Ancestry in a cookie

A couple of weekends ago, 70 of my relatives traveled from across the US to gather in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains for our Jorgensen family reunion. We’ve been doing this every other year since 1965 and honestly it’s a blast! We do the same things every reunion: go-carting Friday night crashing into relatives we haven’t seen since last time; hiking among the boulders and wildflowers, even the little kids; Saturday night talent show, followed by singing until midnight. This year we ranged in age from my 10-month-old granddaughter to celebrating Aunt Jeanette’s 100th birthday. We have an ancestry.com site, a Jorgensen website, books of family stories, a songbook, and a family crest that we all designed one year with butcher paper and crayons. And we have a cookie.

Peppernuts are rock-hard, grape-size cookies, the recipe passed down from our relatives who left Denmark generations ago, through great-grandma’s kitchen, to our own. Most of us make them, especially at Christmastime when they’re devoured by the handful. This year, my cousin Margaret and I held a taste-off to compare our versions. Aunts and cousins who buzzed around concluded that the flavor was the same – with cardamom, cloves, citron, and more – although the texture was a bit different. Both delicious and full of memories.

Those peppernuts are edible ancestry. My mom’s mom was the eldest of 11 children who grew up in Nebraska, offspring of immigrants yearning for a better life on the American prairie than their impoverished Danish seacoast. We’ve retold stories about their struggles and successes, and although we may not know exactly how we’re related to each other, we know we belong.

At an earlier reunion, Aunt Cynthia gave me a hard copy of a New York Times article by Bruce Feiler who wrote, “The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative.” He had interviewed researchers who found that children with the most self-confidence and stablest emotional well-being also had a strong “intergenerational self.” They could recall happy family moments as well stories about how family members overcame hardships.

At our reunions we share not just our ancestors’ struggles but also the challenges we’ve faced since we were last together, feeling support from the broad branches of our family tree. We laugh and have fun. As we eat our peppernuts.

10 thoughts on “Ancestry in a cookie

  1. OH how this post makes me miss you! You have such a gift of drawing us into your stories. Thanks for sharing. Hope to see you soon!

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    1. Hi Linda, I hope you’re having a wonderful summer with those grandbabies – and telling them stories about your own family.
      Martha

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  2. Martha,The way you talk about the pepper nuts and link the cookies to a child’s self-esteem tickles me pink and is so rich and rings so true. This idea of a family narrative is so important – not just a family narrative,but the narrative we hold for ourselves – for our own lives as in a memoir.  Looking at Avery and Catrina’s children you can hope that this tradition lasts for them. Your pictures catch the mood of the time spent there. If I wasn’t a part of it and read about it from the outside, I would wish I could be a part of something like this. xxoomm

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    1. Melinda, yes I hope too that the little ones will grow up with this tradition, knowing their family cares about them and each other. Loved your solo during the sing-along and of course your dancing!
      Martha

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  3. Martha, I loved reading the joys of your family reunion. My family has not enjoyed one for many years that is unfortunate for our children and grandchildren. Harry’s family has one about every 4 years to celebrate his Mother, her sisters, and Gramdmother who walked many miles and survived the Armenian genocide. The tales, tears, and laughs flow. Hopefully your family will never quit making peppernuts, amidst hours of fun and storytelling.

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    1. Mary Etta, I cannot begin to imagine what the women in Harry’s family went through, and their unimaginable stories of survival.
      Martha

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  4. Since you left Martha, local fod have Got a New meaning. We talk about it every Day Wien we Eat fish, potatoes milch, potatoes, fruit and vegetables. And diary produkts

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    1. Anne, you introduced me to my first taste of Danish local food years ago. Ole was excited to serve the first potatoes that season from Samso Island, and we had reindeer, and halibut from Greenland. What a meal!
      Martha

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  5. Thank you Martha, your description make me feel part of your extended famile. Maybe I Can join you all one Day. Love from Denmark Anne

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