Back when I was five or six years old, I started helping my mother in the kitchen each Christmas season as she set about making her “famous” cranberry bread. She made loaves and loaves – and almost everyone we knew received a one. I mean, the milkman, the mailman, our teachers at school, the butcher at the meat counter at Belmont Grocery and almost anyone else who knew my parents received this most coveted of Christmas gifts.
Mom was a fantastic cook. She attended cooking school for years and for her day, had just about every imaginable gadget for her kitchen. Of course, she is the one who taught me to cook at such a young age and I have to admit that it was easier for two of us to make the huge number of loaves of cranberry bread that came out of her kitchen each Christmas season.
To be honest about it, there were years that I was tired of it. In fact, I couldn’t stand cranberries and I begged Mom for years to make a loaf or two without that dreaded fruit, but to no avail. Never, and I mean never, would she compromise the recipe and leave out her beloved cranberries. At times, I would be tired from so much cooking but Mom derived such joy each year that I just had to help out.
Each loaf was made with love and carefully wrapped in aluminum foil – then tied with that thin, ribbed, curly ribbon that we have all seen on packages for years. Our freezer and fridge would be filled to overflowing. Making that bread was one of those things that I could do in my sleep. It just never occurred to me that some day Mom would be gone and I would yearn for those days when I was just learning my way around a kitchen.
In her later years, Mom wasn’t well enough to cook and as I look back on that time, I wish that I had stepped up and taken the lead in making the bread for her. I did make the bread for several years when we were first married, but our kids weren’t any more fond of cranberries than I was and so the recipe and ritual became a thing of the past – remembered but not continued.
Then, when we moved into our current home, I got the bug to find that long lost recipe and try it again. The first time several years ago, I was transported back to those days some 60 years ago when I was barely tall enough to reach the sink and sort cranberries. Oddly, though, the aroma filled our home and when I served the bread to our kids, they LOVED it – and so did the neighbors who each received a loaf.
It was almost a Christmas miracle – suddenly, Mom’s recipe was being shared with new generations and her legacy lived on through our kitchen. Several times since, I have taken up the call to bake. I missed last year, but this year I actually had requests to make the treasured recipe – shades of Christmas past!
So… today, our son, Andrew, and I spent the morning making loaves of bread. It was his first time helping and it was a surreal experience for me. He learned about sorting cranberries, how to specifically measure ingredients the way Mom learned to at cooking school – and all the other little nuances that went into making one of her signature recipe. I even have her original Kitchen Aid mixer that I became familiar with as a boy – you know, those big ones that the pros use – and it still works great. Now, mind you, there were other holiday recipes as well – chicken oriental, cherries jubilee and many other unforgettable dishes that came out of Mom’s kitchen. But it was the aroma of cranberry bread that wafted through our home from Thanksgiving until the new year.
So, today was a real gift – both the bread and the time I spent with Andrew sharing an experience so dear to me. In fact, the sense of smell evokes our strongest memories. And the Bible is full of examples where the people of God made sacrifices and burned incense to cause an aroma pleasing to God. Incense is still used in certain denominational services and is thought to carry the prayers of the saints to God Himself. We see these references in the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments.
Our verse for tonight is an example from Leviticus of what the Israelites were supposed to do in one of their offerings. Moses, the author of this book, tells us in Leviticus 6:15, “The priest is to take a handful of fine flour and oil, together with all the incense on the grain offering, and burn the memorial portion on the altar as an aroma pleasing to the LORD.” That’s right – the aroma was pleasing to the Lord.
So, in addition to memories, the smells we experience can be pleasing to others as well. It draws us in, takes us back in time, evokes thoughts of days long past – and this is especially true during the Christmas season. My encouragement this evening is that the gift of smell is a precious gift that God Himself has shared with us. My prayer is that this holiday season you will be transported back in time to a distant past where the sights, sounds and even smells of Christmas will come alive for you once again this year. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…