25 November 2010

callahan family orange rolls

Orange rolls. If there aren't orange rolls somewhere in the buffet line-up at Thanksgiving, my family's holiday is a little less Norman Rockwell and a lot more whiny. {Although you know that in that Rockwell image, a little kid is kicking his sister under the table. Nothing is as it seems, especially in iconic images of americana perfection.}

We've always had orange rolls in the Callahan family. Always have and always will, if I have anything to do with it, which I do, seeing as I'm in the family and of my sister and me, I'm the one who likes to cook.

My great-grandma used to make them, back when she hosted Thanksgiving at her house in Albia, Iowa. That's when my mom was little, and then she grew up into the one who hosts Thanksgiving every year.

With the hosting responsibility came the privilege of making the family orange rolls, and like the methodical person she is, my mom asked my great-grandma to write down the recipe.

Up until that point, it was one of those "in the head" recipes that great-grandmas are known for. She didn't need a recipe card for this and made it seem that she had been born with the knowledge of the proportions of salt, sugar, shortening, and flour. {Why was I not born with that knowledge? Do I not have some of her genes?}

My great-grandma was, I must remember, part of that generation who cooked three meals a day, day after day, for years on end—not to make it sound monotonous, but just to point out that cooking was second nature. It wasn't something she pulled out on special occasions.

Great-grandma did write it down, but my mom spent the next several years asking clarifying questions.

"Grandma, you said that the oven should be at 400, but my rolls just burn at 400."

"I never said 400!" my grandma answered, quite contrary to what her own handwriting said. "I always put the oven at 375."

One of the most perplexing instructions in the recipe is: "Keep adding flour until the proper texture."

My mom, try as she may, could not get my great-grandma to explain that better.

"Well," she would say, "I just keep going until it feels right."

Ah, until it feels right. That really clears things up. The word "proper" was what was confusing.

With every new insight she got, my mom made notes on the original handwritten recipe, and it's becoming something of a family heirloom—in my eyes, anyway.

There's my great-grandma's spidery handwriting, complete with extra-loopy L's that make you yearn for times when handwritten letters were the norm.

In little asides, there's my mother's straightforward handwriting, hints of how to get these to turn out right so that Thanksgiving always tastes like it did when she was little. And like it did when I was little.

I've started to learn how to make the Callahan family orange rolls, so I fully expect that one day, I'll get the handwritten recipe to add my own notes to.

Actually, I've already started adding: in the recipe below, the bold additions are my mother's notes. {You can see, then, that my great-grandma actually left out the instruction to let the rolls rise, then punch them down and roll them out. Perhaps, to her, that was just so obvious. Of course the rolls would rise. Of course you'd punch them down. How else do you expect to make bread?}

The bold and italicized notes are me because when I'm learning, I'm an every-step-spelled-out girl, and I'll need to do this a few more times to get all my orange roll steps outlined thoroughly enough for even me.

And then one day, these orange rolls will be second nature to me, just as they were to my great-grandma. I hope.


  • 2 packages yeast
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm water
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 6 to 7 cups flour
for the glaze

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • rind and juice from one orange

  1. Dissolve the yeast in the water that is heated to 110 to 115. Let set while you do the basic recipe.
  2. Beat the eggs, then add the shortening, salt, and sugar.
  3. Put in the milk that is heated to luke warm {same temp as water}.
  4. Add 2 cups flour and beat well.
  5. Add the yeast and beat again {beat real good}.
  6. Keep adding flour until the proper texture.
  7. Knead.
  8. Let rise, punch down, and roll out.
  9. Brush with butter, sugar, and orange rind, and then roll up.
  10. Cut into 1 1/2 inch slices and arrange rolls in buttered and floured 9x13 pan.
  11. Bake at 400 {my mother has crossed this out and corrected it to 375} for 15 minutes {my mother says really, it's 12-15 minutes}.
  12. Before serving, heat the rolls and then add the glaze.

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