‘I’m doing the baking, but the recipes are propelling this whole operation – and they are not my own.’: Woman details special bond with late grandmother, starts baking company in her honor

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“The first time I realized my grandma was mortal was when she asked me to open a jar for her. I was visiting her, and although I knew she was having problems with her hands, I hadn’t seen it for myself. These hands. The life they had lived was written all over them. The wrinkles, the lines, and the swollen knuckles from arthritis were now a testament of their service over the years. I still distinctly remember opening that jar for her. This tiny-framed, feisty woman explained to me how her hands didn’t work as they used to while I popped the top off with ease.

What she didn’t realize was no excuse was necessary. Her hands had worked long enough. She didn’t need to feel shame, and I only wished I could’ve taken her pain away along with opening that jar.

grandmother at the head of dinner table
Courtesy of Maria Proebsting

What lucky kids we were, to have grown up with a Grandma Lucy in our lives. She was not even five feet tall, but had a monumental presence. She lived in the heart of Buffalo, NY, a renter of the bottom level of a two-story row house on a city block. Visiting Grandma meant getting our walking shoes on because she never learned to drive. Occasionally, if she was going further than normal, she’d take a bus or catch a lift from one of her many friends, but for the most part – we walked block after block of Buffalo sidewalks.

Stopping along the way to pick up pennies for the church donation box, we’d hit up Rite Aid or the bagel shop or the butcher’s. Going to the bank was on Monday, and getting her hair done was reserved for Thursdays. The walk to morning Mass was every morning; let no one or no thing disrupt that schedule. Even as a child, I never felt scared walking the city streets with her. She’d talk about the crime in the city, or how the neighborhood had changed, but I never felt it. She led us with confidence around her streets, and we walked fast. ‘Always on the go-go;’ a phrase my great-grandmother coined and we used liberally.

woman in kitchen, cooking
Courtesy of Maria Proebsting

When we weren’t walking around, we were inside her house surrounded by food. Just exactly as you’d expect from a tiny Italian grandma, she had more than enough to offer us when we visited. The big, Italian dinners were great, and the lunch spreads were always a hit, but where my memory takes me is directly to her kitchen counters where the baked goods sat. The chocolate chip cookies, zucchini bread, coffee cakes, pound cakes, chocolate cakes – the list compiles. She was the most extraordinary baker.

We always knew something would be waiting for us, and that it would be delicious. Her father, my great grandpa, was a pastry chef. Unfortunately, I never got the chance to sample his handiwork, but I’ve heard the stories. A favorite is the cake he made for my grandma’s wedding; it was as tall as she was! It was of no surprise to anyone in our family that her baked goods were also wonderful.

black and white photo of man with a large cake
Courtesy of Maria Proebsting

When my family moved from New York to Missouri, and we saw her less often, we could still count on her baking to bring us back together. Each Christmas, a box of assorted, Italian cookies arrived at our doorstep. I can still remember that smell – somehow it smelled like butter and sugar and anise, but also her house and herself. Again I say, what lucky kids we were to grow up with a Grandma Lucy.

Grandma holds her granddaughter while they snuggle on the couch together
Courtesy of Maria Proebsting

I honestly don’t know what made me start a business. I do remember I was browsing Etsy for an anniversary present for my parents and had the realization, ‘So people can make things and just sell them, easy as that?’ It struck such a chord with me that CookieShmookie was born that very evening. I don’t know why I chose cookies. I don’t know why I thought of starting a business with two small kids and two dogs at home. I just don’t know. But I do know it was such a calling at that very moment, none of my excuses mattered.

unicorn cookies on table
Courtesy of Maria Proebsting

I started a Facebook page, shared it with my friends, and my swim coach from years past placed the first order. It blew me away. Then my neighbor. Then a couple others. ‘People really would pay for me to bake for them?’ Don’t tell them this, but I had never baked a customized order before. I barely had cookie cutters. I had not an ounce of business experience. I didn’t know what to charge. I had no marketing. But I had the magic recipe. The one my mom used for Christmas cookies every year that people went crazy for. The one from Grandma Lucy. It couldn’t fail.

The orders kept coming. And before long, I was a full fledged cookie baker. I was armed only with that single cookie and buttercream frosting recipe because it’s all I knew from my years baking Christmas cookies with my mom. But people liked them as much as we did. Grandma Lucy’s recipe was a hit, but of course.

When I told her I had started a cookie business, she marveled at the idea. As only a grandma can, she instilled such confidence and encouragement in one conversation it’s a wonder I didn’t go out and buy a building for a store front right then and there. What has always struck me about my conversation with her, though, is how she told me how much work baking cookies was. How hard it was. How long it took. It was a shock to me. All the years of going to her house filled with baked goods, and all the Christmases with our assorted box of cookies, and she thought it was hard work. I couldn’t believe it.

plain cookies
Courtesy of Maria Proebsting

Suddenly, my entire view of her house filled with our favorite treats had a new angle. She worked so hard on those treats because she loved us. It wasn’t especially fun for her. She was good at it and it was very much a part of her life, but it was work. She wanted to share her goodies with us because she knew we’d love them and she loved us. I’ve never forgotten that, and that entire sentiment has guided my business to this day.

We began talking regularly about my business, and I would send her pictures of cookies I had made. She certainly didn’t have a smart phone or Facebook, so phones and mail had to do. I was lucky enough she was in my house visiting the first time I tried out royal icing. She was, of course, over the top with flattery, and I, of course, ate it up. She was so encouraging while also reminding me how small my kitchen was. It was such a uniquely familiar thing to bond over.

Woman takes a photo with her grandma while they enjoy hotdogs together
Courtesy of Maria Proebsting

I remember when I got a manila envelope in the mail from her. Inside were probably twenty of her cookie recipes. It was like winning some sort of jackpot. More than the recipes, though, she included a note which I have kept to this day. It was her words of confidence and love immortalized. Her voice jumps off the yellow piece of paper each time I read it.

many recipes on a table
Courtesy of Maria Proebsting

On one of the last trips before she died, my parents brought me back the cookie jar. The cookie jar that sat in her house for my entire life, but it was never opened. In fact, no one had opened this cookie jar since 1962. The cookies inside were baked by my great-grandfather, the pastry chef. They were in a tin in his house when he died, and when my grandma was going through his things, she found them, split them between her siblings, and put her portion in the cookie jar.

It has been closed since. It is a true honor that she left them with me. They sit above my cabinets in my house, and watch me while I bake new cookies. I take them down to dust the jar every so often, and I’m reminded of the memories of my grandma; the history that comes with my baking and the joy it was to be raised with a Grandma Lucy in my life.

cookie jar on counter
Courtesy of Maria Proebsting

CookieShmookie ran well for a few years. I baked so many cookies out of my small kitchen, and learned so much in this time. But things were evolving in our home life and we added a third baby into the mix. I had to stop baking for that period of time, but the pull towards the cookies never left. I constantly fought an inner battle of wanting to take orders, but not having steady enough footing at home with our now three moving parts. It was during this time Grandma Lucy passed away. She lived 92 incredible years. She set an example for all who knew her.

I feel fortunate I was able to take our littlest guy to her home on that Buffalo city street, even if it was for her funeral. He was four months old and it was a red eye flight. He will never remember it, but I will. His first time in that home was my last – the smells and the rooms and the loud, Italian voices bouncing off the walls. The squeaky floors and the refrigerator adorned with every picture we ever mailed her. I’m glad he was there to absorb that atmosphere, even just once.

baby laying asleep on bed
Courtesy of Maria Proebsting

It’s been two full years now. It’s hard to believe life just moves on after someone like Grandma Lucy leaves Earth, but it does. It has to. Recently, my aunt put together a large box of recipes she gathered from Grandma’s house and mailed them to me. Kind of like when my grandma saved her father’s cookies in a beautiful jar, I felt a responsibility to make these recipes last.

At a crossroads of not feeling attached to CookieShmookie anymore, but not ready to let go of baking, I received this most wonderful gift. These stained and tattered recipes, some of which are barely legible, have birthed a new direction for my baking. At about the same time as the recipes arrived, so did the new name: Lucille Baking Co. My sister came up with Lucille, for obvious reasons, and it instantly fit. I’m doing the baking, but the recipes are propelling this whole operation – and they are not my own.

They are Grandma Lucy’s, Lucille’s. She would’ve gotten the biggest kick out of this business. She would’ve been mortified I used her name and gave her credit. She would’ve wanted new pictures mailed. She would’ve continually asked how I bake in such a small kitchen. I feel it all, even without her here. The cookies from 1962 atop my cabinets, and the recipes with her batter still on them, driving me forward and preserving the past. It’s a wonderful place to be.

So long as my own hands remain strong, I hope to continue her legacy through baking. She was a force to be reckoned with. I’m so glad I grew up with a Grandma Lucy in my life.”

granddaughter and grandmother standing together smiling
Courtesy of Maria Proebsting

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Maria Proebsting. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribeto our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos

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