Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Time to Bake the Cookies

Cookies. An event wasn't truly celebrated without them. The presentation changed slightly with a different platter or frosting colored to coordinate with the event - weddings, graduations, christenings, and of course Christmas, the high holiday of baking - but the stars of the show remained the same. My grandmother's cookies.

I was a casual observer of my grandmother's baking process. Her kitchen had a small counter top peninsula where the magic happened amidst a stand mixer and cookie sheets. She had banged up pink metal measuring cups, and some odd assortment of measuring spoons that she cast aside preferring to use silverware. The only involvement I really had as a kid with her baking, aside from wandering past the cooling cookies more times than necessary, was getting to use the typewriter or my fancy cursive writing skills to update her recipe cards. There was no "helping" my grandmother bake. My suspicion is that she anticipated the potential mess that likely would have occurred, and did not even entertain extending the invitation.

As an adult, the first cookie recipe of hers that I borrowed was for a simple delight called Italian Cookies. These were the favorite of many and most often requested. I was apprehensive about trying to make the cookies on my own because her reports often detailed the dough giving her trouble by being either too sticky or too dry. The only problem I had was the sizing as I had not accounted for any rising, and I am not sure if cookies being too large even really counts as a cause for alarm.
This year I made them almost too small
One of my grandmother's last Christmases living in her home, I was trying to go through some motions of holidays gone by, so figured we would make some Italian Cookies. I was hoping to get a few pointers as I expected something to click once all of the ingredients were out, or at least once the dough mad been mixed; a sort of muscle memory type of thing. I was mistaken. We got through the task together in a bittersweet fashion. 

It seems like each card I pull out of her recipe box looks simple enough, but I get jammed up every time I try one. My grandmother never struck me as an infinitely patient person, but she must have found some sense of satisfaction and peace in what strike me as the most tedious of tasks. I remember watching her finely chop any number of ingredients. My first swipe at the date bars? I almost bailed at the first step trying to work my knife through the sticky mess I was making. I tried to remember what her process looked like and could only come up with a vision of a much larger knife than I typically allow myself to handle. 

My grandmother's passing left me even more drenched in nostalgia for the holiday season than my fairly saturated base level of the past few years. Cookies, there had to be cookies...more cookies than usual, more of her recipes being made, more people being reached, individual favorites accounted for. 

Walnuts? Did everything she made call for walnuts? Mincemeat? Let's not get crazy! (That being said, I have eyed that big old Nonesuch jar my past two trips to Wegmans. I also nearly put the $16.99 tin of Charles Chips in my cart. The comfort of memories is a dangerous game.)

I was ready for the dates. Big knife, take your time...
...just keep chopping! Maybe a bigger cutting board next time. On to the chocolate crumb bars! Checking things off the list, pretending these were done once out of the oven... no attention to the corner missing on each as I procrastinated actually cutting the bars!
Oh how did she decide how big to cut the cookies, and what knife did she wield so it wasn't a glorious mess?! No point dwelling as there were thumbprints to make!
That's not what hers looked like, and why was the thumb part so difficult? Why on earth did she not want help? (Obviously because she probably had a better system and I only would have been holding her back.) My mom made the nut tarts (more walnuts) and the Mexican wedding cakes snowballs Russian Tea balls (or whatever your family calls those powdered sugar coated walnut balls, yes, MORE walnuts). My daughter then had to weigh in with what have become her own holiday baking traditions of peanut butter blossoms and spritz cookies, and then we do like those chocolate crinkles, and how about some molasses because nobody else here likes gingerbread so I settled. (She also makes herself chocolate chip snowballs, but does not allow those to be given away.) How about some caramel corn to fill in any blanks! We still have cut outs to get through for the one person on our list who would probably turn down a cookie platter without them.

Then what? Well then comes the part where I don't even know how to give away the cookies. I don't know how many to set aside for the four of us to have here because any other year we would just nibble for days on what was left after company departed. This year I am trying to ration and worry I am failing at being generous about it. What if I give away too many cookies? I couldn't possibly just make more in January of whatever I wanted. 

I long to see my grandmother's freezer stacked high with tins filled with cookies waiting to be delivered or picked up. Having a better understanding of what went into that end result is fascinating to me, as once again, this was not a woman who had infinite patience or an affinity for messes. Maybe the key is that for that time she was baking, she put everything else aside. I know her house wasn't a mess to begin with, so that wasn't hanging over her head either. She probably didn't have a daily meltdown over what to make for dinner. I think she took her time. What was that like to feel like you weren't rushing? I need to try harder to remember her lesson to slow down once in awhile, or at least keep my house in better order on a regular basis (literally and figuratively).
Before I end this ramble, I want to update you on the villages from this post! Our cousin posted a photo of her village, that my grandmother contributed to, on the blog's facebook post... cousin posted a picture of hers there as well...
...and then my aunt set up hers!
This filled me with such joy!


  1. I feel like your family is so much like mine. Your grandma's cookie baking process mimics my grandma's, down to the tins she would keep them in. I love that you are keeping her spirit alive down to the Christmas villages. She is alive within all of your homes this holiday season. I love you so much, my friend. Merry Christmas. :)

  2. A beautiful tribute to your grandmother.