Anne took a tentative bite and chewed with her mouth partly open, the way you do when something is too hot or if you are trying to really taste something. She sighed deeply before her lip started to quiver. Unable to help it she burst into tears, building until she was sobbing uncontrollably. Normally a failed baking attempt wouldn’t invoke such an emotional response but this wasn’t just any recipe. This one had been passed down through several generations.
Anne thought back to when she was a child and could smell her moms baking wafting from the kitchen of their modest country home. She recalled how delicious these cookies were, still hot out of the pan.
She sniffled and looked down at the old, greasy faded sheet of paper that she had found among her moms things. The recipe was handwritten in pen and it was a fairly easy recipe, except for one line that read “a dash of the secret ingredient”.
Anne sighed and wished she had paid attention while her mother was baking. She didn’t know what the secret ingrediant was but it was the difference between “ok” cookies and the delicious ones she remembered as a child.
Her thoughts were broken by her daughter Mary walked into the house, home from school “Do I smell COOKIES??”
Anne hoped her crying wasn’t obvious, “Sure do kiddo – help yourself but they didn’t turn out very good”
Anne watched as Mary took a tentative bite before her eyes widened, “These are AMAZING!!” Mary exclaimed.
Anne smiled, sure her daughter was just saying that to be nice.
“Thanks sweetie. They were my favourite growing up, but the recipe calls for a secret ingredient and I never found out what that ingredient was before mom – I mean grandma – passed away”
Mary caught a bit of the sorrow in her moms eyes.
“Well I wouldn’t worry about it, these are the best cookies ever just the way they are!”
Anne smiled and started cleaning up, tucking the worn recipe card back into the box it was kept safe in.
The moment, and the recipe card, wouldn’t be thought of again for many years.
Anne had been sick for awhile and Mary was doing her best to take care of her. After several treatments and many long hospital stays, the time had come for Anne to be moved into palliative care for her final days.
After one of her daily visits Mary found herself bumbling around her mothers kitchen, trying to keep herself and her mind busy. When she stumbled across the old box of favourite recipes she paused before peering inside. The moment she saw that faded, worn card she remembered that she hadn’t had those cookies since she had been a little girl. The hand scrawled words “secret ingredient” didn’t slow her down as she whisked, kneeded, mixed and baked her way through the instructions, happy for the distraction.
The next morning she snuck some of the family cookies into Anne’s room. Her moms eyes were dim, but sparkled slightly when she smelled the treats.
“Oh sweetie you shouldn’t have”, she said weakly.
Mary helped her mom steady her hand to shakily take a bite.
Anne smiled and said “You did it! They taste exactly like I remember as a child! What was the secret ingredient?”
Mary smiled, her eyes tearing over, “It’s love, mom. The secret ingredient is love. That’s why your cookies were just as delicious to me as grandma’s were to you.”
Anne squeezed Mary’s hand, “You always were so smart. I’m proud of you my dear.”
Mary waited until her mother fell asleep before taking the partially eaten cookie from her tray and putting it on the bedside table.
While her daughter sat watching, Anne quietly let out one final rough breath and just like that, she was gone. Mary felt the tears start to roll down her cheeks as she clasped her moms frail hand in hers. Just then, Mary felt a tiny kick inside of her growing belly. “I wish you could have stayed long enough to meet your grandbaby, mom. It’s a girl. Her name will be Anne. And she is going to bake cookies.”