This week’s question from 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks asks which ancestor you would most want to invite to dinner. Do you have a story of a memorable dinner with an ancestor? Is there a special recipe that’s been handed down?
I have as many invitations as I have ancestors and I’d love to invite them to dinner because they all have stories I haven’t heard. They could explain why they moved when they did, who influenced their choices, what were their hopes and dreams, and what would they like me to know about them.
For example, Jehu Baker arrived in KY in 1793 but I don’t know where he came from. My uncle took a DNA test and discovered he had a perfect 64 match with 13 other men. They had all traced their families back to the original Baker, Maurice, arriving in the colonies (in Maryland) in 1634. So now I’m tracing all the sons of the immigrant to following their trails through Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina and see who had a son born about 1770 who disappeared from the local records.
Another person I’d like to invite is my great-grandmother, Cordelia Frances Johnson Mills. I know very little about her, but she radiated love on her family and influenced her daughter, Martha Harriet Mills Baker, my grandmother, to be gregariously loving and kind. Cordelia must have shown her children how to walk close to Jesus and be generous with everyone. The same attitude toward life came through to my mother, Jewell Jane Baker Thornton, whose training as a nurse provided an avenue to help others and also share Christ softly and gently.
How I would enjoy sitting down to dinner with Christopher Newport, my ancestor who captained the ship that brought the first settlers to Jamestown in 1607. What stories he could share! I’d like to know what character traits helped him master becoming a ship’s captain and travel the seas where most of the knowledge about such travel remained unknown or inaccurate. When he received land in Virginia for transporting people to the New World, did he plan to bring his family there and settle down? There’s so much I don’t know about this man but I’m proud of his role in striking out to bring people to a new life in a fresh, new land.
Growing up, we didn’t live close to either side of my family, so we made long trips every other year to visit my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. On the Sunday of our time visiting with each side of the family, everyone would gather at my respective grandparents’ homes and enjoy a huge potluck dinner. Wonderful flavors of favorite foods overflowed the table and everyone ate too much. I was unable to eat with the adults so I missed much of their conversations. All children were sent outside to eat and play. Since I didn’t know my cousins, I frequently took a book outside and read. When I was older, the cousins closest to my age spent more time with me and showed me around the area. But again, I didn’t spend a lot of time with the older generation, so I missed some potentially fascinating stories of family.
I did eventually receive recipes from my mother’s family and friends because my mother collected recipes everywhere she went. I have a whole bookcase of cookbooks and multiple boxes of hand-written recipes from my mom’s friends and neighbors and both sides of her family. In an attempt to organize these recipes, I created a cookbook. I wrote an introduction sharing family relationships and a bit of history of my mom’s life since this would be her gift to her granddaughter and grandson and their spouses for Christmas. By this time in my mother’s life, she was crippled with arthritis and suffered from Parkinson’s and lived in an assisted living, so it was my honor to create a treasure she could pass along to the family. One of the recipes from the cookbook is:
CINNAMON SOUR CREAM COFFEE CAKE
Katie O’Neil, Millie Winter’s sister, Grandma Jewell’s friend from Tucson, AZ
¾ C. chopped walnuts
1 t. cinnamon
3 T. sugar
Mix together and set aside.
2 cubes butter
1 ¼ C. sugar
2 eggs (3 in high altitude)
1 C. thick sour cream
2 C. flour
½ t. soda
1 ½ t. baking powder
1 t. vanilla
Combine butter, sugar, and eggs in a large mixing bowl. Beat with electric mixer until mixture is light and fluffy.
Blend in sour cream.
Sift flour, soda, and baking powder into the creamed mixture. Add vanilla and blend well.
Spoon half of the batter into a 9” tube pan, which is greased and floured.
The batter will be thick.
Sprinkle half of the nut mixture on top of the batter.
Spoon remaining batter into the pan.
Top with nut mixture.
Place in cold oven. Set oven to moderate 350 degree oven and bake 45-55 minutes after it comes up to temperature.
When done, cut pieces in the pan.
Farm photo: Baker family farm in KY and photo taken by my cousin, Roy Lee Baker and used with his permission
Cordelia Frances Johnson Mills only known photo provided to author by her mother, Jewell Jane Baker Thornton