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Mom's Clutter (and Comfort) Recipe

Snack recipes are supposed to be a snap. But this one was a quirky family tradition.

By Marva Rasmussen, Cincinnati, Ohio

As appeared in

Teachers’ days are jam-packed, and in December my schedule got even crazier than usual because I’m a music teacher. There were extra practices and lessons to gear up for our middle school’s holiday concerts, plus rehearsals and performances with the handbell choir at church.

Everything I did at home that month was all about efficiency. One Sunday evening I was thumbing through my old recipe box for a dish that would feed my husband, Gary, and our three kids for a few nights when I came across an index card, yellowed and stained, ingredients typed on a typewriter with a familiar dark ribbon. Mom’s clutter recipe!

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I pulled out the card, my original purpose forgotten. My mind drifted back to my childhood. I could see Mom at her oven with Grandma, baking a batch of their signature holiday snack. Clutter was a party mix they made only at Christmastime, and it had something for everyone—sweet cereal, salty pretzels, crunchy nuts, tangy spices.

It was more than the world’s tastiest party mix. Clutter meant family. Grandma lived in Idaho, far from our Kansas City home, and we only saw her once a year. She’d fly in right after Thanksgiving and stay until New Year’s. Every afternoon I’d race home off the school bus to see what she’d been up to. The house was filled with heavenly just-baked smells. Chocolate chip cookies, orange rolls, yeast bread…and, of course, clutter.

Grandma made huge batches using our big enamel roasting pan. She basted the mix every 15 minutes for four hours until it was just the right shade of golden brown. Mom and I helped. I loved gabbing and laughing with them as much as I loved devouring the clutter with my friends. My teachers got bags of it for Christmas. The five of us—Grandma, Mom, Dad, my brother and I—would sit around the kitchen table playing Rack-O, Scrabble and Rook and munching on clutter. It was a tradition.

A tradition that had died with my mother and grandmother. Mom died young, of breast cancer, when I was a newlywed. Grandma passed away a few years after that. Work brought Gary and me to Cincinnati, 600 miles away from my remaining relatives and childhood friends, anyone who might have shared my memories of clutter.

What holiday memories have I given my kids? I wondered.

Just then Gary wandered into the kitchen. “What do you have there?” he asked, glancing at the worn card. “An old Christmas recipe of Mom’s,” I said.

“You still miss her, don’t you,” Gary said gently.