Vinegar and Cinnamon

It was Saturday morning.  It was bed changing day at Yutzy’s Adult Living Foster Care Home and also  the morning for a weekly special medication schedule.  But on this morning, there was also something else on the schedule.  My extended family was getting together for breakfast and to celebrate the birthdays of two of our uncles.  Uncle Daniel was turning 90 on Valentine’s Day, and Uncle Paul would be turning 88 later this month.  For weeks, the plans for this morning had been brewing, and it looked like almost 50 of us would be able to be there.

For years, as many of us as were inclined and able, got together for breakfast about once a month.  Because it was on a Saturday, I almost never attended.  (If you want to read one story about THAT, you will find it here: )  However, when I realized the import of this special breakfast, and heard that there were so many signed up for it, I decided to make it a priority.  We were told to bring a breakfast item for the breakfast bar, and that egg casseroles were being furnished.  I watched (on our family google group) as the items added up: muffins, bacon, sausage gravy, fruit, juice, and decided that I would make a pan of Refrigerator Cinnamon Rolls as my contribution.  That would take a minimal amount of time on Friday evening and a nominal about of work on Saturday morning.  Breakfast wasn’t until 9:30, so that gave me plenty of time to get them finished before needing to leave.

I came down to my chilly kitchen soon after 6 in the morning after mixing up one batch of dough the night before. The air was dry from the never ceasing pellet stove, so I started some water simmering on the cooking range.  Several weeks ago I bought a large teakettle especially for this purpose.  It’s a heavy duty tea kettle (I wanted it as “Amish” as possible — unadorned and hard working) that holds nine quarts of water.


It has worked out well except for one thing.  We have very hard water at Shady Acres, and after a day of faithfully steaming away, there are serious lime deposits on the inside of my tea kettle.  At first, I went after it with a Fuller Brush/Stanley Chore Girl, but after realizing how hard that was on the inside surface, I switched to just throwing a  cup of white vinegar in there every couple of days and boiling it throughout a morning while I was doing other stuff. This was one of those morning.  It wasn’t long until my kitchen had the distinct smell of pickles.

“No matter,” I thought.  “It won’t be long until the smell of cinnamon rolls will overshadow the smell of the vinegar, and it will be okay.”  And I fetched the dough from the garage fridge and set to work on those cinnamon rolls.

Yoder Breakfast sits hard on my heart for some reason.  It makes me think about my Daddy and his brothers getting together for breakfast years ago. It makes me think about my Mama and how she will be absent from this gathering.  It makes me think of the uncles and aunts that are left and how they are aging.  I’m almost always melancholy when I’m getting together with my extended Yoder family.  There’s just too many people that I miss.  And so I think about these things while I work the dough into long roll, and then cut it into the swirled cinnamon rounds and put them in the pans.  I think about this particular gathering and about the ones that are not going to be there.  I think about the faces that will be there that were absent for many years past, and I hug to myself the promise of my husband to go with me, and it gives me courage.  And so the minutes pass.

An hour later, my cinnamon rolls are ready for the oven.  They’ve risen properly and it’s with satisfaction that I slide them into the oven.  It isn’t long until that smell that I’ve been longing for begins to waft through the house.  It’s a rich baking smell, predominately cinnamon, and I inhale it deeply and gratefully.  I rattle around in my kitchen, washing dishes, cooking the base for the cinnamon roll frosting, and straightening up as I go. The smell, for the most part is glorious.   And when the cinnamon rolls come out of the oven and are iced, ready to go, this Delaware Grammy is satisfied with more than the smell.

cinnamon rolls

And though the smell is still wonderful, every now and then I catch a quick, distinct smell of  vinegar in the cooking tea kettle. And that got me to thinking.

Vinegar and cinnamon.  Two distinct kitchen smells.  I’ve grown up in a family that much prefers cinnamon over vingar.  “Sour” is a taste to get rid of if you are our kind of Yoder.  But my tea kettle needed that dose of vinegar.  Without the vinegar, the cleaning process would have been a whole lot more painful and damaging.  The vinegar is what will ease  things along and shine the teakettle up.  I could throw all the cinnamon I own in that teakettle and it wouldn’t help  in the least.  It might smell good, but it wouldn’t fix the problem of that unsightly, hard build up on the inside of the container. Vinegar has its place as well as cinnamon in the kitchen.

Life has a lot of days that are vinegar and cinnamon.  And that day had a lot of that sort of variety.  We went to the breakfast, Certain Man and I.  A chicken house alarm delayed us, and Certain Man almost didn’t make it, but it got worked out and he came and that was sweet for me.  My cousins are aging, and there are life stories among us that break my heart –Death, Multiple Sclerosis, cancer, heart attack, divorce, fractured families, broken hearts. And the smell in my nose and the taste on my tongue is vinegar.  But we come together with far less competition than we once had, and we’ve learned some things along the way about our own frailties and failures.  There is acceptance in the hugs, understanding in the sorrow, and listening ears.  There is camaraderie and sympathy and affirmation.  And it hangs in the air like the smell of cinnamon.

We sang together for a period of time.  The first song chosen was “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” a song we often sing as a family.  The words and music, familiar to most of us, filled the basement of Greenwood Mennonite Church where we had met for breakfast on this cold, cold morning.  Across the table, down a few chairs was my Uncle Daniel.  Uncle Daniel, turning 90, sat at the table with his family.  There were children,grandchildren and even a precious great grandchild.  Uncle Daniel has been a widower for almost 18 years.  He’s had heartache, loneliness, health issues and disappointment.  There’s been a lot of vinegar.  But when he prays, the voice that is starting to tremble speaks of a faith that is strong.  It speaks hope and assurance and Heaven to me, and to us all.  And as the first phrases of Great is Thy Faithfulness were rising, I heard a clear bass voice, strong and completely on key, coming from this elderly man.  He sang with familiarity and intent, and as I looked at him, all I could smell was sweet, sweet cinnamon.

Our lives are a mixture of vinegar and cinnamon.  The thing that challenges me is that we determine what people smell when they are around us.  It has to do with what we choose to put over the flames of our lives.  And in this, I give grateful praise for the examples that have gone before me.  For parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts who have shown the way, confessed that it wasn’t easy, but that it was worth it, and encouraged and prayed and remained faithful.

May we be known and remembered for the cinnamon.


And for those of you who have asked, here is the recipe for those Cinnamon Rolls.

Refrigerator Cinnamon Rolls and Caramel Frosting

1 cup sugar
1 cup margarine
1 teaspoon salt

1  1/2 cup boiling water

Cream together sugar, margarine and salt. Add boiling water. Mix well.

Then, in a separate container, mix:

2 tablespoons (I heap them up) active, dry yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
in 3/4 cup lukewarm water
(Let this mixture soften and rise)

While it is rising, To first mixture, add:

4  slightly beaten eggs

Mix well, then add yeast mixture and mix well.

Add four cups bread flour, mix well.

(I have a Kitchen Aid mixer, so I mix to this point with my wire whisk attachment, then put in the dough hook.

Gradually mix in another 4 cups bread flour. (The dough will be sticky)

Place in large (at least 4 times the size of the dough), well greased container with cover, and refrigerate at least two hours, but preferably overnight. If you are going to leave it overnight, you will want to check it and punch it down at least once.

Take half the dough and on a lightly floured surface (use as little flour as possible) roll it out into a rectangle. (If you want small cinnamon rolls, roll it long and not too wide.  If you prefer larger, make it about 8″X 12″ ). Spread it with soft margarine, and sprinkle liberally with cinnamon. (Some people like to put brown sugar on at this point, too, but I don’t think it is necessary. The dough is sweet and the icing is very sweet, so I don’t usually put any more sugar into the rolls.) Roll the dough like a jelly roll, beginning at the long end. When you are finished, slice into slices approximately 1″ thick. Place cut side down into a greased 9″x13″ pan. Place rolls touching each other but not crowded. Let rise in a warm place until nearly double in size. (Usually this takes about 45 minutes) Bake at 375 degrees in middle rack of oven for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Frost with caramel frosting while still warm. Dough will keep in refrigerator for about a week. You can make fresh rolls whenever you want.

Makes 4 – 5 roll pans of six rolls each,

OR, 2 (9″ x 13″) regular size cake pans of 12 rolls each,

OR 1 large “sheet cake” size pan of 24 rolls (unless, of course you are making them small like I did this pan.  Then one recipe makes a large sheet cake pan of 48!)  🙂

Caramel Frosting

1 cup butter (NO SUBSTITUTES)
1 can evaporated milk (12 oz)
2 cups brown sugar

Mix together in heavy saucepan, bring to a rolling boil and boil for one full minute. Pour into large mixing bowl, and add:

2 pounds confectioners sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla.

Mix well. Frosting will be thin while it is warm. Spread liberally over warm rolls. Refrigerate left over frosting.

Questions? Call me at 302-422-5952.

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