Friday, December 17, 2010

Cookies

If this post smells of butter and drool it's because I've spent about half the day baking cookies. The kitchen looks like Open House at the Keebler Factory, including the flour-covered resident elf who is typing this from a perch by the cooling racks.

I hope you can't get fat from inhaling near a pile of fresh cookies. I just got back into these jeans.

Oh, such a display. We have pinwheels, we have brownies, we have chocolate chips–courtesy (respectively) of Maida Heatter, Irma Rombauer, and Ruth Wakefield.

Piled highest, at the back, are the other cookies. The special cookies. You won't find the recipe for them in any published book; and don't bother asking for it, because after I told you I'd have to kill you. It's a family secret–as deep and dark as the one that keeps the Kardashians on the air, except ours goes better with coffee.

These are Grandma's Jennie's cookies.

Grandma Jennie, rest her soul, was my mother's mother.

Three Generations

She's on the right, in the bow. That's my mother on the left, and the howling lump in the center is me–a week old. (I was either hungry, or commenting on the prevalence of drip-dry polyester fabrics in early 70s fashion.)

We assume Grandma learned how to make the cookies from her mother. We don't know for sure. We never thought to ask. It's a bizarre recipe. I've got about 32 linear feet of books on cookery ranging from 1747 to the present, and there's nothing in any of them that comes even close. It starts out a little bit like shortcake, only without sugar; and then–

No, wait. Can't tell you. Would have to kill you.

These cookies were the first thing I ever baked. I was about ten or eleven, and my younger sister was my accomplice. Every pass of the rolling pin was an act of transgression. Mom wasn't home, we didn't ask permission to use the stove, and these were Christmas cookies. We made unsupervised, unauthorized Christmas cookies in May.

I know that seems piffling at a time when the second graders on "Gossip Girl" get their kicks by snorting cocaine and crushed Flintstone vitamins during little bitty orgies in the VIP room at American Girl Place. But back then, to us, it was thrilling.

My sister, once the sous chef, is now the master baker. She inherited Mom's gigantic yellow Tupperware bowl–you could take a bath in it–which holds the stupendous amount of dough produced by the full recipe. She has developed and perfected a system that allows her to keep one hand clean and dry while the other adds ingredients and kneads them in. And her cookies always have the proper amount of crunch on the outside, while the inside melts in your mouth.

We grew up rolling out the dough and cutting it into moons and hearts and trees, which is what Mom does. But we were surprised to learn during a visit to Grandma's that she didn't use cutters. She rolled the dough out into long ropes with her hands, then twisted sections of rope into curlicues, knots and braids.

Her hands flew. She twisted, we watched. My grandmother was a lovely woman; but she didn't like children mucking around in the kitchen. Baking cookies wasn't a game, it was work. Without interference she could produce six dozen in record time. If you were good, you might be allowed to help with the sugar sprinkles. If you got too enthusiastic and sprinkled the floor, you'd better run.

A Tribute

Susan and I still mostly roll and cut, but near the end of each batch we also make a few twists as a tribute. It's not a hospital wing or a fountain in Central Park, but there are worse ways to be remembered than through a cookie recipe. I think Grandma Jennie would have appreciated it. Especially with coffee.

66 comments:

dragon knitter said...

they almost look like kringlas. yummy!

Scullerymaid said...

I know my greatgrandmother Tabitha only through her cookie recipe - crabapple jelly-filled sugar cookies. I wish I could have seen her make them. Thanks for sharing your memory of your grandmother.

Rooie said...

They look yummy.

We have a secret family recipe but alas, it isn't cookies...it's Garlic Mint Tomatoes. Lovely in the summertime with fresh tomatoes but not really anything you want to leave out under the Christmas tree.

dale-harriet said...

My DEAR Franklin - the picture explains a lot. Of COURSE you had a Bubbeleh (one needn't be Jewish to be a Bubbeleh). And you were an adorable one-weeker. I'm guessing you were crying because you couldn't reach your knitting.....

Diane said...

There isn't a better way to remember someone than with a cookie recipe.

Renee said...

You know, I thought somehow, even though we've never met, that we would be excellent friends: you love knitting, I love knitting, you live in Chicago, Chicago is my favorite American city, you have a weird and slightly askew sense of humor which I cherish and search for in the people I meet, and now, I have grave doubts about the future of our relationship because you are letting this cookie recipe come between us. Bring on death!! And the recipe.

Mel said...

I was struck by how much Sue resembles your mother in that picture. And now that I know about them, I'm hoping I might be able to sample one of those cookies soon.

HipDroppedStitches said...

Susan once told me about these cookies! Maybe someday I'll be able to try one... What special memories!

JK_in_KC said...

Admiring the Lenox Christmas china which makes all Christmas cookies even more delicious.

Carrie K said...

Memories, a legacy & cookies. Pretty fabulous.

Lynn said...

Lovely, and loving, post. Thank you. Is it hungry in here, or is it just me? [Word verification is "terapped", which would also describe you, in that cradle.]

Jennifer said...

Those look like some Portuguese cookies (or from the Azores) that my friend's mother used to make. They were delicious! Traditionally done in a circle, I've seen them shaped like yours - maybe this recipe is close - http://www.food.com/recipe/ines-portuguese-biscoitos-187636

livnletlrn said...

Tease!

Riin said...

Well, great. Now I'm hungry.

Rox said...

My grandma was a terrible cook, so I always feel a bit sad that I don't have any of her old recipes (Inexplicably, she had a personalized recipe box with "Ella's Recipes" painted on the lid. She gave it to me, empty, while she was still alive.)

What I do have are her vintage knitting patterns and crochet hooks, so I don't feel too bereft.

Samina said...

If you're not going to share the recipe, the least you could do is send a box my way.

Carina said...

Those look like Greek koularakia (not sure how to spell in English)!! Oh my goodness, those are amazing cookies. I have a recipe that I tried and botched up and need to try again. Maybe this week while the kids are out of the house at their dad's . . .

sue said...

Those look delicious!

Anonymous said...

Lovely posting. Thank you. Almost as cozy as a cuddly , knit shawl. More calories though.

Anonymous said...

Nothing better than a good family recipe. Bake on!
-- Gretchen

laura gayle said...

Thank you for sharing -- I love how we honor our beloved ones in baking and cooking.

Annie said...

What, no Maragaret Rudkin???

sgt-majorette said...

Was Grandma Jenny Teutonic in any way? Because if so, I'm thinking boiled egg yolks...

~*Alyssa*~ said...

I wish I had memories like that when baking something. It's a good thing to remember someone. It isn't a cookie, but I have this basic knit scarf that was my step-grandmother's and I can't help but to remember her every time I see it.

Those cookies look delicious though. I made oatmeal-peanut-butter cookies for a pre-xmas cookie. My husband doesn't like them though. Oh well.

Anonymous said...

I've never entirely approved of secret recipes. Maybe because when your family's as big as mine, it hardly seems a secret once the family knows. Oddly enough though, I admire the sharing of recipes with that one little detail left out so that the recipe is adequate but the sharee never gets quite as good a result.

tara said...

i adore recipes that make 32 linear feet of anything, let alone lovely cookies. a great holiday-memory-food post- thank you for sharing.

Samantha Hoyt Lindgren said...

A beautiful tribute, to remember someone for their cookies.

Laura47 said...

The cookies look lovely, and I can smell them through my computer. Such a lovely way to honor your grandmother!

My grandmother made the best pumpkin bread in the entire universe, so I understand how special family recipes can be. I've made it many times myself, but it just never quite tastes the same. I think it's the special grandmotherly touch that makes the difference.

=Tamar said...

I understand about secret recipes.
Some depend entirely on how you mix the same ingredients that others use.

=Tamar said...

P.S. As long as you're only inhaling air, you're fine. It's when you begin inhaling the cookies that the trouble starts.

Linda said...

What a lovely family tradition. Those holiday cookies' smell has wafted its hypnotic way over thisaway, to the rainy WesKos. Yow! Here's to celebrating your grandmother with her tasty secret recipes.

Mady said...

Excellent cookie baking doyennes! Too bad you're not sharing Jenny's recipe . . . .

merrilymarylee said...

Well, DANG! You aren't even going to give CLUES? Soft or crisp? Spices?

My mother was a candy maker... chocolate, penuche, divinity, sea foam... wouldn't you think I'd have had sense enough to look at the recipes during all of those years that I was stuffing my face with it? If I had not been so lazy, I could have had secret recipes now, too. Her candy was the best!

Julie said...

As another who values family recipes, I salute you. These are the things that REALLY mean togetherness, family, holidays and I loved reading your tribute to both your grandmother AND her cookies. (Around here it's my grandmother and her cupcakes. If I ever find her chocolate pie recipe you'll hear the cheering from there.)

It is good to know the important things are still valued. :)

Bonnita said...

We have one of those recipes too. It use to be my grandfather who baked them each Christmas, when he passed my father was the baker. Now for the past seven years I've been the baker to carry on Papas/Dads cookies each Christmas. I miss them both!

Lisa said...

I have a vivid memory of the first time I participated in making Cappiletti with my Noni. Okay it's not cookies. It's pasta, but what would you expect from an Italian?

anne marie in philly said...

"the howling lump in the center" makes damn nice cookies! and I won't ask for the recipe.

hope you get to see your family over the holidays and that all can share in the pleasant memories contained within these cookies.

smooches!

Ann said...

They are the best cookies and she could turn out a batch in no time at all. She was such a special person and is always with us in our hearts.

Yvonne said...

(like).

Seanna Lea said...

They sound lovely. I make cookies every year, and I need to make another batch (maybe 2) to fill the boxes I am sending out on Monday. It might be a lot of work, but the smell in the house makes it completely worth it.

Susan in Dulwich said...

Mmmmm, Christmas cookies! I just love the way the house smells during cookie season. Yesterday I made my grandma Rose's snickerdoodles....mmmm

Mary Lou said...

And did you inherit the Lenox Christmas plates, as well. I have three of them that were my mother's. Definitely makes even mediocre cookies festive.

Sahar said...

If Franklin shared the recipe with everyone on this blog, you would all survive just fine...because I would clobber HIM before he could get to any of you.

My Aunt Jay (Grandma Jenny's own daughter) emailed me for the recipe last week, and I thought twice about sharing it (but then we did--I had mom send it to her). I'm not THAT unreasonable.

But really, I'm the crazy-lady who won't share the recipe. I'm happy, however, to share the cookies.

Lovely post, brother dear. Glad to hear you make-a-da-cookies, too. Made some for Halloween. Haven't made a Christmas batch yet, but I most certainly will!

Gail said...

.. "worse ways to be remembered that through a cookie recipe.." how true. Family food is the stuff of memories.

I hope you got measurements --- as one of the recipes I tried to capture from my mother (that was from my grandmother) was a lot of "maybe a bit of this, maybe that ..." - from a generation who cooked by feel and taste.

Thanks for the lovely holiday/memory post.

Judy in Indiana said...

My best friend Bill was a baker, and he taught me to bake. I never liked making cookies till he taught me his secrets.His secrets were learned at every cookie store that would hire him. Everytime I bake it is a tribute to him, God rest his soul. Its a simple way to spread love to a world that needs it.

KnitNana said...

In my family, it's the chocolate chip cookie and nut loaf recipes that my mom is remembered for. Thank you for sharing this bit of your family history...no, please don't tell me, I don't want you to go to jail!
(((hugs)))

Tiggywinkle Knits said...

I have a family cookie recipe, too; Aunt Abby's cookies. Aunt Abby was my great-grandmother's great aunt - how many generations back is that? Anyway, it's sort of a butter cookie without butter; sour cream instead. But they weren't just Christmas cookies; we ate them year-round. I remember eating them for dessert on Sunday drive picnics (remember those?) with my Great-Aunt Ruby's apple butter (made with Red Hot cinnamon candies) spread inbetween. I have the apple butter recipe, too. Hmmm, now I might just have to make a batch of both this week!

J. Kwiatkowski said...

Food is love, memory and family. I remember my sister once getting a recipe written in my grandmother's hand circa 1930. We had to ask our mom what "spry" is, turns out it's shortening.

Mini said...

they look like kringla :) yum!!!

MicheleinMaine said...

You know, if people talk about my brownies at my memorial service I will rest in peace!

elfinknit said...

I remember my Grandmother baking Christmas cookies, and have her recipies. I inherited her cookie cutters, and my daughters are both excellent cookie bakers. Yum. Good memories.

Laura Bryant said...

Franklin, these look just like cookies my Greek Grandma Georgia made--no recipe either, but the starting out like shortbread with no sugar & the twists; hmmmm.

Carol Cousins-Tyler said...

I have my Grandma's recipe for sugar cookies, also. We made them together and my sister helped and I cherish the memory everry time I make them. Keep on baking and savering the memories! Carol

Sioux B said...

Can you get fat from pictures of cookies? Yum, yum.

Rosi G. said...

I'd like a cookie now.

Oh, and I gave all my kids baths in bowls. When they outgrew those, I just stuck them right in the kitchen sink. You gotta problem with that???

Coni said...

(She swoons....)

Well, that just confirms it. It would appear that we are, in fact, destined to finally be together.

I've longed for you from afar, and now I know that you MUST be my soul mate because of what I presume to be...Greek cookies!

Oh, Franklin, my love....at last! A Christmas wish come true!

With devotion (but not in a creepy way, I swear),

The Spinster Stitcher

I have to go now. They say it's time for my medication...

Liz said...

The cookies look wonderful. I'm most amused, however, by the picture of you screaming your head off while Mom and Grandma smile. :-)

AmberCake said...

Ok. That is killing me. I would hate you for not sharing the recipe, but I'll just hate the kids for not letting me have enough time to bake. I'm with Grandma Jenny on kids out of the kitchen, already! (you know, when you actually want food to happen)

Patti said...

My grandmother was a horrid old biddy who didn't cook, and didn't much like her grandchildren either. (The feeling was mutual). She did however teach me to knit, so I guess I can overlook her horrid old biddiness.

Heather said...

I just stumbled across your blog. First I just want to say awesome blog!! Second, I find it extremely funny that I found this post as I was taking a break from baking cookies. Most years we bake cookies to give away in tins to friends and family with each tin containing about two dozen assorted cookies, along with several dozen more for our annual Christmas Eve Party. This year we are only baking for the party. Happy Baking!!

JJ said...

I agree with Mel about the amazing family resemblance. It's what struck me most.

mbcrui knitting olympics said...

I have one of those bowls. They're the perfect size for a double batch of bread. And you can't get them anymore. Woe to the child who puts water out for the dog in it...

WonderMike said...

Hee hee. Love the drip dry poly comment. I think I have an allergy to said "fabric". I was in a thrift store yesterday and I accidentally touched some Levi's 517's and I almost had a cow. Ugggh. So gross. Not like the lovely poly-micro-fibers of today, mind you.

I must dash to the kitchen to make some shortbread because your post is an evil fattening influence.

Happy Holidaze!

sosoclever said...

I don't know why I only just started reading your blog. I <3 everything else I've read by you. It seems like it should be a natural thing.

Oh well. At least I'm doing it now.

Reading the comments on this post was almost as good as reading the post. The memories people have of their families are great.

I have a bunch of family Christmas cookie recipes that I've shared on my old LiveJournal. In my way of thinking, sharing them, particularly along with stories about them, is a way to do honor to my ancestors, and help keep their memories alive.

Not that I'm trying to get you to share the recipe. Really.

I agree they look like Kringla. They also do look like those Greek koularakia, except I thought those had a whole clove stuck in them (to symbolize the spices brought to the infant Christ by the wise men). Your description sounds a lot more like the Greek cookies, too. I don't know how well Kringla would do rolled out and cut. At least, not our family recipe. And they aren't very shortbread like at any stage.

5elementknitr said...

My family has a recipe for persimmon cookies that's over a hundred years old and we only make them at xmas time.

Wanna trade secrets? Ours are delicious!

bleach cosplay said...

Thanks for sharing this kind post