Easter Traditions: Mona's Mustard Sauce
In honor of this Easter season, I'd like to share a personal essay I wrote about my grandmother for a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints publication, but it ended up not being published after all. A shorter version of this piece is featured on the Family Search blog this week. I've also attached this story to my grandmother's name on my family tree on the Family Search website, so it will be there for any of her descendants to one day read.
"If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed..."
My Grandma Mona Hymas Hill made the world's best homemade mustard to serve with her Easter ham. I find it funny that my mom had to recently remind me about the Easter cupcakes grandma would bake specially for the grandchildren, topped with "nests" of dyed-green coconut and speckled jelly-bean eggs.
But I needed no help remembering the mustard.
It was surprisingly mild in both color and flavor, given Grandma's lovably spicy personality. I can still picture her carrying it proudly to the Easter table in a gravy boat. My dad and his four sisters—nostalgia shimmering in their eyes—had to coerce each of the 22 grandchildren into our first taste of this thick, warm sauce that looked nothing like the French's we ate on our sandwiches. (At least one rookie in-law mistook the mustard for warm vanilla pudding and swallowed a heaping spoonful before realizing his mistake.)
My dad and aunts grew up spooning Mona's mustard over their Sunday ham. They also helped serve it in the small-town cafe grandma and grandpa owned for 30 years. But at banquets only, for either the Lion's Club or ladies bridge nights or when church dignitaries would visit the tiny Mormon town. Oh no, it was far too precious for the regular dining room.
The recipe can be found under the heading "Mustard Sauce" in the Matthews Family Cookbook ("Ewe'll Love It!"), which my grandmother typed painstakingly on a heavy old typewriter in a makeshift office in the backyard—otherwise known as a camp trailer. She spent an entire summer typing that old cookbook, copies of which now reside in the homes of nearly every descendant of her grandmother—as long as they attended the Matthews reunion grandma organized in the mid-1980s. My mom's copy is falling apart after years of heavy use, and the mustard sauce is highlighted in yellow.
I wonder how many of Caroline Elizabeth Orr Matthews's many descendants—she bore 11 children, 9 of whom lived to adulthood—skip right over the recipe to this day, having no inkling of the magic therein.
Truly, it can be the simplest, most unexpected things that turn into the most cherished and lasting family traditions. My cousin Andy's wife, Whitney, now stirs the mustard (for 15 minutes in a double boiler) each Easter for my Aunt Margo's family gatherings. My mom is the mustard maker in our family. I'm certain my Aunts Lynn, April, and Jennifer are carrying on the tradition, too. One day it will be my turn.
And grandma's example taught me so much more than just a tasty way to serve ham at family dinners.
I think of the impact of Mona herself, not to mention her mustard sauce, when I hear the parable in the book of Matthew, where our Savior likened the mustard seed to the kingdom of heaven. It is “the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof." (Matthew 13:31)
Indeed, Grandma Mona lived simply, never owning a dishwasher or even a disposal in her kitchen sink, in a little white house on Main Street in Grace, Idaho, a town of less than 1,000 farmers, homemakers, teachers, welders and plant workers. She and my grandpa could never boast much in the way of money or worldly goods, but she considered herself wealthy in terms of her blossoming family tree.
Never was there a woman more vehemently proud of her grandchildren. To be related to her was to have a champion in your corner who loved you unconditionally, unabashedly, and without reserve. She was a woman of fierce devotion to both faith and family, inviting all that she loved to "come and lodge in the branches" of her generous heart.
She spent her final years in a retirement home in a city 65 miles from home, where she had more visitors than she could count. She had been terrified to leave her tiny hometown and vowed she never, ever would, but she blossomed in her new life. One of her final acts of faith was to introduce an 80-year-old fellow resident, Mary, to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
For me, Mona's mustard sauce is a taste of childhood and of home. It's a reminder of the far-reaching effects of faith. How the tiniest seed of hope, kindness, and pure devotion can blossom and grow, touching lives in the most unexpected ways.
I wouldn't even venture a guess as to how many of Mona's 22 grandchildren will be serving her mustard this Easter. I know we will be.
Grandma originally got the recipe decades ago from a little old lady in town my aunt can only remember as Mrs. Titus. She made a few of her own modifications. From what I hear, the mustard sauce is still served to this day at most every funeral held in my grandma's former church congregation.
Mona's Mustard Sauce
1/2 c. sugar (scant)
4 T. dry mustard, Coleman's
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cornstarch
Mix together well
2 beaten eggs
1/2 c. milk
1/2 c. vinegar
2 T. butter
Cook 15 minutes in double boiler. This is a very mild sauce. I add more mustard to suit the taste.
—Mona Hymas Hill
p.s. The way grandma’s recipes are written always makes me smile. There’s just enough (purposeful?) vagueness and slightly strange wording that I wonder if she didn’t really want anyone else to be able to duplicate her best dishes. ;)