As a child growing up in California’s San Fernando Valley, I looked forward to letters and packages from my great-aunts Ethel and Mildred. Their sister was my maternal grandmother, and I’m grateful I was named after her and not Ethel or Mildred.

My spinster great-aunts lived together in Minneapolis. They never married and doted on their niece, my mother, and her six children. Their greeting cards contained dimes or sticks of gum. Christmas packages usually contained a game for us, and I remember that Mousetrap was a hit.

The favorite package held a tin of their handmade candies – fondant-stuffed dates, divinity, penoche, two-tone fudge (butterscotch and chocolate), and peanut butter fudge. We hadn’t heard of some of these old-fashioned treats but we enjoyed them. A sweet tooth runs in our family; so does diabetes.

When they visited us, they brought suet pudding for a holiday dessert. We had no idea it was made with animal fat. Adults added hard sauce made with alcohol, which probably made it tolerable. My grandmother brought mincemeat pies that no one liked. What is it about baking sweets with meats?

After one of Mildred’s solo visits, she returned home to find that Ethel had died in her absence. After that, Mildred lived alone. She worked in the accounting office at Sears until she retired and moved to California. I love this photograph of Mildred with me when I was about six months old. 

I had always enjoyed baking, and associate holiday memories with making cookies and candy. I asked Aunt Mildred for her recipes, and she was flattered by my request. I made candy years ago from her recipes but now I just savor the memories and her handwritten recipe cards.

And I never made the suet pudding. Sorry, Aunt Mil.