Autumn paints our world in golds, oranges, deep reds, and browns. These shades are seen in corn tassels, ripe tomatoes, pumpkins, peaches, and apples. The sounds of crickets and crispy leaves crunching under foot add to the sensory palette.  “It feels like fall,” someone might say. Once again, a sweater is comfortable.

My parents, farm kids from Kansas, were transplanted to Alaska. Their colors were cranberries, blueberries, red and green striped rhubarb stalks, red salmon thrashing their way upstream to lay eggs, and yellow aspen leaves.

Regardless of the geography or region, or the fare that has ripened or the flora that has matured, autumn is a time of harvest and a time of gathering. If we are fortunate, we gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing around tables of abundance; a table shared with family and friends.  For people who have moved from such a hub of family, friends, and traditions, gatherings are different.

My parents felt this absence acutely. They spoke of Thanksgivings past spent with relatives. They reflected, but they didn’t complain. Instead, they cultivated friends and gathered in a church basement to share food traditions. Their new Swedish friends brought Scandinavian bread pudding and Swedish meatballs. Longer term Alaskans brought a moose roast, cranberry nutbread, or rhubarb pie. My mother brought pluma moss, an unwritten recipe carried by the Russian Mennonites from their migration through Poland, and which they made for nearly every celebration.

In Kansas, stirring together this recipe had been easy. Cows in the barn produced creamy milk, the base of the fruity soup.  In Alaska, powdered or canned milk didn’t yield the same consistency. All the same, pluma moss nourished the memories of back home, just as it probably had for immigrants from Poland, to the Ukraine, to the New World. Gathering together could still be richly satisfying away from their first homes.

Pluma Moss

By Ruby Leppke Gaede

 5 C. water                               1 C. pitted prunes

1 C. raisins                              1 C. dried peaches and/or apricots, quartered

1 ts. cinnamon                         1/3 to ½ C. sugar

¼ C. flour                                ¾ C. evaporated milk (early Alaska version)

or whipped cream or half-and-half

Simmer fruits and cinnamon in water until tender, about a half hour. Beat together sugar, flour, and milk.  Add slowly to fruit and water. Stir until thickened. Good served with sausage or cold meats, and fried potatoes. Serve hot or cold.

What are your holiday family food traditions? Where did they come from?

Have you considered keeping a Family Recipe History Book? Here are some ideas:

  • write down the recipe
  • note when you first started using it
  • include anecdotes or descriptions about the person you got it from
  • describe the occasion when it is most often used
  • tell about the people who sit around the table and enjoy it with you
  • mention any changes that have been made to the recipe due to personal preferences and/or lack of original ingredients
  • leave space to record new memories made with its use

(First published in the 2012 Oct/Nov issue of “The Country Register  – Kansas”)