Plain Talk about Food: Homemade cinnamon rolls
by Colly Gruczelak
Jan 31, 2013 | 1535 views | 1 1 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Winter’s cold and rainy days immediately bring on thoughts of my Aunt Esther’s homemade cinnamon rolls.

On one of those winter’s days in April of 1997, a letter in a pink envelope, marked “Certified” and “Return Receipt Requested,” arrived at my home in Ventura, delivered by our postman.

“Something sure smells good,” he offered, while waiting for my signature.

“Cinnamon rolls — I’m baking my Aunt Esther Grey’s cinnamon rolls, and tomorrow I’ll put some in the mailbox for you,” I answered, anxious to open the handwritten envelope in my possession.

The letter’s return address read: Dorothy Holman, Port Angeles, Wash.

I did not know the writer of this letter.

As I read on, the letter explained that Dorothy had learned that I had recently been in her hometown of Elma, Wash., and that I had left my return address with an acquaintance of hers regarding another matter. This person knew of Dorothy’s longtime search and thought I might be of help, as my family and Dorothy’s had been close friends.

Dorothy wrote that she had been searching for a sister who had been given up for adoption in the early 1930s by her mother, Ruth Farrar, then 16 years old and unmarried. Dorothy’s aunt had revealed that one of my family members might have played a part in the adoption.

But now, those who knew the details had long since passed on, and buried with them were the secrets surrounding Dorothy’s sister.

In my phone conversation with Dorothy later that day, I explained that I couldn’t be of any help. However, I said, one of my aunts might have been part of it, as they all had lived near each other, and that was the best I could offer.

Dorothy and I said our goodbyes, and for some unexplained reason, I put the letter safely away.

I thought about that letter often during the following 15 years and of the sadness of a separated family, so much so that in June of this past year, looking for any clue, I began going through old family letters, documents and copies of microfilmed records that I had made while doing family research in Salt Lake City’s Family History Library — and suddenly, there it appeared.

On a faded copy of recorded births in the state of Washington, just a few lines below my cousin’s name, the following was listed: “May 05, 1935, baby girl, Father George, Mother Ruth Farrar.”

Calling the clerk’s office in Olympia, Wash., I was told the records had been sealed. However, if the family would work with a court-approved person who deals with unsealing adoption records, there might be a good chance of finding who had adopted the baby.

This past Christmas, 15 years after the letter in its pink envelope was delivered to me, all of the siblings of Dorothy Holman were together, including Helen, the lost, but now found, adopted baby girl. And on her birth certificate is printed “baby delivered by midwife: Esther Grey” (my aunt).


Aunt Esther Grey’s Cinnamon Rolls



3½  to 4 cups of flour

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon salt

2 envelopes (4½  teaspoon) dry yeast

1 cup very warm milk

¼ cup softened butter

1 large egg, lightly whisked



½ cup chopped pecans

½ cup raisins

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

2 Tablespoons softened butter


In a large bowl, mix 2 cups of the flour, 1/3 cup granulated sugar, salt and yeast. Add warm milk, ¼ cup butter and egg. In a mixer, beat on low speed 1 minute. Slowly beat in remaining flour.

Place dough on lightly floured surface and knead 5 minutes.

Grease a large bowl with oil and add dough, turning until all of the dough is oiled. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let dough rise until doubled in size.

Push down on risen dough to deflate. Turn out onto floured surface and roll out to a 15-by-10-inch rectangle. Spread dough with softened butter and sprinkle with filling. Starting at widest edge, roll up and pinch edge to seal. Cut into 15 one-inch slices with dental floss or a sharp serrated knife. Place rolls slightly apart in oiled pan.

Cover and let rise until doubled in size. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes until golden brown. Cool.

To serve, drizzle with frosting made with ½ cup powdered sugar, ¼ teaspoon vanilla and 2 to 3 teaspoons milk, stirred until smooth.

— Adapted from Colly Gruczelak

Comments-icon Post a Comment
Colly Gruczelak
February 02, 2013
Dear Readers...the worst nightmare of any cook has finally happened to me. I left the main ingredient out of my cinnamon roll recipe as written to my by a reader of the column, Randy Smith. His wife asked "WHERE'S THE CINNAMON?).

I use a scant amount, 1/8 teaspoonful.

Thank you Randy; my face is red!

Colly Gruczelak

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