Nana was the world's most exemplary teetotaler, but that doesn't mean there wasn't booze in the house--a bottle of bourbon lasted from year to year to add to the bourbon balls which were delivered--along with spiced nuts, sugar cookies, thumbprints and gingerbread ornaments--each Christmas.
That picture of grandmother is probably the most cliche'ed, but in this case a valid one. Christmas baking with Nana was an annual event--she always praised the children for not snitching any cookie dough, which, of course, they did when she turned to take cookies from the oven.
That was her job, along with rolling the dough thin enough for ornaments. The children snickered and gave each other knowing glances when she referred to cookies as "cakes," and they spent their afternoons cutting reindeer and Santa Clauses from the gingerbread dough, punctuating all with red hots and silver balls.
Never does anyone remember her using a recipe--for pie crusts or "cakes"--yet her ancient copy of "The Joy of Cooking" seemed as well worn as any other. Years later, in an attempt to duplicate her popular German potato salad, her granddaughter was obliged to look over her shoulder, to judge for herself the proportions of sugar and vinegar used in the sweet-and-sour sauce. The secret, said Nana, was to layer warm potatoes with sprinklings of salt in between, to pour over a mixture of bacon grease, vinegar, sugar and pepper and to toss it all with a little crisp, crumbled bacon and some celery seed, and to leave the salad unchilled.
Later, when Nana was gone and her granddaughter gained a wisdom of some years, the real secret became clear: No written recipe, no imitation of the dish, could duplicate the effort into which she poured all of her grandmotherly love.