A freshly baked short story

This story was inspired by a recent blogpost by Deb, The Widow Badass. Her post (if you missed it, you can read it here… but don’t forget to come back!) told of finding a cookbook in a thrift store and discovering a cake recipe tucked between the pages. Speculation about the women – whose name was on the recipe – ensued in the comment section. Secret Ingredients is a story about that woman, her dear friend, Lettie, and how the recipe ended up inside Deb’s thrift store find.   

Secret Ingredients

It had been a week since Lettie had attended the funeral of her best friend, so she was quite surprised to receive a package addressed in Violet’s hand with her return address affixed to the corner. Judging by the package’s shape and size, it most likely contained a book but Lettie was baffled. Why had her friend, knowing that she was close to the end of her life, made the effort to wrap, address, and mail Lettie a book?

Lettie carefully slipped her fingers under the tape and slowly unwrapped the package. When she saw what was inside, a flood of memories washed over her. The Christmas Cookbook had been an often-used and much-loved reference when Lettie and Violet were young mothers. They spent many enjoyable hours in their kitchens baking for their holiday celebrations. Lettie couldn’t recall if she or Violet purchased the book originally but it had been passed back and forth countless times. The last pass must have been to Violet before she and her husband moved across the country, and now she had returned it to her friend.  

Through tears of loss, Lettie began to page through the book. Just about every recipe reminded her of happy times in their long friendship. The Edible Cookie Ornaments had delighted their young children and decorated their trees every year. The Black Forest Trifle disaster that had covered Violet’s kitchen in splattered chocolate and dissolved the two of them into fits of laughter.   

When Lettie reached the cookbook’s index, she was surprised to find an envelope inserted between the pages. She held her breath as she retrieved the paper from the envelope, then let it out in a gasp. It was Violet’s recipe for her Christmas Cake, stained and wrinkled from years of use and with several barely legible handwritten notes in the margins.

Lettie and Violet had been best friends since high school. Almost from the moment they met, they knew theirs would be a special friendship – the sister neither of them had. They shared freely with each other: their hopes and dreams, clothes, makeup, and, best of all, the confidence that they would tell each other everything. No matter what.

After graduating high school, they attended the same college and, four years later, settled down in the same small town. When each eventually met the man they wanted to marry, they were relieved when the other gave her full approval. As close as they were, their husbands had to be friends too.

The only bump in their three decades of friendship happened about 15 years ago when Violet brought a cake to Lettie and Jim’s annual holiday open house. Lettie had worked hard getting ready for the party. She had been cooking for several days and was proud of the results. Despite all of the beautiful decorations and delicious food, it seemed that the only thing her guests talked about afterward was Violet’s amazing Christmas Cake. Everyone, including Lettie, asked her for the recipe but she declined, saying it was an old family recipe that needed to stay in the family.

It was the first time Lettie could remember that Violet wouldn’t share something with her. The fact that she said that it was a secret family recipe made the hurt even worse. Lettie considered Violet to be family and thought that her friend felt the same way.

Lettie knew that she was being overly sensitive so she did her best to talk herself out of her hurt. Violet was her best friend and a silly cake recipe shouldn’t come between them. When Violet brought the cake to other gatherings, Lettie joined in the praise. When her cake won second place at a holiday baking contest, Lettie congratulated her. Lettie liked to think she had completely moved on, but she knew that wasn’t true.

Now, years later, here was Violet’s Christmas Cake recipe. As Lettie looked over the ingredients, she couldn’t see what was so special about it. Flour, butter, eggs, sugar, dried fruit. Big deal. She read the handwritten notes carefully to see if there was any secret combining or baking techniques. Nothing.

Feeling a little let down, Lettie refolded the recipe and was about to tuck it back into the envelope when she noticed another piece of paper inside. Pulling it out, she saw that it was a letter written in Violet’s tiny, neat handwriting.

Dearest Lettie,

I have been going through my things when I’ve felt strong enough, putting aside items for the special people in my life. When I came across our old Christmas cookbook, I knew that I had to get it back to you. I hope you have as many fond memories of us baking from it as I do. 

I’m also sending you the Christmas Cake recipe. I’m not sure if you remember, but years ago I brought the cake to one of your fabulous holiday parties. As you can see, the recipe is a simple one. Truth be told, I had found it in a magazine. After making a few minor changes, I claimed it as mine but it really wasn’t “my” cake. When you and several of your guests said they loved it and asked for the recipe, I was flustered. Out of embarrassment, I made up the story about it being a secret family recipe that I couldn’t share – even with you. Though you didn’t say anything at the time, I know that hurt you very much.

I should have shared the recipe with you years ago and I am so sorry. You are my sister and my family, and I hope you can forgive me. I also hope you think of me when you make it and maybe laugh a bit at my silly vanity.  

Love always,


Lettie wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and looked over the recipe again. She realized that she had all of the ingredients on hand to make the cake. As she gathered everything together, she could feel her friend standing beside her. For the first time since Violet’s funeral, Lettie found that she could not only smile but laugh – at her friend’s vanity, at her own mistaken assumptions, and at the memories of all the fun they used to have together in the kitchen.

A few days after she finished the last bite of cake, Lettie decided to type a clean copy of the recipe, incorporating Violet’s handwritten notes.  She was about to hit Print when she reconsidered. She moved her cursor to the top of the page and added her friend’s name to the title. It really is your cake, Violet, she thought. You always added the most important ingredient: your love. Feeling the warmth of her friend’s embrace, she inserted Violet Burke’s Christmas Cake recipe between the pages of The Christmas Cookbook and carefully closed the cover.  

Author: Janis @ RetirementallyChallenged.com

My blog is about travel, relationships, photography, and whatever else pops into my head (even, sometimes, issues surrounding retirement and aging).

97 thoughts on “A freshly baked short story”

  1. I love this story. I had a similar experience of losing and friend to breast cancer and along with her the recipe. Anyway, the secret ingredient is always “love”.

  2. This was a great story, Janis. There is truly something very special about the love and cameraderie of a sister-friend. This made both Violet and Lettie come alive for me ❤️

  3. I smiled at this one! I have my mom’s recipes but dang, when she made it, the food tasted better. I know she wasn’t holding out ingredients (some cooks do that) but maybe because it was baked by my mom, it was always better.

  4. What a beautiful story, Janis. Thank you for sharing it with us. I’ll start my day with a smile on my face.

  5. This is such a beautiful post, Janis. I wish that I knew the family of Violet Burke. It would be wonderful for them to know that their loved one inspired not only Deb’s fruitcake, but your wonderful short story as well. ❤

  6. I, too, wiped a tear. Thank you for such a touching story.

    In gratitude, there’s a tiny typo in “When her cake won second place at a holiday backing contest” where an extra c snuck into the baking contest.

      1. It was only because I liked the story so much that I pointed the tiny little typo out, as a way of giving back. Happy to help with proof reading, it turns out I have an eye for detail 🙂

  7. What a fabulous story, Janis. I have tears in my eyes. My best friend gave me a copy of the family cookbook she made for her family members with pictures of her parents as young people and pictures of all the kids. It is a treasure. I tried her sister’s recipe for chocolate pie. It never set up but it was delicious chocolate soup. She laughed, “Bonnie had trouble with that recipe a lot.” I’m sure there must have been a secret ingredient that she left out because her chocolate pies are the best in the world. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your beautiful story. 🙂

  8. Hi Janis, this is a beautiful story and I enjoyed it very much. When I read Deb’s post about the cookbook I googled Violet Burke and found what I believe to be her obit. I added the link to Deb’s post if you are interested. I too fantasized about her story, but I don’t have the talent to write it the way you have here. Thank you for imagining something truly beautiful. Happy New Year!

  9. Janis, this is such a touching, lovely story! I read it quickly when you first posted it but wanted to come back this morning to read it again. I enjoy the pacing and rhythm of your writing style, the characters you bring to life, the little surprises throughout. I hope you have a wonderful New Year, and that you’ll share more of your stories.

  10. I love your short stories Janis, but this one brought a tear to my eye – for all the right reasons. Thank you.

  11. This is such a heartwarming tale Janis – just perfect for the holidays. My mom loved to bake and kept a lot of recipes in a red binder which I have, but she always said “the recipes are there, but you’ll tweak and pinch as you go along, so the printed recipe is always a little off.” I am reminded of those words. How nice that Violet recognized all those years ago that her statement might have hurt Lettie but worried about the truth, but now divulged the secret before passing away. I always enjoy your short stories.

  12. Thank you Janice. Your story is a beutiful reminder of how little things remind us that our loved ones remain impactful in our lives long after they’ve gone. My family is experiencing the darkest of times this holiday season having lost my amazing 14 yr-old grandson on December 18th. You’ve provided a much needed ray of sunshine.

  13. A great story that hooked me in and well-written! Recipes do seem to take on a persona of the person giving us them, or not giving them – this was so touching. I often name recipes after the person that gave me them, just as the cake got its true name in the end of the story.

  14. Happy New Year Janis to you and Paul! I read this creative, imaginative, engaging story when it first arrived in my inbox. Recipes, baking “…a flood of memories…” often associated with food and aromas. Add a sprinkling of Christmas and tears brimming…..often happy tears. Wow “secret” family recipes…….or when an ingredient is purposely left out……people are interesting…Chuck and I have been like this on our passwords……..reluctant to share them with each other…….possibly means our time together is closing in. I love, love, love how your brought this story to an end! Okay, tear brimming again…….you got me, Janis❤️

  15. Oh sweetness, I couldn’t resist a smile. This is indubitably a great story. The secret recipe held me reading towards the end cause I wanted to know what it was, hah, and then the letter came, then the story. What an amazing plot. Want to read more of these next time and so couldn’t resist hitting the blue button. Glad to be your follower. 😚

  16. A wonderful Christmas story! I’ve heard people refuse to share a recipe and I always wondered why anyone would do that. Violet’s explanation is a very satisfying one.

  17. Beautifully written poignant story of a wonderful friendship. I had to wipe my eyes too because a couple of friends are being challenged right now. You have a wonderful talent for writing short stories, and I appreciate the fact that you share them with us. Thank you!

  18. Hey Janis. Another great story and so timely. I’m thinking you might want to bring this out next fall long before the holidays and submit it to several different magazines or websites and get it republished. Not only does it speak of the spirit of the holiday but it also highlights the relationship with close friends. Thanks for sharing it. ~Kathy

  19. Another beautiful tear-jerker story, Janis. Gal, you are good at these. Have you run into Sally Cronin from Smorgasbord Magazine. She also writes these totally heartwarming stories and publishes them as collections. You two are peas in a pod, I think. If all your stories are this good, you have a book in the making. Loved this.

    1. Thank you for the referral to Sally (I’ve now subscribed to her blog) and your words of encouragement. I would love to find a way to publish my short stories (I don’t think I have a novel in me… but two years ago, I didn’t think I could write fiction) so I’m interested to read more about how Sally put together her collection. Your support is much appreciated!

      1. Oh good, Janis. I think you’ll enjoy each other’s blogs. 🙂 She’s been posting a few of her short stories from one of her books on her blog lately. And your work is definitely worthy of a book. I’d buy it in a second! ❤

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