My Grandma Letha was a special woman that I did not get to know well until she was in her 70’s. She was my grandfather’s 3rd wife. My grandfather had been widowed twice before. Letha had previously been married to my grandfather’s brother, and I met her a couple of times as a young child. She lived very far away, though, so even though at that point she was my great aunt, I didn’t really know her at all.
That all changed when after several years of being alone after the deaths of their loved ones, love blossomed for Letha and my grandfather and they decided to marry. At that point they moved to the town where my parents lived and also where I lived, newly married with a young child. I had the wonderful opportunity to get to know Letha at that time. I have many wonderful memories of her. She was an oil painter and I loved looking at her paintings and hearing her talk about them. She was wonderful about sharing recipes with me when my husband or I would comment that we liked them, written on recipe cards in her neat handwriting. She also always had treats for my young son. She kept a glass pig up on top of a cabinet filled with small candies that my son liked, that he came to call “pig candy.”
Soon after their move to our town, my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer. I helped with some of the care that he needed, and we all grew closer to Letha during those very regular visits to their home. Her marriage to my grandfather was to be a short one as the cancer took him too soon. We continued our regular visits with Letha until she decided to move to her daughter’s town in a far away state. I only saw her one time after that, at a family reunion. At that time, her memory was beginning to fail and she no longer remembered me.
I heard the news that she died yesterday. I am so glad for the time I had to get to know the beautiful woman that she was, and to have some wonderful memories of her. My son was just two at the time she moved away, but I asked him today (he’s now 17) and he still remembers pig candy:).
I pulled out one of her handwritten recipe cards today.
Just looking at her handwriting brings back many memories for me of those short years that I now treasure. I’m rejoicing today that her mind and her body are whole once again and she is now reunited with those she loved that died before her.
I decided to make one of her recipes today in her honor, the one pictured in the card above. Here are the ingredients and method exactly as she wrote them:
In large bowl dissolve 1 pkg yeast and ½ cup sugar in 1 cup water.
3 T. melted oleo
1 t. salt
½ cup dry milk
1 cup pumpkin
1-1/2 t. cinnamon
¾ t. cloves
¾ t. nutmeg
¾ t. ginger
Beat well to blend, then add 4 cups flour to make a stiff dough. Knead until smooth (15-20 minutes) adding flour as needed. Cover and let rise until doubled, 1-1/2 to 2 hours). Punch down and knead briefly to release air. Divide dough into 32 equal pieces. Shape each into smooth balls. Place balls in greased baking pans. Cover and let rise until almost doubled ( about 1 hour). Bake in 375 degree oven for 25 minutes or until browned.
Here is my variation:
Replace oleo with butter. Melt in a small pan. Add 1 cup milk to pan and heat just until lukewarm (takes less than a minute). Pour into mixer bowl (I have a heavy duty Kitchenaid). Sprinkle on yeast. Add sugar, 2 cups flour, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger and pumpkin (dry milk is omitted). Mix until smooth and then add remaining 2 cups flour. (For two cups of the flour, I used fresh ground soft white whole wheat- basically whole wheat pastry flour.) Add a bit more flour as needed to make a smooth, not sticky dough. I needed to add an additional half cup of flour, but this varies depending upon humidity and other mysterious kitchen forces :).
Let rise as directed. Form all of it into rolls, or as I did today, divide dough in half. Roll out half into a rectangle for cinnamon rolls. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle on brown sugar and cinnamon (sorry- no amounts- I just do what looks right to me). Roll up and cut into slices. Form other half into 16 rolls as in original recipe. Allow all rolls to rise and bake as in original recipe. Cinnamon rolls can be frosted with a mixture of powdered sugar and a bit of milk that is drizzled on while still hot. And a note- the clove taste is pretty strong, so reduce it if you are not a big fan of cloves.
We will be eating these tonight in honor and memory of my Grandma Letha.