervous walking into my family’s Thanksgiving dinner with all of my from-scratch baked goodies. My dad has never been rudely critical when it comes to food, but he always has an opinion. When he doesn’t really enjoy the food he’s eating, he will say, “It’s fair.” My mom and I have always dreaded the word “fair” from my dad. Fair meant he would still eat it, but he would choose other things if he had options. On this day, I wanted anything from him but fair.

As soon as we came into my parents’ home, he met us in the kitchen. “So, what did you make me?” (I told you – never subtle.) I showed him everything I made, but all of the items were packaged for transport to my cousin’s house where the dinner would be held. My dad eyed everything and asked, “Is any of it any good?” Most people would be offended after all of the hard work that had gone into baking, but I wasn’t. It was just my dad being a kidder – something he had mastered over the years. He and I have such an interesting relationship. He became my dad when I was ten years old; but during my adult years, I’ve come to recognize him as a dad and a friend.

We were still unpacking food in my cousin’s kitchen when my dad started opening my containers. He wasn’t even going to wait until it was time for dessert, which thrilled my soul. As he opened each one, he asked for a description of all ingredients – like he was some baking challenge judge on the Food Network. (It really made me laugh.) I explained every recipe in detail, and he immediately started sampling the cookies. His favorite were the pecan prune, but he liked both. I think he probably ate three or four cookies before dinner, so he wanted to wait until after dinner to try the pumpkin bread and persimmon muffins.

The muffins and bread were a huge hit with my dad and others in my very small family. I gave my dad two loaves of pumpkin bread. I suggested that he take one to work if he didn’t think he could eat them both. I’m not sure if he did. Mom just told me that both were gone when I asked about them a week later. She said he ate the muffins and cookies I gave him, too. My dad’s least favorite were my oatmeal cranberry cookies, which turned out to be my mom’s favorite. I guess they are well-matched after 33 years of marriage.

So I think I won the challenge – even though I was the only participant. Father’s day is around the corner, and he’s already been dropping his not-so-subtle hints. He hasn’t given me a list yet, but I’m ready when he does. It’s in June, so I’m confident summer fruit will somehow be involved. With Google and my mixer, I’m ready for anything he can throw at me. Bring it on, dad!

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