Thursday, December 23, 2021

Holiday happiness: food, fun, family and a cherished recipe

Bruce Keller displays the cookies he begged for and which the non-baker
Cookie provided. He pronounced them "incredible - far beyond edible


Grandmother Olive's vintage cookie cutters.

I AN NOT A BAKER. The art demands a precision that most improvisational cooks like me lack.
But I can still picture helping my grandmother make holiday cookies in the 1950s. The ritual was about  much more than sweets.  It was about sharing, learning, being together with my siblings and one of our all time favorite individuals.
The memories come happily alive. As I enter her well lit, geranium filled kitchen, I smell cookies baking, see  ingredients and utensils on the green counter. 
My grandmother, Olive, places a large yellow earthenware mixing bowl on the kitchen counter.
She holds her long wooden spoon like a conductor's baton, directing each grandchild to a specific task.
"Peny, beat the eggs."  "Cookie, measure sugar." "Rick, soften butter -- use a mixing spoon, not hands."
The little kids had separate "ingredients" -- flour, water, sprinkles to make their own faux cookies. 
"Watch how I sift the flour." "Here are measuring cups and spoons."  "Add an extra half-teaspoon of vanilla."  Then we mix the dry and moist ingredients. The first of the chocolate cookies cool on the counter and we children hurry to sample. 
We sing Christmas carols as we work.  Soon the counter is a mess of spilled sugar, wayward spices, egg shells. There's flour on the floor, in our hair. (Gran wears a pair of her clean pink knickers on her head, which makes us giggle.) The happily cluttered kitchen cupboard bears witness to our endeavor.   For me and my siblings, it's a cherished memory. 
Grandmother Olive
Nystul  (minus her
classic hair net.
CHRISTMAS COOKIES are a tradition in many families, and for mine, the cookies were several kinds: ginger snaps, sugar cookies and the family favorite: filled cookies, usually mincemeat and dates, with walnuts or pecans, sometimes coconut. Gram was a great improviser and encouraged that in all of us youngsters -- not only in the kitchen, but at the piano, the garden, in life in general.  
Her notes are priceless, and I've included them here.
    Dry ingredients: Mix together: 5 tsp baking powder, 4 cups sifted flour, 1 cup raw oatmeal, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp cinnamon, optional nutmeg, cloves, ginger or allspice 
  • In separate large mixing bowl, mix: 2 cups butter, 1 cup milk or buttermilk, 2 eggs. Cream these 3 ingredients with 2 cups packed brown sugar.)
  • Add sifted dry ingredients to creamed mixture. Chill dough a half hour.
  • Filling (have fun, improvise): 1 l/2 cup of dates, cup of jarred mincemeat or raisins, half-cup walnuts, 3 tbsp brandy or liquor of choice, 2 tbsp flour, 1 tbsp brown sugar or honey. Coconut, cranberries, grated orange rind. Chocolate or caramel chips make the filling too "goopy." Nice idea.
  • Grandmother Olive's filled cookies create family ambiance,
    teach baking skills and and leave lasting memories.

    If pressed for time, substitute 3-4 nine-inch prepared pie crust for dough. (No need to announce this.) Roll pastry thin on floured surface.  Pre-heat oven 350 degrees. Cut in circles or squares, top of large glass works well.  
    Separate dough into four or five rounds; refrigerate, remove one at a time. Fill each cookie with generous spoon of filling, pinch edges. Bake 10-12 minutes or until edges are golden brown.  Can store dough for a week or more, if covered. Store cookies in air tight jar. In our house, they don't usually last more than a day or two. This is a great recipe for introducing kids to the art of baking. 
"Keller and Cookie" on the road at Christmas time, off
to catch some sun, bound for a holiday away from home.
Happy holidays and a joyous New Year! We've spent many a New Year's Eve on the road, ushering in the next day on Bali, in Buenos Aires, Berlin and in Big Timber, Montana!   We take a look at the traditions and fun of celebrating this festive season and the turn of the year -- from Europe to our own back yards in San Diego and the West Fork of the Stillwater River. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays for a fresh spin on travel, nature, family, the arts and more: Please share the link with like-minded folks.

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