Snacks are supposed to be a snap. But this one was a quirky family tradition.
Jan 3, 2011
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!
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.
I nodded. “I was remembering the traditions I grew up with,” I said. “Do you think our kids’ main Christmas memory is of the mom who wasn’t there because she had another gig?”
“Of course not,” Gary said. “Besides, they know concerts are part of your job.”
“I want them to have something they can pass along to their children,” I said.
I brought Mom’s recipe to the grocery store the next weekend, more as a guide than for exact measurements. Who knew what “half a small box of Kix” amounted to these days? I could see the boxes of cereal lined up on her kitchen counter but I couldn’t picture how much went into the mix. I filled my cart with the ingredients Mom had typed out.
Back home, I lined up all the boxes on my kitchen counter and got out my biggest roasting pan. I called to my 11-year-old daughter, Lauren, “Want to help me make something we had for Christmas when I was your age?”
We experimented. Our hands got sticky with melted butter. Spices stained our aprons. We stuck a batch in the oven, and each time we opened it to baste the clutter, the kitchen grew toastier.
I told Lauren our family history of clutter, and we gabbed and laughed just as I had with Mom and Grandma. Four hours went by like it was nothing. Finally we pulled the pan from the oven. The clutter was the right golden brown.
“Now for the moment of truth,”
Lauren said, grinning. We each scooped up a handful and had a taste. “Is it as good as you remember?” she asked.
“Better,” I said. “Because I got to share it with you.”
That was the just first batch we made that year (the kids didn’t mind “babysitting” a batch if I had to dash to a gig). Everyone got clutter for Christmas: the kids’ teachers, my coworkers, my handbell choir at church. And our family got a renewed tradition we’ve been known for ever since.
Make the Clutter Snack Mix!