The recipe I posted yesterday is my sister’s. She spent a long time playing with quantities before she settled on what she believed was the perfect cinnamon roll recipe. Almost.
In my family, perfect cinnamon rolls were only produced by Iris. Iris was our neighbor lady when I was born. Her husband and my dad were both loggers, and one of my first memories is of standing in her cabin in the logging camp. She is leaning down to me, smiling, and showing me the cinnamon rolls she has just taken out of her wood-burning kitchen stove. The picture on the recipe very much re-captures it.
Everything about Iris was large, generous, and warm, like yeast dough, rising. She had glossy black hair, which she put up in curlers. When it was combed out, her head was a neat, compact mass of black waves and ringlets. She wore bright red lipstick, dainty floral print cotton dresses, cameo pins and rings, flowered print bib aprons, and stockings twisted into hard little knots just below her knees. On special occasions she put on her navy-blue polka-dot rayon dress, replaced the cameo jewelry with small pearls, twisted the knots in her stockings just above her knees, and took off the apron altogether.
Iris’ cabin hadn’t been skidded in behind a Cat like almost everybody else’s but had actually been built where it stood. Its raw lumber siding had weathered to a silvery gray. Morning glories twined up its walls. A red gingham tablecloth covered Iris’ kitchen table. Her two Siamese cats, Mitzi (mother to our kitten in those days, Ginger) and Tai Ling, slept in the sun on braided rugs. I loved standing in Iris’ cabin, looking at her big wood cookstove, smelling the apple pie she had cooling on her windowsill, and drooling over the cinnamon rolls. I loved Iris with all my heart. And Iris loved me–loved all of us.
Iris had a son, Tommy. Tommy didn’t live in the camp, since he was already in college, but sometimes he visited. When that happened, it was like royalty had come to call. “Tommy’s here…Tommy’s here…Tommy’s here…” raced from mouth to mouth among the camp’s children. I looked up the road and there was Tommy. I had to look fast, because Tommy was a dwarf, and once word got around he would quickly disappear in a knot of older children. Tommy bridged the gap between adulthood and childhood for us. While he was undeniably adult—he shaved, drove a car, and went to college—he also looked us straight in the eye, smiled at us, and said, “Well hello…how are ya?” just like his mother, Iris, did. And then he watched us, and waited for an answer. Growing taller than Tommy was one of our first benchmarks. Tommy had adult friends—he often was in the company of the boss’ son, who was his age—but he was our friend as well. Perhaps that was part of his magic; he had–and has–an endless capacity for friendship.
Iris’ recipe for cinnamon rolls belongs in this book. And I can’t find it. Sandy’s recipe is good–it’s very, very, good, and it stays in, no matter what, but her recipe is about standing in her sunny California kitchen, watching her mull over ingredients, about her pleasure in at last getting a balance that pleased her. And me. Honesty compels me to admit that Sandy’s recipe is probably better than Iris’.
But none of us will ever breath a word of that. It’s blasphemy. Iris’ cinnamon rolls are one of the touchstones of our shared life, a good, sweet, pure thing which all of us can remember with love.
I will find that recipe; a family cookbook without it wouldn’t be complete. Meanwhile, I will resort to my mother’s solution when she couldn’t think of what to cook. I will give you some potatoes.