My Recipe for Family This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

May 14, 2012
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“You used whole-wheat flour in the cookie dough?” My grandmother's query sounded innocent, but we all knew the real question was: “You used whole-wheat flour in the cookie dough??!!”

Alas, my aunt had indeed used whole-wheat flour in the sugar cookie dough, a diversion from the recipe that surely would alter the perfect taste achieved from many years of baking. Her explanation: she ran out of regular flour.

For a moment, the air stood still as every person in my family contemplated the possible disaster that lay ahead. Then the silence was broken by a playful voice saying, “Are you trying to make our cookies healthy?” We carried on with our traditional Christmas cookie baking extravaganza, just like every year, but this time the cookies were a little browner than usual.

In my family, great food and fellowship are at the heart of our gatherings. I attribute this to our deep Pennsylvania German history. My mother's family came to Pennsylvania from Germany many generations ago. Although separated by time, I feel a connection to my ancestors because of the traditions they passed on to their children and grandchildren. These traditions live on in my family today, including the importance of good food, family, and God. These three ideas are intertwined, as one can often find my family eating good food with family at church.

My Lutheran faith has always been a pillar in my life, and I thank my family for that. As a child, I never understood why my mother insisted that we attend church every Sunday; I now know that church is more than just a building. It is a community filled with love, fellowship, and friendship.

My namesake, Catherine Seitz, is buried in my church's cemetery, a reminder that my heritage is never far. Along with my Lutheran upbringing, my family has taught me to be a kind and loving person, and to be grateful for all I have, which I will pass on to my own children some day, and then to my grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

I am very proud of my Pennsylvania German background, and I strive to further my knowledge of my past by studying the German culture and way of life. I have studied German in school for four years. As my knowledge builds, I notice more and more parallels to my own upbringing. I finally learned what my mother meant when she told me to “stop being so rutchie.” (Apparently, this creative adjective stems from the Pennsylvania Dutch verb rutchen, or to fidget.) I was raised with this word, so I was confused when none of my friends understood what it meant. Other common cultural items in my house include shoo fly pie, soft pretzels, and whoopie pies.

Food is such an integral part of my family's life that it is not uncommon to find my mother hunched over stacks of cooking magazines and cookbooks selecting next week's meals. The women in my family have an incredible culinary talent, and I like to think I inherited this skill. I often help my mother in the kitchen, and I enjoy baking in my free time. The truth is, my family loves to eat. Every family get-together is a “feast,” as my father says each time we sit around the dinner table. It is inevitable that I leave my grandmother's house with an extra five pounds after a hefty dinner followed by an abundance of desserts. But the guilt of overeating is always worth the utter deliciousness of wholesome food.

My Pennsylvania German heritage is such a large part of who I am that I do not know who I would be without it. Regardless of where I travel, my real home will always be Harleysville, Pennsylvania, where my mother grew up, along with her mother and all of their mothers before them. My church will always be Christ Lutheran Church in Kulpsville, and my favorite food will always be homemade chicken pie. These are things that have shaped who I am, and I am eternally grateful to my Pennsylvania German heritage for that.

Someday, my mother will hand me the battered index card that contains the treasured sugar cookie recipe that has been followed (mostly) faithfully for so many years, and I will continue our Christmas tradition. I'll even remember to use regular flour.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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