Giving thanks (especially for Gramma’s Sweet Rolls)

Gramma’s Sweet Rolls. — Heather Wolfe

As we sit around this table,
let’s give thanks as we are able…”

These are the opening words of a wonderful children’s book titled Before We Eat: From Farm to Table by Pat Brisson and illustrated by Mary Azarian, a phenomenal wood cut artist and fellow Vermonter.

Heather and her grandmother. — Heather Wolfe

I grew up saying grace before every meal. It was typically a short, thankful prayer before eating — except on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Those holidays we’d travel to my grandmother’s house and she would lead us in what felt like a long, very long, grace. “Lord, we thank thee for thy many blessings…” How hard it was to sit still and be patient during the prayer with a feast laid out on the table before us, as she offered a thorough and thoughtful thanks for all aspects of life — health, family, friends, faith, nature, food and other blessings that came to mind in that moment.

As I’ve learned more about Indigenous culture, I’ve come to know about the Thanksgiving address. This prayer is a gift from the Haudenosaunee People (pronounced: who-DIN-oh-show-nee; also known as the Iroquois Nation). I just paused my writing to read it out loud. Eighteen paragraphs and nine minutes later, I think even Gramma’s record for longest prayer is surpassed. I realize now what a gift these longer prayers truly are.

Looking back at the extended gratitude offered up around our holiday table, I can appreciate how gratitude was essential for feeding the soul ahead of feeding our bodies. Grounding ourselves in giving thanks allowed us to be even more nourished by the food in front of us. Gratitude is the acknowledgment of grace in our lives, of provision, of dependence on more than ourselves, of a gift that has been given. Gratitude is a portal for peace.

As a health coach, I’ve been trained in the many mental and physical benefits of expressing gratitude (improved sleep, immunity, mood; decreased depression, anxiety, chronic pain). I will often open sessions asking clients to share a gratitude they’ve had since we last met. In these counseling sessions, we end by expressing our gratitudes.

As a mom, I ask my daughters at bedtime to each share gratitude from their day. At meals we often choose to sing our grace (a short thankfulness prayer) as a family. Our go-to is “God is great and God is good. And we thank you for this food. By your hand we all are fed. Give us Lord our daily bread. Give us Lord our daily bread.” We’ve also put our own words of gratitude to familiar tunes. This year we had fun using the Star Wars theme song with these words: “Thank you, for this food, Lord, and our friends and family.”

Gramma gifted me not only with her modeling the importance of gratitude through prayer, but also with her holiday roll recipe, a most special selection shared at my bridal shower with the written headnote comment, “I make often for the family.” As we enter the holiday season, I am giving thanks for family, food, faith and the intersection of those three.

As the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving address comes to a close we hear the words: For all the love that is around us, we gather our minds together as one and send our choicest words of greetings and thanks to the Creator. 

We are invited to respond together: Now our minds are one. 


Gramma’s Basic Sweet Rolls  (makes 30 rolls)

 “I make often for the family!!!”


  • ⅔ cup lukewarm water
  • 4 ¼ teaspoons (2 packets) dry yeast
  • ⅔ cup milk
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 6 cups flour


  1. Mix water and yeast in a small bowl. Let stand for about 5 minutes.
  2. In a large bowl, scald the milk. Add in butter, sugar and salt. Cool to lukewarm.
  3. Stir yeast mixture into milk mixture.
  4. Add 3 eggs and 3 cups of flour. Mix until smooth. Stir in remaining 3 cups of flour​.
  5. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Knead until a round ball is formed.
  6. Place in a greased bowl and brush top with oil. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 60-90 minutes or so.
  7. Divide dough into 30 pieces. Shape into balls. 
  8. Grease two 9 x 13 pans. Place 15 rolls in each pan (3 rows of 5) leaving space between each as they will expand. Cover and let rise again for another 60-90 minutes.
  9. Towards the end of the second rise, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown.
  10. Optional (my addition to Gramma’s Basic Rolls): brush warm rolls with melted butter and sprinkle with a coarse finishing salt.

Heather Wolfe

Heather Wolfe is deeply rooted in Vermont, USA, is in the Mennonite faith tradition and is part of a family Read More

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