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Letter From America: Sav'n Top

...Hazel’s method, as explained to her watchers, was to throw in "a handful or so" of this, "a smidgen" of that, "stir it until it looks right" and cook it "until it’s done." It always came out perfect... Ronnie Bray pays tribute to a remarkably good cook and tempts us with details of a most alluring recipe book.

If you would like a Word Document of the Clawson Recipe Book, e-mail Ronnie at rbray7@cox.net

Cristmas 2005, my artistic director purposed to gather recipes from family members to make into a booklet to be distributed as our Christmas gifts. To facilitate this, electronic mail requests went out to all corners of the United States of America: to Wisconsin, Arizona, Utah, California, Maryland, and Montana, where the descendants of the Mormon Clawsons, Derald and Hazel, had settled themselves.

Hazel Cahoon Clawson, according to her daughter, Gay, was a cook "Beyond wonderful!" Had she not been so, the idea of recovering as many of her recipes as possible would not have got off the ground. Having been privy to her children and grandchildren’s reminiscences of her pleasing and generous table, it was impossible not to feel just a little bit envious of those who had surrounded her board and been feasted by this extraordinary cook.

One of the unspoken but infractible laws of Clawsonia is, "If you change activities, you have to eat!" Matriarch Clawson told her family that in order for a girl to pass eighth grade at the school she attended in Deseret, Utah, she "had to be able to sew an apron, and bake a ‘good’ loaf of bread."

The recipes came in. First a trickle, and then a flood as the deadline approached, with a couple just sneaking in under the wire. Along with the formulas came reminiscences of an amazing lady and her strong but anxious personality.

Reconstructing Hazel’s recipes was no easy task because few had been committed to paper. However, Dee Kleinman and Ann Towne, two of her granddaughters-in-law had stood at her elbow on many a baking expedition, garnering as much kitchen wisdom as they could at the same time as they tried to commit to memory how she did what she did so that they could reproduce her cooked dishes, bakery, and confections.

She was not an easy study. Hazel cooked by the same innate propensity of which eels are possessed that enables them, when mature, to find their way back to the Sargasso Sea where they began their lives, although they initially drifted for thousands of miles to continental America, Europe, and West Africa. What system they carry in their cells that provides unerring navigation to within a mile of where they started life is unknown.

And, as it is with eels, so it was with Hazel. Hazel just knew what cooking was about, even when she could not explain it, so the best anyone could do was watch her work, take mental notes, and hope for the best.

Hazel’s method, as explained to her watchers, was to throw in "a handful or so" of this, "a smidgen" of that, "stir it until it looks right" and cook it "until it’s done." It always came out perfect. She worked without a recipe book and without measures and scales.

Good food was not only important for Hazel, but it was, she believed, the only way she could get anyone to visit her. No one else believed that, but Hazel did, and so she tempted her family with talk of roasting a big turkey at Thanksgiving and Christmas, or a big meat roast on other occasions, detailing to them the accompanying dishes to add an extra dimension to the temptation.

Feasting at Grandma’s was always a celebratory event. Not on account of the good food alone, but because of the good spirit and humour that pervaded such gatherings. The big table would hold eight, the card table would take some of the overflow, others would balance their plates on their knees on the settee, and the remainder would sit cross-legged like tailors on the floor and use the high stone-flagged hearth as their table. Everyone got in somewhere.

Gay recalls, "Eating at Grandma Hazel’s table was a "filling" experience. She was always up out of her chair urging you to have more milk, more rolls - warmed to a hard crust in the oven - or more ‘something.’ However, she also declared, "Don’t eat anything you don’t want!"

Although she was an excellent cook, she was modest to the point of being self-deprecating. One particular blessing she asked on the food was:

"Father in Heaven, please bless this food so that it won’t make us ‘too’ sick."

The spirit of competition between the children of Hazel and Derald’s two daughters and betwixt the two sets of cousins was then, as now, ardent and unconstrained. Eating was accompanied by a great deal of laughing and giggling. The biggest game at table was to see who could be amused to the point to make them snort milk down their nose. This was a matter not only of being extremely witty, but of perfect timing, both of which skills the Clawson Clan corporately and severally possess in impressive quantities.

"Sa’v," spelled s-a-l-v-e, enters the picture in the voice of the Patriarch Derald, who would request it whatever main course he was ingesting. "Is there any sa’v?" was his watchword. With only mild amusement, one of the young ones would take hold of the ‘sa’v’ bottle and pass it to the high place for his use.

That explains the references to sa’v in the Christmas 2005 Recipe Book, which, although it began its course as a booklet with Hazel’s Remembered Recipes, and other recipes that had since entered the family from those fortunate enough to have married into it, the final form, is very much a book proper.

Laura has to take most of the credit for the book, but Kinko’s Print Shop has to shoulder some of the blame. Laura applied her artistry and editing skills to the final format, and Kinko’s ‘Oompa-Loompas’ forgot to print both sides of the paper, so the page count was doubled. The result is a fine looking hard-boarded spiral-bound book stuffed with fond memories and good-hearted recipes.

Sa’v, for the uninitiated was such as salad cream, mayonnaise, or Miracle Whip. When it was time to eat cake, Derald would call for "Top," which translates into any kind of icing. Just as he would not eat his meal without "Sa’v," so he would not eat cake without "Top." If either were not available, he would simply not eat whatever it was that "needed it." That was his way and no one thought less of him for it.

Banqueting at Derald and Hazel’s provided much more than good food, pleasant company, and replete stomachs. In the vibrant atmosphere of acceptance between a family in love with all its members, another kind of hunger was being sated. The hunger for spiritual fulfilment that arises in the heart of each of Heavenly Father’s children as they await their reunion with "the Father of our Spirits."

The humble altar on which Hazel laid her offerings, brought the faithful together at appointed times, cementing them close, redolent of being sealed one to another like links in a chain that will endure for eternity, as the communal joy expressed the earthly promise of the heavenly reality. A reality in which all are invited to the feast and where, especially for Derald, all dishes come ready sa’v-ed and top-ed!"

Copyright © Ronnie Bray 20905



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