So the holidays are upon us. Always a busy time of the year. I won’t say especially for me but I have a lot of family to shop for and cook for plus my writing and stuff for Georgia Romance Writers and getting ready for a whole new year.
Thanksgiving is a particularly emotional time for me. You see, a couple of years ago, she died very unexpectedly on November 16, 2010. One week before Thanksgiving of that year. The thing is, what made it even harder, was that Thanksgiving was her favorite holiday.
Every year, our family would rent a Church hall and all of Nana’s brothers and sisters and all their kids and grandkids would come and we’d have this huge Thanksgiving potluck. All together. We’d have like three hams, five turkeys and more deviled eggs then you’ve ever seen under one roof.
My brother-in-law often jokes that he loves our Thanksgiving because he feels all these old Southern women are having a deviled egg competition, seeing which of us can make them better. He very much enjoys going around and sampling them all.
When she died, I felt cold. I was very close to my Nana, she was the very last grandparent I had. I didn’t want to go to Thanksgiving dinner that year, knowing her brother would mention her death, knowing I’d look on that table and see none of her dishes. It was going to be too hard and the very thought made it so I couldn’t breath.
It was my sister who told me I had to go. This was Nana’s favorite holiday and she’d be so disappointed in me if I stayed home.
Nana’s recipe box went to me when she died. No one argued, I don’t think it occurred to them to. She taught me how to cook. In everyone’s mind, the recipe box was mine.
I dug through that box of yellowed, handwritten index cards and I pulled out every single one that she cooked to take to Thanksgiving dinner. I called my sister and I told her “I need you to come over Wednesday. I need you to help me make Thanksgiving dinner. I can’t do this by myself.”
Now my sister did not grow up cooking like I did. Its a fairly recent development but she does a good job. While the idea of cooking Thanksgiving dinner terrified her, she did make the 40 minute drive down to do just that.
We made all of Nana’s recipes right there in Nana’s kitchen. My sister brought her girls and I taught them how to crack eggs in a bowl just like Nana had taught me. That helped some. Passing on the knowledge Nana gave me to the next generation, knowing that one day I’d teach my kids and my grandkids as she taught me.
I won’t say it wasn’t a completely stress-free event. There were tears and yelling (honestly, can a bunch of women try and cook Thanksgiving dinner and not yell? Come on now, you know better).
When we carried Nana’s casseroles into that church hall on Thanksgiving day, it was a hard. But surrounded by family on Nana’s favorite holiday, breathing became a little easier. I can’t tell you how many cousins came by to say they never thought they’d see her Broccoli-Cheese Casserole again.
Holidays are important. We not only celebrate that holiday but the memories it has created within us over the years and we remember the people who are no longer here.
So in honor of Nana, I’d like to give you the recipes she cooked every single Thanksgiving. I hope you’ll let them grace your table. While I do not promise that they’ll be good for you, they’re definitely delicious and a tradition in my family. It would not be Thanksgiving without them
I will also share with you two of her most famous deserts and some stories behind them. I hope you’ll enjoy. And please, come back and leave comments if you try even one of these recipes. Let me know what you think, how your family liked them. Thanksgiving is still hard to face without her but I do so with her recipe box in hand. And so it would mean the world to me if you share your experiences with her recipes as well.
1 large box frozen broccoli
1 bag Boil-in-Bag rice (either brown or white)
1 large jar Cheese Whiz
1 can Cream of Chicken Soup
1 can Cream of Mushroom soup -or- Broccoli Cheese Soup
Preheat oven at 350 degrees. In a large pot, bring water with a dash of salt to boil. Add broccoli and cook according to package directions. While broccoli is boiling, mix all other ingredients except rice in a large bowl. Pour drained broccoli into mixture reserving broccoli liquid to cook rice. Bring liquid to a boil and add rice. Boil rice for fifteen minutes. Add rice to mixture. (That hot broccoli and rice will melt the Cheese Whiz). Pour into greased casserole dish and bake for 30-45 minutes until firm. Enjoy!
Sweet Potato Casserole
2 eggs, well-beaten
1 cup sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 cups cooked, mashed sweet potatoes
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup milk
1 cup coconut
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup self-rising flour
1 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup coconut
Preheat oven at 350 degrees. Mix all ingredients for casserole well. Nana mixed hers with a mixer. Pour into a large baking dish sprayed with cooking spray (easier to clean). Mix together the ingredients for topping before spooning it over the sweet potatoes and spreading evenly. Bake for 30-35 minutes.
We also made Dressing, of course, but that has no recipe. We just sort of throw things together. But those are two things we always make for Thanksgiving. We even leave a small portion of the Sweet Potato Casserole without topping because my Uncle Steven doesn’t like nuts.
Now, for those dessert recipes I promised you.
Cold Oven Pound Cake
This was probably one of Nana’s favorite recipes. She always had the ingredients to make one of her ‘cold oven’ pound cakes on hand. She would often add different flavors to the cake such as chocolate chips, coconut and other things. The recipe has been used so often that the card is distorted by drops and splashes of this and that, causing the ink to smear though one can still read it.
One of my favorite stories is one that she and mom told me often. I was two years old and it was Christmas Eve. I got to open one gift on Christmas Eve and mom tells me I had opened up some dolls and was playing with them. As I played, Papa, who was not a very ceremonial man, got up out of his recliner and said “So we’re giving gifts? Alright.”
Papa then proceeded to go downstairs to his office in the basement and bring back out a large box in a K-Mart bag – the box wasn’t even wrapped – and sat it in front of Nana. I looked up from my dolls and said, “Oh Nana, you got a mixer! Let’s go bake a cake.” I dropped my dolls and toddled off into the kitchen, Nana at my heels and we did, indeed, bake that impromptu cake with her new Sunbeam mixer. Her Cold Oven Pound Cake.
3 cups sugar
1 cup Crisco
3 cups plus 2 tablespoons Self-Rising Flour
6 large eggs
1/2 pint (1 cup) whipped cream
1 tsp Pure Vanilla Extract
Sift flour 3 times. Mix sugar and Crisco together. Mix eggs one at a time into mixture. Alternate flour and whipped cream. Add vanilla. Cook at 300 degrees for 1 hour and 20 minutes in tube pan. Do not preheat oven.
Old Fashion Banana Pudding
This Banana pudding recipe is very special to Nana. It was taught to her by her sister, Coriene. Aunt Riene told me the day of Nana’s funeral that when Nana was younger, whenever Aunt Riene would come to visit, Nana would go out and buy all the things Aunt Riene would need to make this pudding until one day Aunt Riene said “Paula, I’m going to teach you how to make this so that you don’t have to wait for me every time you want it.”
Aunt Riene laughed and told me that Nana’s reply was “Oh no! I can’t separate eggs.” But Aunt Riene was true to her word. She sat there in the kitchen and just instructed Nana on how to make this banana pudding. In the end, Nana told Aunt Riene that “If you ever have kids, you’ll have them cooking by the time they’re two!” Well, Aunt Riene wasn’t the only one, Nana. I was two when we were cooking those Cold Oven Pound Cakes.
3/4 cup sugar
2 tbsps flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups milk
3 egg yolks
2 tsp Pure Vanilla Extract
6 very ripe bananas, sliced
Mix together all ingredients but vanilla wafers. Cook on stove top until pudding thickens. About 5 minutes. Take vanilla wafers and line the bottom and sides of baking dish. Pour in pudding mixture. Float more wafers in pudding if desired. Top with meringue.
Preheat oven at 425 and bake about 5 minutes.
(Please Note that while Nana wrote 5 minutes, it took more like 10 to 15 minutes in each place. So you just need to watch it.)
Meringue for Banana Pudding
3 egg whites
1/4 cup sugar
Beat egg whites until stiff but not dry. Add ¼ cup sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Bake at 425 degrees about 5 minutes.
In Loving Memory of
Paula Ray Cox
August 13, 1944 – November 16, 2010
Paula Cox was a loving wife, mother and grandmother. She was married to William Toby “Papa” Cox (May 17, 1937 – January 13, 2000), whom she reunited with again November 16, 2010. This post and these recipes are dedicated to her loving memory. For she may be gone from our sights but she will always be there in our hearts.