Do you have a favorite memory that pops up whenever a certain meal arrives? Many of us have those memories tied to the holidays, family gatherings or monumental occasions that define our lives. In my case, one bite of my mother’s sweet potatoes brings me back to the year my husband and I hosted our first Thanksgiving.
In the pages that follow, five Living Lutheran readers share their own food-and-faith stories, complete with recipes. May each inspire you to taste and see God’s goodness in all circumstances, even during a year that sometimes feels like a kitchen catastrophe.
Jamaican ackee and saltfish
I wasn’t familiar with fast food growing up. It was an occasional treat, not a regular item on our menu. In my household, my mom used food and her loving preparation of it to show her love for us children, just as God loves his children. In Jamaica, and later in America, my mom made sure she had freshly cooked meals for us every day, and with every meal came a huge pot of fluffy rice.
Even when my mom and dad couldn’t be there in person for one of our meals due to their rigorous work schedules, my mom would make sure my oldest brother, Howard, was able to prepare the food she had left for us.
Her sacrifices for us remind me daily of the sacrifices Jesus made to save us from our sins. That unconditional love is the most desirable love. It was a love my mom showed in every dish she made for us. One of the most memorable of those dishes was her ackee and saltfish.
—David McKay, Emmanuel Lutheran Church, Atlanta
1 pound codfish (saltfish), cut into pieces
1 (19-ounce) can ackee
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 onion, chopped
Thyme, fresh or dried
Seasonings: Scotch bonnet, black pepper
(Mom also used paprika for enhanced flavor.)
3 tablespoons high-smoke oil (such as coconut or olive) for sauteing vegetables
Note: This is a one-pan dish that’s easy to prepare. Be sure to prep the saltfish and to drain and rinse the ackee before cooking this dish on a stovetop.
- Heat some oil in a skillet and use it to saute the onion, bell peppers and tomatoes.
- Add the saltfish and tomato paste to the skillet and stir together.
- Add the thyme and Scotch bonnet to the skillet, continuing to stir.
- Add the paprika, then carefully fold in the ackee so it doesn’t turn into mush.
- Allow the fish to heat through, garnish with black pepper and serve. Don’t forget the rice!
Rainbow Jell-O has been made for every King family event I can remember. This dish is a labor of love since you have to let the gelatin set between every layer, but it is well worth the effort, not only in taste but in beauty.
Rainbows are a symbol of God’s promise, but since my daughter came out, they now stand for so much more. To me, the rainbow symbolizes that our queer youth are not alone. Not only is God with them, so is the entire LGBTQIA+ community and its allies.
By serving rainbow Jell-O at all our family events, we are saying, “You are loved. You are accepted. You matter to us.” I think that’s a beautiful thing.
—Tonia King, Trinity Lutheran Church, Everett, Wash.
6 (3-ounce) packages different gelatin flavors (blueberry, lime, lemon, orange, grape, and raspberry, cherry or strawberry)
5 (2-teaspoon) envelopes unflavored gelatin
1 1/2 (14-ounce) cans sweetened condensed milk
8 1/2 cups water
Prep time: 15 minutes
Additional time: 4 hours
- Bottom (purple) layer: Dissolve a 3-ounce package of grape gelatin with 1 teaspoon (1/2 envelope) of unflavored gelatin in 1 cup of boiling water by stirring until completely dissolved. Pour into a 9-by-13-inch pan and transfer to the refrigerator. Make sure the pan is sitting completely flat. Chill until completely set, about 30 minutes.
- Second (white) layer: Make this layer at the same time as the bottom layer. Stir 2 teaspoons (1 envelope) of unflavored gelatin in 1 cup of boiling water until dissolved. Add 1/2 can of sweetened condensed milk and stir until combined. While the purple layer sets in the fridge, let the white gelatin sit out on the counter until cooled to room temperature but not yet set.
- Once the purple layer has set, make the next colored layer with blueberry, following the directions in step 1, so it can start to cool.
- Pour 3/4 cup of the white gelatin over the purple layer and gently tilt the pan from side to side for even distribution. Return the dish to the refrigerator to set, which will take about 20 minutes.
- Continue to make layers following steps 1 and 2, alternating colored layers (the next colors in rainbow order are green, yellow, orange and red) with the creamy white layers and letting the dish set between each addition until all the gelatin has been used up. (You will need to make the white layer a couple of times; if you make it all at once, it will set before it’s needed, even without refrigeration.)
- Once the dish is completely set, slice into 1-inch squares with a paring knife (a serrated blade will leave marks in the gelatin) and serve. A small spatula will help you get the cubes out of the pan.
Note: If you find that the white gelatin (this layer isn’t shown in the photo) is setting before it’s needed, place the container in a bowl of hot water for 5 minutes. Stir the gelatin until it turns smooth and liquid again, then use it like normal. Because this layer is used five times, you will need to make 2 1/2 batches of the white gelatin to finish the dish.
Every other Sunday, my father prepared birria, a traditional Mexican food also known as barbacoa.
Back then, ranchers never sold beef head; they would toss it out. So my father would ask for one. He’d wrap up the beef head in aluminum foil, put it in a large, empty lard can and seal the can with the lid. Then it was ready to go into a ground pit that he had previously prepared with hot coals. He placed the can on top of the coals, covered it with a large rectangular aluminum sheet and covered the sheet with dirt to keep the steam in.
My father would let the meat cook all night long. Then, around 5 a.m., he’d shave all the meat off the beef head. The barbacoa’s aroma would wake the rest of us. All morning we looked forward to eating birria with homemade tortillas and salsa.
Nowadays, I try to cook barbacoa as closely as I can to those good ol’ days. I use chuck roast with some fat so the meat has some flavor and doesn’t come out dry. When my family sits down at mealtime, we always give thanks to God for the food that we’re about to eat. While serving barbacoa, I tell the kids and grandchildren how their favorite dish was prepared and cooked. The taste brings back fond memories of childhood.
—Leticia Galvan, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Lodi, Calif.
10 pounds chuck roast
2 tablespoons steak seasoning
2 cloves garlic, minced
Note: This recipe serves six to eight people.
- Unwrap the meat and sprinkle one side with a tablespoon of steak seasoning and one minced garlic clove. Turn the meat over and repeat.
- Put the meat in a slow cooker with 1 cup of water.
- Set the slow cooker on high for about 4 hours.
- Check to see if the meat is ready to shred. If not, put the slow cooker on medium heat for another 1 to 2 hours.
- When finished cooking, shred the meat while it’s in the slow cooker so it can get all the juices.
- Leave the meat in the slow cooker an extra 15 minutes before serving.
Enjoy your barbacoa with beans, Spanish rice, homemade tortillas and salsa.
When I got married in 2018, my husband and I had no plan for rural living. Then, over a year ago, life surprised us in the most wild and wonderful way: we bought a small farm in Clifton, Va., located about 25 miles outside Washington, D.C.
We now have a flock of chickens providing us with eggs daily, and we enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables from our garden. We love caring for God’s creation and learning to be good stewards of the land. Through the ups and downs of life, we find the predictable rhythm of days on the farm to be especially peaceful.
After suffering a devastating loss during a complicated miscarriage earlier this year, I have found solace in quiet moments in the garden as well as while cooking elaborate, flavorful dishes using ingredients harvested that day. With the abundance of squash in our garden, we have eaten a lot of ratatouille, one of our favorite recipes.
In this odd season of our lives, filled with waiting and praying, God has shown up in unique ways, through an extraordinary abundance of squash and during hours of singing “Amazing Grace” while cooking. Immanuel—God with us—has been ever-present in this season, on the good days and the less-than-great ones.
—Anna Hartman, Abiding Presence Lutheran Church, Burke, Va.
Dash of olive oil
2 cloves garlic
2 zucchini and/or yellow squash
Spices, such as herbs de Provence or thyme
- Slice onion thinly. Sauté onion in a dash of olive oil on low heat until soft. (Cooking on low heat will make the onion sweeter and more caramelized. If you prefer it less sweet, raise the heat.)
- Add garlic and saute for a minute or two until aromatic. Salt and pepper to your liking.
- Once onion and garlic are cooked to desired doneness, move to a baking pan and
- Cut zucchini and/or yellow squash and tomato into thin, round slices.
- Layer the zucchini, squash and tomatoes atop the onion-and-garlic mixture. Salt and pepper to taste. Add your favorite spice to the top. (I use a tiny bit of herbs de Provence, but thyme works great as well!)
- Sprinkle a tiny bit of olive oil over the top.
- Bake at 350 degrees F for a bit, until squash looks soft and cooked, approximately
- Grate the Parmesan cheese, add it to the top of the dish, and put the dish back in the oven until the cheese is melted and/or crispy, as you like.
Everyone has a legend in their family, someone whose stories live on long after they’ve died. For my family, that person is Aunt Zela. My memories of Aunt Zela include visiting her house and playing under the big oak trees next to her garden. When we came inside, we would often be met with a tin of the most delicious homemade gingersnaps. They were the perfect combination of soft and snap.
Once, Zela was doing what she did often, hoeing the weeds in the garden, when some missionaries knocked on her door. When no one came to the door, they walked around back to find Zela working. The missionaries talked to her about Jesus, their church and the threat of eternal damnation. As they talked and talked, Zela kept on hoeing.
When they finally paused and asked her about her salvation, Zela looked up at these boys and responded simply, “All you have to do is be ready. Are you ready?” Then she went right back to hoeing weeds.
Aunt Zela was buried with her hoe in her hand. She lived her life in a manner of being ready—ready to host, ready to share, ready to laugh, ready for God’s kingdom anytime it would make itself known.
Each Christmas, when women in my family bake cookies, we make Aunt Zela’s gingersnaps. It isn’t uncommon for some fluke to happen with these cookies. Sometimes they get too flat. Sometimes they aren’t the perfect combination of soft and snap. But I like to think that this is Zela’s reminder to us to stay humble and persistent, and to keep striving toward the goal—be it delicious cookies or God’s kingdom among us.
—Sarah Derrick, pastor, Faith Lutheran Church, Flower Mound, Texas
3/4 cup shortening (not oleo)
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup molasses
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
- Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Cream shortening and sugar until light
- Add egg and molasses.
- Sift the flour, ginger, salt, soda and cinnamon.
- Add 1/4 of this dry mixture at a time to the egg and molasses, mixing smooth each time.
- Dip by teaspoon, form the dough into balls and roll each ball in sugar.
- Place dough balls 2 inches apart on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper.
- Bake 12 minutes.
Find additional reader recipes and stories by clicking on the links below:
• Authentic New Orleans gumbo by Maud Jeannie Parker
• Basic dump cake by Kristine Luber
• Corn dish by Ralph K. Livdahl
• Lefse by Ellen Hesselberg
• Praising with pasties by Christina Bush
• Rhubarb crisp by Carol Surine
• Shirley’s soup by Judelle Murphy
• Stewardship stew by Anita Simpson
• St. Martin’s goose by Lutz Backmann
A study guide for this story is available here.