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How many times have you been handed a piece of pie, a bowl of soup, or some other wonderful thing to eat, and think to yourself, “Oh! Mama used to make this, and it was delicious!” With grand expectations, you take the first bite. Although it is delicious, and very close to what Mama used to make, there just seemed to be something – some tiny little thing – that didn’t measure up. You think, maybe they used a different spice? A richer stock? Could it be fresh, instead of store-bought eggs? Regardless of what it was, it just wasn’t the same.

It doesn’t matter who your Mama was, or what recipe she was following. It doesn’t matter if it was Toll House Chocolate Chip cookies with her following the recipe exactly as it is on the package, or her own version of vegetable soup. There really is one ingredient in every recipe that is unique to the cook – and that is Love.

As I was making a batch of Tea Cake dough last night, my mind wandered to all the people that would sample a cookie or two. First, the Country Boy, who loves his tea cakes. All it takes is a mental image of him, and I grin from the heart out. He makes me laugh, just a little bit more often than making me feel like I need to go make sure that quick sand pit is still there in the back acreage. He’s the one I go to when I have another one of my ideas, and my go-to guy for help. The love I hold in my heart for my husband radiates right out and into that dough. I think about my friends who will surely stop in and sample a cookie or two, along with a cup of coffee and little conversation. I think about the truck drivers at the gravel pit who make me laugh. The joy I have for these people blend in so smoothly to the dough that it can’t be seen or smelled. But it certainly improves the taste.

No matter who you are, your love for others is just a little bit different than the next person’s. You love people for different reasons, and to different degrees. Where I may find joy in a simple cup of coffee and conversation, or in seeing my cows in a pasture, watching my chickens peck the ground or the smell of fresh dirt in my hands as I work my garden, you may find joy in the fast pace of a busy city street, the sweet music of a festival or feeling a sandy beach between your toes. To you, joy comes from the sight of the new fall fashions in a shoe store – to me, joy comes from not having cow manure stuck in the bottom of my worn out tennis shoes. Love and joy are in the hearts and eyes of the beholder, and although it’s the same, it is also just a little different for each of us.

That almost indistinguishable taste difference you find in any form of cooking is caused by the love your Mama had for her family. It varies in minute degrees according to the amount of love and joy she is feeling while she is baking or making supper. And if you are lucky, it isn’t determined by how frustrated she is with you for breaking the preacher’s living room window with your home-run hit. It’s a special blend of spices that cannot be bought, borrowed, traded or stolen.  Every cook has it – he or she just doesn’t store it on the pantry shelf.

This secret ingredient is stored in the heart, and taken out only for special meals for those special someones’ in her life. And to be the recipient of such fine baked goods is a joy all in itself. We count ourselves blessed to be able to enjoy such a delicious treat, and are able to taste that secret ingredient. And in turn, we find that our own love and joy is mingled in amongst the nuts and chocolate chips – giving us a double dip of one of life’s greatest pleasures.