Category Archives: FAVORITE HOLIDAY COOKBOOKS & ARTICLES

“WHAT’S CHRISTMAS WITHOUT COOKIES?” ASKS THE COOKIE LADY

What’s Christmas without cookies ? Christmas cookies to share with family, friends, and coworkers—perhaps some cookies for the mailman (or the mail lady). I also give cookies to my manicurist. Each of my sons receives a tin of his very own cookies—chocolate chip, no “ingredients” (ingredients are nuts, raisins, coconut or any of those other yucky things that I love so much. When my sons were children, they took containers of cookies to their teachers.

A few years ago, I bought Disney-theme cookie jars and filled them with different kinds of cookies. Along with my sons and their families, one of the cookie jars went to my younger sister and her family, who also live in California. Other cookies are wrapped in baskets or tins—or whatever suitable containers I find (I search for cookie containers throughout the year. Some of our best bargains have been containers bought at Target, after the holidays, for 90% off).

When I got married in 1958, I had one Betty Crocker cookbook and a boxful of recipe pamphlets. That Christmas, General Mills published a small booklet called “Betty Crocker’s Holiday Almanac” – I kept it, and began saving the Christmas recipe sections in my December magazines; Woman’s Day always published a tear-out cookie/candy recipe section—the earliest I have was published in1962. These are in 3-ring binders that have somehow grown to 8 thick binders, just with cookie recipes.

What I had, in 1958, was a start – enough recipes to bake some cookies and a few batches of fudge. When we moved to California in 1961 we had little more than a car-trunk full of clothing and the baby’s bed—but I somehow managed to do some holiday baking.

In 1963 – after moving back to Ohio in March, returning to California in December-
We didn’t even have furniture (much less a tree)…but I baked cookies; we invited friends over and everyone sat on the floor drinking coffee and eating Christmas cookies.

From these austere beginnings, my holiday cookie baking grew until it began to reach mammoth proportions. In the mid 60s, a girlfriend and I began making cookie dough in September, and freezing the batches. When we thought we had a goodly amount of cookie dough (I think about ten or twelve batches each) we’d embark on a cookie-baking-marathon. We did our baking late at night at her house, around the corner from me, because her husband worked nights and it was the only time I could get out of the house—when all four of my children were asleep. When we finished, we had filled all of our Tupperware containers and anything else we could find to use for storage. We’d divvy up the cookies, giving burnt ones to our husbands and children to eat and were ready to pack our own cookies into smaller containers for gift-giving.

We were purists, in those days—everything was made from scratch, with real butter and only the best of all ingredients—no imitation vanilla for us! I think there was one frightful year (1975?) when sugar was $5.00 for a 5-lb bag and we had to search for cookie recipes using honey or molasses.

In the 80s, along came cookie exchanges—frankly, these don’t always work out the way you’d like; someone always shows up with store-bought cookies (“I didn’t have time to bake”) or cookies with burned bottoms that no one wants. In theory or in the women’s magazines, cookie exchanges are always fantastic. Take it from me; it doesn’t always happen. You can tell people repeatedly that it’s a Christmas cookie exchange and you want them to make Christmas cookies and you can bet that over half of the contributions will be ordinary (non-Christmas) cookies. In my women’s magazines, cookie exchanges are always so extraordinary – maybe the secret would be to tell everyone that a magazine journalist and photographer will be at the exchange, in order to assure everyone bringing Christmas cookies.

In the 90s, along came grandchildren and my niece and two nephews, children of my younger sister who herself is young enough to be one of my children (I was 21 when she was born). The arrival of these children opened new vistas for cookie baking. We have baked cookies (children love to make cut-out cookies) which are wildly decorated with sprinkles (children believe that more is better). We also began a new family tradition of having a cookie-and-craft day sometime before Christmas, but also for Valentine’s Day and Easter. I make large (holiday appropriate) cookies for them to decorate and we do some kind of craft project that “goes with” the cookie—for instance, when they decorated big tree-shaped cookies, they also decorated small artificial Christmas trees to take home). This has turned into a big event not only for my grandchildren and my sister’s children, but also for my godson, and some of my friends’ children. (The big cookie idea actually has its roots back when my two younger sons were in first and second grades, and I would make enough large cookies—and plenty of frosting—for all the children in their classes to decorate a cookie to take home).

Nowadays, I admit—I’ve learned a lot of short-cuts, such as making cookies from cake mixes. There are entire cookbooks dedicated to teaching you how to bake wonderful tasty cookies from a cake mix! And in recent years (I am confessing this publicly) I have been stocking up on refrigerated sugar cookie dough and using it for our cut-out cookies.

What you have to do, though, is let the cookie dough come to room temperature, mix in as much flour as possible (usually about half a cup or more to one package of refrigerated cookie dough) – mix in it until it’s blended, then shape into several balls and re-refrigerate the dough until its very firm. I usually work with 2-3 packages of refrigerated cookie dough at a time, Adding flour and sometimes something like a little nutmeg, then reshaping it into balls and putting it back into the refrigerator to firm up. Normally, those refrigerated cookie dough cookies spread too much and lose their shape–the added flour will prevent that from happening. Last year my grandson’s school was selling Masterpiece cookie dough for a fundraiser – my goodness! That sugar cookie dough of theirs was excellent.

There was a time I would have turned my nose up at pre-made cookie dough but if you work with it enough, you can still make really good cut out cookies.

And here’s a tip: You can take sugar cookie dough and turn out dozens of different cookies with it–all you need is some imagination and a lot of sprinkles, jimmies, chopped walnuts or pecans and melted chocolate.

I still search all year long for sales on tins and other containers, for sprinkles and jimmies when they are on sale after a holiday, or for cookie cutters on sale half price after Christmas.

And even though I have retired, former coworkers know they can expect to receive a tin of cookies from me. I also take large containers of cookies to the Claims Department, where I worked. My friend Tina used to say that whenever she took some cookies home, her husband asked, “Are these from the cookie lady?” It’s a good title. I think I’ll keep it.

You can mix and freeze most batches of cookie dough so it’s never too early to get a head start, but before I begin mixing, I always have to go through my cookie files and decide what I’ll make this year. Some recipes are a given; two of my sons want only chocolate chip cookies, no nuts, no other “weird” ingredients (their description, not mine. “Weird” would be something like chocolate-covered raisins). Close friends put in their favorite requests, such as Crispy Little Lemon Wafers or Mexican Wedding Cakes. Bob liked Springerle; it reminded him of his childhood. A few years ago, I found a beautiful large Springerle board at store in Santa Barbara—and it was on sale! A lot of people don’t like Springerle, which has Anise seeds and extract in it. The finished product is a hard dry cookie, good for dunking. I, on the other hand, am very partial to those paper-thin Monrovian spice cookies that I can never get thin enough with my rolling pin.

I make a lot of sugar cut-out cookies and this is a good project to do with grandchildren. One year in the 1960s, I left butter cutout cookies, all freshly decorated, drying on every available surface in the kitchen and dining room. When we got up the next morning, we found our 5 year old son had eaten the icing off every single cookie. (He didn’t like to be reminded of this).

I have to make a batch of diamond-shaped butter cookies encrusted with finely chopped walnuts and sugar; my paternal grandmother always made these and the cookie cutter I use to make them was hers.

We make lots of cookies throughout the year and you can generally find the cookie jar in the kitchen filled to the top, but Christmas is the time to make special cookies, the ones you don’t make any old time…like Spritz, and chocolate pinwheels, candy canes and gingerbread boys.

Christmas has always been my favorite holiday. In the 1940s and 50s, when I was growing up, there was very little money. We recycled gift wrap and ribbon, ironing out the wrinkles. We made our own gift tags with stickers that didn’t stick on anything else. Once a year, I took my two younger brothers shopping in downtown Cincinnati. We rode the bus there, and visited all the department store Santas to get free candy canes, then did all of our shopping at the 5&10 cent stores. Somehow we managed to buy presents for everyone in the family with our meager savings.

My mother didn’t shop for a tree until Christmas Eve day, when she could get it half-price. We never saw the tree until it was decorated, with presents piled all around. We were generally kept out of the house, visiting my grandmother, until my father came to pick us up. Somehow we always got there just after Santa Claus left – “Hurry, if you look out in the back you might catch a glimpse!”

Christmas was celebrated Christmas Eve and we have carried on the tradition. I tell the grandkids when they arrive, “You just missed Santa! If you look out the back door, maybe you can catch a glimpse of him!”

For those of you who want to start creating your own holiday traditions, cookies are a good way to start. You don’t have to buy a lot of cookbooks (although I do have a lot of cookie cookbooks) – nor do you have to go and buy all the November/December women’s magazines featuring cookie recipes (although these are inspiring and great to collect in a 3-ring binder) – you can find all the recipes anyone could possibly ever dream about right on the internet. One of my favorite websites is http://www.allrecipes.com but I promise you, there are many others.

But if you can’t stand the thought of using refrigerated cookie dough, here is an old tried-and-true favorite cookie dough that I have been making for decades (before the refrigerated stuff came along):

WHITE CHRISTMAS COOKIES

1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
4 eggs, well beaten
4 cups all purpose flour-sifted
1/8 tsp each nutmeg & cinnamon

Cream butter, gradually add sugar; beat with electric mixer until light and
Fluffy. Beat in eggs. Sift together dry ingredients and stir into creamed
Mixture. Store overnight in covered container. Roll dough very thin (I
Roll it out between 2 sheets of wax paper that have been dusted with flour). Cut into shapes. Bake at 350 Degrees 1-13 minutes. Makes 16 dozen small cookies.

*I always use parchment paper on the baking sheets; this eliminates ever
needing to butter the cookie sheets. Always cool cookies on wire racks.
When completely cool, they can be stacked in plastic storage containers.

EASY TOFFEE CRACKER BARS

Easy bars with graham crackers, pecans, and other ingredients. Technically speaking, I wouldn’t call this a cookie – it’s more of a confection. But these are wildly popular with everyone.
Ingredients:
• 20 graham crackers (individual squares), regular or chocolate
• 1 1/2 sticks butter (6 ounces)
• 3/4 cup brown sugar
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 1/2 cup chopped pecans
Preparation:
Line a jelly roll pan (10×15-inch) with foil; arrange graham crackers in the pan in a single layer. Combine butter and sugar in a heavy medium saucepan; bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Boil for 2 minutes; stir in vanilla and chopped pecans. Pour the hot mixture over crackers and spread evenly. Bake 10 minutes at 350°. Remove at once from pan to flat surface to cool. When cool, break into smaller pieces.

CLUB CRACKER BARS

1 box club crackers
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup cream or condensed milk
1 cup crushed graham crackers
1 cup coconut
1/2 cup nuts, chopped
1/4 tsp salt

Line a 13×9 inch pan with whole club crackers. Mix remaining ingredients together. Bring to a boil stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, until thick. Pour over club crackers. Top with more whole crackers.

Icing:
5 tbsp butter
1/2 cup milk or cream
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
cocoa (optional)

Mix ingredients together. Beat well. Frost the crackers. Cut into squares.

**

ORANGE SLICE SQUARES

4 eggs
¼ cup milk
1 pound light brown sugar
2 cups flour
1 ½ cups candied orange slices, chopped
1 cup chopped pecans

Beat eggs, add milk and brown sugar and beat well. Sift flour and add to mixture reserving enough flour to mix with chopped orange slices and pecans. Fold into mixture. Pour batter onto a 15x10x1” well greased cookie sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Cool. Spread icing evening on top. Cut into squares.

Icing

1 tbsp butter, softened
3 tbsp evaporated milk
1 tbsp orange rind
2 cups powdered sugar

Combine all ingredients thoroughly.

LEMON BISCOTTI

1 ½ cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup cornmeal
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
3 TBSP water
2 TBSP canola oil
4 tsp lemon zest
½ tsp lemon extract
½ cup confectioners sugar
2 tsp lemon juice
yellow sugar (optional)

Preheat oven 375 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick spray. Combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt in a bowl. With an electric mixer on high speed, beat the granulated sugar, egg, water, oil, lemon zest and lemon extract until blended. On low speed, add the flour mixture, beating just until combined.

Place dough in 2 (12”) logs, 3” apart on the sheet. Bake until golden, 20 minutes. Cool the logs on the sheet for 10 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board. Cut each log crosswise into ½” slices. Arrange slices in a single layer on the sheet and bake until lightly browned, 15-18 minutes. Cool on a rack.

For the icing, whisk confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice until smooth. Drizzle on the biscotti; sprinkle at once with yellow sugar (if using). Let stand until icing hardens, about 2 hours.

This last recipe is for the Christmas tree cookies I baked and Savannah decorated for my sister’s cookie exchange one year:

Savannah’s Christmas Tree Cookies

4 1-lb packages of refrigerated sugar cookie dough
1 to 1 ½ cups of flour
Butter cream frosting
Various sprinkles

Let refrigerated cookie dough come to room temperature in a large bowl. When soft enough to handle, mix in flour to make a stiff dough. Shape into four balls of dough and re-refrigerate until firm. Roll out and cut with tree shaped cutters. Bake at 350 8 to 10 minutes (until just brown around the edges). Cool on racks. Spread with butter cream frosting that has been tinted green with food coloring. Decorate as desired. Makes about 6 dozen (more if you have a smaller tree cutter than what we were using).
**

One final suggestion about baking and decorating cookies–if you have children or grandchildren or even neighborhood children – to decorate cookies with, by all means do. These are precious memories they will always cherish. And so will you!

Happy Cookie baking!

Sandy (The Cookie Lady)

REDISCOVERING BREAD PUDDING

Bread pudding was one of the few desserts that we grew up on, Although we might have that or rice pudding just as easily for breakfast as we did for dessert.  Dessert just wasn’t a part of my mother’s repertoire, except for special occasions like Christmas.

 It’s easy to understand how the bread pudding (or rice pudding) managed to make it to the table. We always had bread; my mother baked homemade bread twice a week in large roasting pans. We rarely had “store bought bread” in the house until much later, after my mother began working at Crosley’s over in Camp Washington.  (My sister Barbara recalled that we had the only mother in the neighborhood who worked full time—mind you, this was a time, in the 1940s and 1950s, when most mothers stayed at home).  It doesn’t surprise me that we might have left over rice from any meal; my mother’s rice was like library paste.  The most you could hope for was to break down the pasty consistency by spooning on a lot of chicken broth.  We always had mom’s library paste rice with stewed chicken for Sunday dinner. I was an adult living in California before I discovered that I really do like rice. (and my brother Bill has confessed to liking mom’s  library paste rice.)

I don’t think my mother had a recipe for making bread pudding although it’s entirely possible that she may have followed the recipe for Bread Puff Pudding that I found in her Ida Bailey Allen Service Cookbook.  The recipe is a simple combination of milk, bread crumbs, a bit of butter, small amount of sugar, vanilla, and a couple of eggs.  These would have been all ingredients on hand in my mother’s kitchen. Mom’s bread pudding sometimes contained some raisins, too.

What got me thinking about bread pudding was a surgery my daughter-in-law had one year.  Keara was recuperating from a tonsillectomy/adenoidectomy, and was able to eat only soft foods.  I sent home to her a double batch of creamy tapioca pudding. She requested another comfort food; bread pudding.  Then, while searching through my box of newspaper clippings, I came across an article that appeared in the December 10, 1987 edition of the Los Angeles Times – and the subject was – you guessed it – bread puddings.

One of the recipes sounded so good that I decided it was the one to make; I just had to go out and buy a loaf of white bread, which we seldom have on hand, and then “make it stale” by letting the slices set out on the kitchen counter for half a day.

Well, I want you to know, this was a great bread pudding recipe—I did have to sample it, of course, to make sure I wasn’t sending Keara something she wouldn’t be able to eat!

Betty Balsley, the author of this particular article in the Los Angeles Times, explains her love for leftovers (something I can really relate to) and says that she’s always fascinated by the way home cooks as well as professional chefs adeptly handle flavors and texture to produce unforgettable culinary creations.

“Thus it was,” she writes, “that when attending the Newspaper Food Editors and Writers Assn. Conference in New Orleans in October, I gained an unmentionable number of pounds sampling an almost amazing variety of these classic American sweets (i.e., bread puddings). “None,” she claims, “were bad. A few were so-so but the majority were worth every calorie they added to my frame…”

What followed was an assortment of bread pudding recipes, ranging from Omni Royal Orleans Bread Pudding to Commander’s Palace Bread Pudding souffle with Whiskey Sauce.  I chose to make “Allie And Etell’s Bread Pudding. The Allie, I presume, is Paul Prudhomme’s sister Allie.  I added raisins to my batch of bread pudding, because what is bread pudding without raisins?

By now, as you might suspect, my curiosity was piqued. Do only the chefs of Louisiana know how to make bread pudding? Sylvia Lovegren, in “FASHIONABLE FOOD” writes of it “Bread pudding was another one of those old-fashioned all-American dishes that were de rigueur for trendy chefs. Although bread puddings were made around the country with every sort of ‘regional accent’, one of the most popular was one with a Southern, especially southern Louisiana, twang….”

Lovegren then offers a recipe for Bread Pudding with Pecan Bourbon Sauce.

Since the topic of bread pudding appears in Lovegren’s chapter for the 1980s, possibly this also explains how an article devoted to bread puddings ended up in a 1987 edition of the Los Angeles Times. Most food historians whose works I consulted don’t mention bread pudding at all.  So, what’s the story?

Even my tried-and-true “WISE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF COOKERY” has disappointingly little to say about bread pudding, other than suggesting they are an excellent way of using slightly dry bread and offering two recipes. Numerous “Americana” cookbooks fail to mention bread pudding at all, whereas, – at least – in “THE BEST OF SHAKER COOKING”, authors provide ten recipes for the dessert, ranging from Shaker Mountain Blueberry Pudding to Maple Bread Pudding. All sound delicious.

A Good Housekeeping cookbook published in 1942-43 offers ten bread pudding recipes as well, including one for the Queen of Puddings which is mentioned in “PIONEER POTLUCK”, stories an recipes of Early Colorado, collected by the State Historical Society of Colorado. “THE PIONEER COOK BOOK” published by the Daughters of Utah Pioneers provides one recipe for Grandma Taylor’s Milton Pudding or Bread Pudding.  Queens Pudding is also mentioned in the “LINCOLN HERITAGE TRAIL COOKBOOK” by Marian French. (It seems that bread pudding was elevated to Queen’ Pudding by spreading the top with a layer of jelly or preserves after it was baked. Then you made a meringue with the whites of a couple of eggs and two tablespoons of sugar, and spread that over the top. Finally, you baked it again until the meringue was a light brown.

“THE PRACTICAL RECEIPT BOOK” published in 1897 by the Young Ladies Aid Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church of Sewickley, Pennsylvania offers no less than sixty-five pudding recipes, two of which are for the Queen Pudding.

However, finding recipes for Bread Pudding doesn’t answer my original question—nor does it explain to me why or how this delicious dessert disappeared from the American culinary landscape.  Have we all become so busy that the only kind of puddings we have anymore are of the instant packaged variety that require only the addition of milk—or, equally tasteless — a pre-made item that you pick up in the dairy section of the supermarket, which only requires peeling off a foil cover? Ew, ew!

Perhaps we have to search into the much more distant past for the answer to the origin of bread pudding, or desserts in general as we know them.

Not much is known about desserts in the middle ages.  Patricia Bunning Stevens writes about desserts in “RARE BITS” subtitled “Unusual Origins of Popular Recipes”.

Describing the middle ages, she states, “…at the end of the meal, the table was cleared and spiced wine served, with sweet wafers, raisins, nuts, and ‘comfits,’ as sugared caraway seeds and anise seeds were called. It is from these simple beginnings that our modern ‘dessert’ stems, for the word comes from the French desservir and, ultimately, from the Latin dis servir, to remove what has been served, to clear (the table).

As time went by, the idea of true desserts spread and various countries developed their own preferences. “To Englishmen” writes Ms. Stevens, “the only dessert that ever really counted was the pudding….”  She continues with a rather detailed explanation of the English Pudding which contains dried fruit and spices; however, Ms. Stevens has nothing to add on the subject of bread pudding.

Until around 1800, the word pudding nearly always signified a sausage of some kind—i.e., a meat-filled casing. In “FRUITCAKES & COUCH POTATOES,” author Christine Ammer also notes that, “In Britain, the word ‘pudding’ alone often signifies the dessert course of a meal, whether or not it consists of the thick, soft, sweet mixture so called by Americans”.

Writing about plum puddings, Betty Wason, in “COOKS, GLUTTONS & GOURMETS,” notes that it was during the reign of Henry VIII that the Christmas feast came about.  “Plum Pudding,” says Wason, “originated as ‘plum soup’ made of mutton stock, currants, prunes, raisins and sherry; then bread was added to thicken it, and it was called ‘plum porridge’.  Eventually it became mostly meat with suet, wheat, raisins, currants, and spices added. Even the stews of England in those days were sweet and gooey, so spiced no one knew quite what the meat tasted like. (I think the main reason for that may have been that the meat was bad or tainted—the heavy spices would have masked the actual taste of the meat. It was for the same reason that the French concocted so many sauces to put over meats. But I digress).

“Plum Puddings,” Wason explains, “were made by the dozens—literally—because according to superstition, it was good luck to eat a plum pudding on each of the days between Christmas and Epiphany, ‘making a wish on the first mouthful each day.’  But woe to anyone who nibbled at a holiday pudding before the Christmas feast began—he would be in trouble for twelve months to come…”  (Sounds like something someone’s mother would have come up with to make sure no one was getting into the feast day food too soon!)

While doing a search on Google.com, I found a short but illuminating clue to the history of bread pudding. To make bread pudding, an oven is necessary; you can’t make it very well in a pot on top of the stove.  In early pioneer times, as we know, food was cooked over an open fire. The English version of foods like plum pudding were cooked on top of a stove but the whole mess was put into a pudding cloth that was suspended into a pot of water. The English pudding came into its own only with the invention of the cloth pudding bag at the end of the sixteenth century (before that, animal organs were used to encase the pudding process).

Another clue—centuries ago, women might mix up their own loaves of bread but they usually had to take it to something like a communal oven or to a professional baker–to have it baked. The lady of the house might mark her bread with the letter of their name or her own special design (from which we have the Patty Cake nursery rhyme line, “roll it and shape it, mark it with a “b” and put it in the oven for baby and me”.

To make something like bread pudding, as we know it, stoves—with ovens—had to be invented and make their way into ordinary households.

Having found no definitive answer to my initial question—who created or invented the first bread pudding—I feel compelled to make an assumption or two.

Bread pudding as we know it is most likely a creation of the mid-or-late 1800s, devised during frugal periods, to make use of stale bread. And there were, indeed, many austere periods in American history. It was one of the primary reasons so many men and women headed west in the mid 1800s, searching for a better life.

**

Louisiana chefs have, unquestionably, elevated the status of bread pudding to new heights while modern day cooks have come up with new and delicious creations using croissants, dried cranberries, day old cinnamon rolls or cinnamon bread. (type in bread pudding on Google.Com and you will come up with literally thousands of websites and bread pudding recipes galore.

Here for you to try is one of the recipes that appeared in the Los Angeles Times article. I’ve made a few minor changes to the original recipe because, as most people who know me are aware, I can’t leave a recipe alone.

¼ lb (1 stick)  unsalted butter (should be softened, room temperature)

1 cup sugar

2 (12 oz) cans evaporated milk (undiluted)

3 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

¾ teaspoon ground nutmeg

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

7 slices stale white sandwich bread, toasted

½ cup seedless raisins or dried cranberries

Place butter and sugar in large bowl of electric mixer and beat on medium speed until mix is well creamed, about 5 minutes. Add milk, eggs, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, cream of tartar and ginger. Beat on low speed until well-blended, about 3 minutes.

Break toasted bread into small pieces and arrange in even layer in bottom of ungreased 8×8” baking pan. Sprinkle on raisins. Pour milk mixture over the bread and let it stand for about 1 hour, occasionally patting down any bread that floats to the top.

Bake 450 degrees 20-25 minutes or until top is very well browned and mixture shakes like a bowl of jelly when pan is shaken. Remove from oven and let stand 15 minutes before serving.   Makes 8-10 servings

Note: raisins, roasted pecans or other nuts or coconut can be added to recipe if desired.  I’ve discovered that dried blueberries also makes a nice addition.

I’ll leave you with this quotation, from Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, in which he writes, “Hallo!  A great deal of steam! The pudding was out of the copper. A smell like a washing-day!  That was the cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastrycook’s next door to each other…”

Review by Sandra Lee Smith

THE GREAT AMERICAN CHRISTMAS COOKIE SWAP

As closely as I can remember, the December issue of Redbook magazine once featured a cookie exchange, festive with photographs and—if I am not mistaken—this particular cookie exchange took place in Ohio in the 1970s. I have collected the December issues of many women’s magazines for about fifty years and most are packed in boxes in the garage—I hate to part with any of them.

What I do remember best is that a group of us—coworkers in the office where I worked—held a few cookie exchanges. I hosted one in my home. A friend named Lyn also hosted one. Another year we had the cookie exchange at work . The first cookie exchange was really a flop. We spread the cookies out on platters and let everyone just help themselves to whatever they wanted. As hostess I ended up with all the burnt, crumbling cookies no one else wanted. First lesson learned: Everybody brings 5 or 6 dozen of ONE cookie. It must be a Christmas cookie and it can’t be store bought. Yes, people brought store bought cookies and made no attempt to conceal it. Then each guest receives two or three of each cookie, depending on how many people are there.

Last year I bought a Good Housekeeping cookbook titled THE GREAT CHRISTMAS COOKIE SWAP COOKBOOK.  Theoretically, cookie exchanges should work out to everybody’s satisfaction.  The problem is getting six or more women to put some real effort into making six dozen of one Christmas cookie and putting some thought and consideration into the project.  At one of the cookie exchanges my younger sister hosted, she compiled all the recipes into booklets for each of the guests. And no matter how much the hostess emphasizes that the cookies shouldn’t be ordinary run-of-the-mill cookies—they should be Christmas cookies.  Despite our emphasis on this rule, several people will still bring an ordinary chocolate chip or oatmeal cookie.  Inevitably, they will say they really don’t know how to bake Christmas cookies or they didn’t have time. there are more excuses than there are cookies.

One Christmas, my granddaughter and I made large Christmas tree cookies, frosted and decorated to look like a Christmas tree.  I baked; she decorated.  It baffles me that, years later – so many people don’t understand the concept of a cookie exchange.

I read on Google that cookie exchanges go back seventy years or more. I never heard of them at all until people I worked with started talking about cookie exchanges.

So, what to do if you are invited to attend a cookie exchange?  Put some thought into one cookie that would look festive and yummy. It doesn’t need to be very elaborate or expensive. If your resources are limited, buy a couple bags of a cookie mix; beg or borrow a few Christmas cookie cutters from a friend or neighbor. You will need two nice cookie sheets; if you line them with parchment paper, you can reuse the paper many times. If you make little star cookies, a small star will yield a lot of cookies.  You can make dozens of little stars in a very short time. Cool them on a rack and when the stars are cool, glaze them with a thin white frosting, If you have a young helper in the kitchen let your sous chef helper drizzle some colored sprinkles on the glaze before it has time to set.    Before you can sing all the verses to Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, your cookies will be baked, decorated, and ready to pack in little plastic baggies. And stores like Michaels and JoAnn’s have loads of different kinds of bags in which to pack your cookies. Or spread them out on a large Christmassy platter.

Take a copy of your recipe along to give to the hostess or if you are ambitious enough. make enough copies so that each guest (and the hostess) receives a copy.

Guests are sometimes asked to bring a few extra cookies for sampling; the hostess may offer coffee or tea to go with the cookie tasting.

It isn’t rocket science, girlfriends – a cookie exchange is easy.

–Sandra Lee Smith

 

 

 

“The Rules of the Cookie Exchange”
by Robin Olson ©1997

  1. All cookies should be homemade, baked and main ingredient must be flour.
  2. No plain chocolate chip cookies, cookie mixes, no-bakes, meringues or bars.
  3. Please bring 6 dozen total cookies.
  4. The theme is “Christmas Cookies” (You can make any theme you like.)
  5. Arrange cookies in a basket or platter and be creative! Bring a large container to carry away your cookie, (or the hostess can provide a take away container.)
  6. Email a copy of your recipe before the party (or bring recipe to the party)
  7. Christmas (or party theme) attire is encouraged!
  8. RSVP as soon as you can and let me know what type of cookies you are planning on baking – no duplicate recipes are allowed.
  9. There’s a prize for the best Christmas outfit. (Give prizes!)
  10. If you don’t have time to bake, or have burnt your cookies, but still want to attend, you must go to a real bakery and buy 6 dozen yummy cookies.

Go here for a simple text version of the rules to copy and paste. Modify to suit your needs and include on a separate sheet, with your invitation.

THE RULES OF THE COOKIE EXCHANGE
(aka Cookie Exchange Rules, Cookie Swap Rules)

Robin L. Olson, Copyright 1997

Copyrights notice: “The “Rules of the Cookie Exchange” are for your personal *offline* use, feel free to change items to suit your needs and no acknowledgments are needed.

If you’re a writer, journalist, blogger or posting to message boards (ie; anything online or in print publication) using the CE rules, (in part or whole) please give credit where credit is due, and create an active link on the bottom of the same page that says:
“Some content courtesy of Robin Olson, Cookie-Exchange.com.”

 

SOME MORE FAVORITE CHRISTMAS COOKIE COOKBOOKS

My collection of Christmas-themed cookbooks actually fills one entire large bookcase; even so, there are a few favorite cookbooks that I turn to year after year. Ditto some of the recipes typed or written on 3×5” recipe cards—the cookie recipe cards fill have a dozen recipe boxes but there are some that are more worn and frequently used than others. I imagine most of us have favorites like these.

One of my favorite cookbooks is Mimi Sheraton’s VISIONS OF SUGARPLUMS.  Even the title is captivating. VISIONS OF SUGARPLUMS was first published in 1968. Mine is a revision published in 1981 by Harper & Row.

VISIONS OF SUGARPLUMS is subtitled “A cookbook of cakes, cookies, candies & confections from all the Countries that celebrate Christmas” Sheraton had me captivated in the first paragraph of the Preface, where she writes, “When this book was first published thirteen years ago, it represented the results of what might be considered a hobby—a joint interest in Christmas and in food that had led me to collect recipes for traditional Christmas confections over many years…”  (Are we soul sisters? Long lost twins?)

Later, she comments, “No holiday has a wider variety of special symbolic foods than Christmas and anyone who prepares the cakes, cookies, candies and drinks related to that holiday can feel a long connection with the past, for many of the foods maintain traditions that began centuries ago—some even before Christianity itself…”

Following is the Introduction featuring the Six Weeks of Christmas, From Advent to Twelfth night in which Sheraton writes, “No Christmas memory would seem to be complete without recollections of the holiday foods, most especially the sweets: the yeasty coffee breads golden with saffron and mace; the aged and ripened fruit cakes spiked with whiskey or brandy and jeweled with bits of candied fruits; crisp butter cookies peppery with ginger or aromatic with anise; darkly rich mince pies, plum cakes and puddings; the flaming wine punches and soul-warming wassails; the sensuously sweet taffies and marzipan candies; and the pervasive comfortable scents of vanilla, peppermint, nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves…”  This is followed with all the Six weeks of special holiday observances, including December  6th and 7th, St Nicholas Eve and Day, which was celebrated religiously in my childhood home. We hung long white socks of my father’s (because they were bigger) and would find a tangerine, some walnuts, hard candies and maybe a small toy in our stockings. I don’t recall ever having a tangerine at any other time of the year and it still amazes me to think we had a prolific tangerine tree in our front yard in Arleta.

January 6th is known alternatively as Three Kings’ Day or Night, the Feast of the Magi, Twelfth Night – to us, as children, it was the Feast of the Three Kings and my grandmother made doughnuts for us – each doughnut would have a coin in it, usually a nickel or a dime, I think.

Because I want to remain focused on cookies, I’ll save a more detailed description of VISIONS OF SUGARPLUMS for another time – Chapter Three, Cookies & Small Cakes, starts with Drop and Bar Cookies from various countries – Brandy Snaps from England, Anise Drops from Germany, Canadian Fruit squares and Elise Lebkuchen from the ancient Bavarian city, Nuremberg. I think the Honey Lebkuchen is the recipe I have been making for several decades.

There are recipes for Hazelnut Macaroons, Pine Nut Macaroons, Chocolate Macaroons—take your pick!  Pepper Nuts is called Pfeffernusse in Germany or Pepparnotter  in Sweden—in any language they last a long time if stored in an airtight container and the recipe makes about nine dozen cookies!  Sheraton comments that in Pennsylvania Dutch country, this dough (Pefferniss) is allowed to ripen at room temperature for one to  two weeks, after which it is shaped into rolls, chilled and cut  to bake –they can be rolled in powdered sugar while still warm or allowed to cool and iced.

My daughter in law’s favorite Snickerdoodles are in VISIONS OF SUGARPLUMS with the comment that the recipe is Pennsylvania Dutch and New England—I wonder if she knows that?

There are molded and shaped cookies, such as Hazelnut Crescents from Northern and Central Europe and Finnish Chestnut Fingers that I am thinking would be fun to make (and why didn’t I collect more chestnuts from the grounds of a place my friend Bev & I visited in Oregon? The ground was littered with fallen Chestnuts; I took about a dozen to bring home with me because they look just like Buckeyes from the Buckeye Tree in Ohio. In Ohio, women keep a buckeye in their handbags for good luck).

There are recipes for Swedish cinnamon Sand cookies which I think I would like to make this year, Baseler Leckerli from Switzerland, the Pennsylvania Dutch Belsnickles (which used to be given to masked revelers—Belsnickles—who went bell ringing from one house to another on Christmas Eve) and Bellylaps, another Pennsylvania Dutch cookies similar to Moravian Brown Sugar Cookies but are a little less brittle and can be used for tree ornaments. But I think I would like to try making Swedish Gingersnaps which should be rolled to paper thinness—or perhaps Moravian Brown Sugar cookies, which also must be rolled paper-thin.  This is just a sampling of the cookie recipes to be found in VISIONS OF SUGAR PLUMS.

It is listed in Amazon.com for $19.00 (hardcover, new) or 95c for a pre-owned copy. I could not find a listing on Alibris.com

One of my older (1971) cookbooks is HOMEMADE COOKIES by the Food Editors of Farm Journal.  Years ago – in the late 1960s, early 1970s, I think – a penpal began introducing me to Farm Journal cookbooks. These became my tried-and-true recipes of the time. (Every so often I find a copy of this cookbook at the Lancaster Friends library sale – I snap them up to give to friends; the cookbooks are good.) There are hundreds of recipes and they’re all good.  My copy is almost falling apart, it’s been used that much. This one is featured on Amazon.com starting at one cent for a pre-owned copy.

Another favorite cookbook from 1963 is THE ART OF MAKING GOOD COOKIES PLAIN AND FANCY by Annette Laslett Ross and Jean Adams Disney—another one of those can’t-be-beat cookie cookbooks. (This one is featured on Alibris.com for 99c. Amazon.com has pre-owned copies starting at one cent).

A third favorite is COOKIE COOKERY by John Zenker and Hazel G. Zenker, published in 1969. I found COOKIE COOKERY on Amazon.com, pre-owned copies starting at one cent.

A little treasure of a cookbook that was given to me by a friend is THE CHRISTMAS COOKIE BOOK by Virginia Pasley, published in 1949 (I wasn’t collecting cookbooks back then but this is one of those timeless cookbooks written in a friendly chatty style).  Alibris.com doesn’t have this one in stock, but Amazon.com does, starting at $1.32 for a pre-owned copy.

FAVORITE BRAND NAME 100 BEST HOLIDAY COOKIES is nicely designed with hidden wire binding and a lot of color photographs of the cookies. I found this one on Amazon.com new for $2.97 and pre-owned starting at one cent. I have half a dozen post-its sticking out of its pages- the recipes I thought I might like to try this Christmas. (Reminds me of the saying “so many books, so little time” – only I would call it, SO MANY COOKIES, SO LITTLE TIME).

These are a few of my favorite cookbooks – as time permits, I will try to share some of my other favorites with you.  Happy Cookie Baking!!

–Sandra Lee Smith (portions previously posted on sandychatter in 2011)

CHRISTMAS ON THE FARM

Christmas on the Farm, edited by Lela Nargi, is a collection of favorite recipes, stories, gift ideas and decorating tips from The Farmer’s Wife. First published in 2011 by Voyageur Press, it is a beautiful hardbound book to add to your favorite Christmas collection.

In the Introduction, Lela Nargi writes “The Farmer’s Wife (which is enjoying a resurgence of popularity for the past few years—Nargi has been publishing a number of “Farmer’s Wife” cookbooks, all available to check over on Amazon.com)– was originally a monthly magazine published in Minnesota between the years 1893 and 1939. In an era long before the Internet and high-speed travel connected us all, the magazine aimed to offer community among hard-working rural women, to provide a forum for their questions and concerns, and to assist them in the day-to-day goings-on about the farm—everything from raising chickens and slaughtering hogs, to managing scant funds and dressing the children, to keeping house and running the kitchen.”

“Christmas was the be-all, end-all celebration on the farm—more than Easter, New Year’s or even Thanksgiving,” she writes. “This quintessential holiday of giving and togetherness gave rise to pages and pages on the topic in every December issue of the magazine. And these pages weren’t just about food—although recipes for all the various components of dinners and parties and holiday gift baskets certainly abounded. The magazine’s experts expounded on the best and latest ways to decorate home, tree, and parcels. Its monthly columnists devoted themselves to the matters of home-made gifts for family and friends, and games to be played to festively capture the spirit of the season. Its readers wrote in with tales of Christmases in other lands, in times gone by. Its editors rhapsodized in and out of two wars, on the value of peace and compassion.”

“In short,” Lela explains, “The Farmer’s Wife” presented its own opinion—both grand and humble, broad and minute, and always, always bearing in mind the idea of community among its readers—about the ways in which Christmas should be celebrated…”

CHRISTMAS ON THE FARM presents, with nostalgia, a way of life that has to a certain degree disappeared from the American landscape and lifestyle. The book starts off with the Christmas, 1920 issue of the magazine (you’d have to be a mentally alert ninety-three year old citizen to remember that decade);

Lela writes, “To those who live in the land of snow and Christmas trees, the twenty-fifth of December blends all its associations with the gleam of snow on hills and fields and woods, the fragrance of fir and pine, the leaping light of Christmas hearthfires. But Christmas is a world-wide day and the environment determined by climate is but an external.

They tell us, too, that ‘Christmas on the Farm’ is the only ideal Christmas. The Farmer’s Wife carries its Christmas message into all zones, from Florida, to the frozen North and from its own home in the corn belt to the edges of the continent where the oceans roar out their accompaniment to the carols of the good, glad day. It is a message of love, and faith and cheer as befits a Christmas message of love, because love is always the winner of faith, because without that staunch quality, nothing would ever be accomplished, of cheer, because when we have love and faith, the flame of cheer follows as a  matter of course—as light follows the burning torch….”

I may have been born in the wrong period of time—as I read and typed the above, it crosses my mind that this message would be “politically incorrect” in the world we live in today. You can’t even say “Merry Christmas” – you have to say “Happy Holidays”—and let me say that I say MERRY CHRISTMAS at every opportunity in December. But I digress.

Curiously, in 2010, I wrote a series of poems for a poetry group I belonged to, under the umbrella heading of “An American Childhood” and I will share one of these poems with you. Mine were written before CHRISTMAS ON THE FARM was published, so I’m not stepping on anybody’s toes.

Christmas Dinner in 1929 presented its readers with an illustration of the proper way to set your table and follows with an assortment of beverages to serve your guests—from Fruit Punch taken from the January 1913 issue of The Farmer’s Wife to a Cranberry Cocktail from the 1934 issue and including a November 1937 recipe for Cranberry Gingerale Cocktail. To go along with the drinks are an assortment of hors d’oeuvres starting with Candied Nuts from the January, 1913 issue of The Farmer’s Wife but includes recipes for a relish plate (November, 1934) to a Cheese and Cracker Tray (also from the November, 1934 issue (in recognition, perhaps, for readers who might not know where to begin with cheese and crackers or preparing a relish plate) but offers as well a recipe for Cheese Puffs ((July, 1922) or pinwheel cheese biscuits (October 1926)—or, to my amusement, a 1919 Pigs in Blankets recipe…a recipe that is updated and still around 94 years later (think: Pillsbury crescent rolls and hot dogs cut into smaller sizes to fit the dough)—it makes me wonder if the Pillsbury Crescent rolls with hot dogs was a Bake-Off recipe way back when! There are also several recipes for oyster hors d’oeuvres which at one time were enormously popular—not so much today.

What follows next is a selection titled Table Talk, which presents inexpensive recipes for Yuletide Dishes; Main Courses featuring roast goose roast duck and turkey recipes, an impressive chart of all the correct dishes to serve with your selection of a holiday bird makes it easy for the cook to plan the entire meal easily. There are recipes for baked spiced ham, crown roast of lamb—even a curried rabbit (not my favorite meat but certainly had to be a familiar sight on the farmland table, especially during hard times. Under a chapter titled Smorgasbord, taken from the December, 1937 issue of the Farmer’s Wife, is a recipe for meat balls for your smorgasbord, followed by many still great side dishes, from a French Dressing for salad (October, 1911 issue of the Farmer’s Wife)—over a hundred years ago—as well as a Sweet Cream dressing for salad published in 1934, and red dressing for head (Iceberg) lettuce from November, 1924—but all of the salad recipes would be doable today, most for a fraction of the cost, considering that most of the recipes in Christmas on the Farm cover decades of the Great Depression plus two world wars. –the exception might be a recipe for Lobster salad—but it might interest you to know that lobster and other shell fish were affordable throughout World War II. And these were items that were not rationed during the war. And, most of the vegetable and salad recipes were made up of items grown on the farm—Glazed Carrots from the January 1931 issue of the Farmer’s Wife, Creamed Spinach from the May, 1911 issue. These are just a sampling of the recipes found in Christmas on the Farm.

The Desserts found in Christmas on the Farm are mostly simple, inexpensive such as January, 1910’s Lemon Floating Island or November, 1926’s Chocolate Blanc Mange I, a Prune Souffle fro October, 1923 or a Prune and Raisin Pudding from November, 1926, Apricot Whip from February, 1919 or a January 1911 Cranberry Pudding. Still under Desserts is an interesting story  from 1937 titled “She Sells Fruitcake”, a story that began fifteen years earlier with a  young housewife who built a career empire making and selling fruitcakes. There are recipes for fruitcakes and its cousin the Steamed Pudding plus an Eggless Fruit Cake that was made up mostly of spices, raisins and coconut—certainly a welcomed recipe in January of 1913. You’ll also enjoy reading “A Farm Woman’s Christmas Cakes” which appeared in the December, 1925 issue of the Farmer’s Wife.  There are also recipes for candy and cookies, too—candy recipes that are still popular today—toffee and fudge, creamed walnuts and maple pralines from December, 1916—plus many more.

For the farmer’s wife with little cash resources, there are oodles of directions for gifts she could make—even directions for building “Dolly a House” that was published in December, 1921. There are also directions for making many other gifts, however.

By the way, you will love the 20s,-30s,40s illustrations throughout the book. It’s really like stepping back in time with CHRISTMAS ON THE FARM.  Who among all of us would have kept the monthly magazines published throughout those decades? (Apparently, someone did!)

Christmas on the Farm is a beautiful holiday book with a most attractive red cover and is sure to please anyone who buys a copy.  I was lucky enough to receive a copy from my penpal, Betsy, in Michigan—but I checked with Amazon.com; they have several paperback copies starting at $11.98 but listing a new PB copy for $15.27.   Alibris.com has copies starting at $11.98.  If you can get one of the hardbound copies, go for it – it will hold up to years of thumbing through to find your favorite recipes or new ones for you to try.  I’m looking forward to trying some of these recipes this Christmas season.

Merry Christmas, 2013!

–Review by Sandra Lee Smith

As promised, the following is one of my 2010 poems from a collection I called “An American Childhood”.

WHEN IT’S CHRISTMAS ON THE PRAIRIE

By Sandra Lee Smith, 2010

Come winter on the prairie and as far as you can see,

Snow makes a great white blanket across the endless prairie sea,

Pa gets the big sleigh from the barn and greases up the blades,

To make the pulling easier for the horses, on the grades.

 

Mama takes out the oldest blankets, that help to keep us warm,

Pa checks the sleigh most carefully, to keep us all from harm.

Then snug in mittens, scarves and coats that mama made from wool,

Pa takes us every morning to our little country school.

He stays a while to help our teacher fill the old wood bin,

She thanks him with a curtsy, brings out the gentleman in him.

We students hang our coats and things in the cloak room at the back,

And teacher claps her hands and says, “Since Christmas’s coming that—

 

Today we’re going to decorate a tree that kind Mr. Mc Clune

Went up north to get for us and will bring it to us soon,

For now we’ll all make popcorn garlands and chains of colored paper,”

And from a box she lifts up a silver star—nothing had escaped her.

 

No reading, writin’, rithmetic, no studying today!

We’re going to decorate a tree and enjoy a day of play;

On Christmas Eve our families will come to see the tree,

And Santa will come and give us each a bag of candy, free!

 

“Tain’t no Santa,” One of the big boys in the back row shouted out,

The little girls in front began to shriek and cry and pout;

My younger sis is with the little girls that were in tears.

I knew I had to do something to take away their fears.

 

You take that back!” I said with fists clenched, ready for a fight,

When teacher intervened and said “Now, boys, this isn’t right. 

On Christmas we all celebrate the birth of Christ the King,

George, you say you’re sorry and we’ll all forget this thing.”

 

Then teacher told a story, while we cut and pasted rings,

As we made a garland for our tree, she told of many things,

Of the birth of one small baby, in a manger far away,

And how folks far away and near remember Him on this day.

 

She told about Saint Nicholas who filled the wooden shoes,

Of all the good Dutch boys and girls to remember this Good News,

She said how now, we all remember Jesus in this way,

And all of us remember Him on every Christmas Day.

 

The big boy, George, he was abashed, and said he didn’t mean it,

But he had no ma or pa and no Santa Claus would visit;

He lived with one old aunt who had no time for foolishness,

No time for trees or holly, for Santa Claus or Christmas.

 

On Christmas Eve our families came and crowded in the room,

We’d cleaned our desks, the blackboard, and candles chased off gloom,

Then Santa came and brought a sack, and we all lined up to get

A little bag of peppermints, a night we’d not forget.

 

When all the candy had been passed out, Santa stood upright

And asked, “I wonder if a boy named George is here tonight?”

George came forward and I noticed that his face had turned beet red;

As he said “I’m sorry, Santa, I really didn’t mean to be so bad.”

 

“Oh, I know that!” Santa laughed, “Why, I know what’s good and true,

There’s just one gift I have to give, and George this one’s for you!”

And from his burlap bag, he reached and handed George a box;

George opened it and all of us heard him gasp with shock;

 

Inside the box there was a very fine Swiss army knife;

George’s eyes lit up with wonder, “I’ve wanted one all my life,

But,” he said, “I never told this to a single living soul!

Santa patted him on his shoulder and said “Oh, George, I know!”

 

We all shed tears and teacher said “Let us sing a song of praise,

That we all remember this night all our living days.”

And so we sang, then hurried home in the cold night with elation,

Before we left, I heard my ma extend a special invitation.

 

George said he didn’t think his aunt ever would agree,

Ma said “I won’t take no for an answer; dinner is at three.”

And so next day, George and his aunt and our teacher came for dinner,

That all of us told mama was so fine and sure a winner.

 

In the parlor there were presents for sis and George and me,

Scarves and mittens ma had stitched and it was plain to see

That no one had done this much for George in all his sorry life,

“Scarves and mittens!” George exclaimed, “And a fine Swiss Army knife!”

 

We all sipped hot tea with cookies ma had baked, just for this day,

And our guests all carried home tins of cookies wrapped so gay,

Before we went to bed that night, I heard my mother whisper,

“You dear old Claus, I do believe, I’d like to kiss your whiskers!”

 

Years later, when my pa was old frail and could not see,

I ventured then to ask him what had long been bothering me,

How could you know,” I asked him, “About George and that army knife?”

Because,” he said, “I wanted one, most of my own life.”
George married my kid sister and they have a bunch of boys;

Their farm is off in Kansas and sis tells me it’s a joy,

For George just loves his rowdy bunch, for them he’d give his life,

And every one of those young boys owns a fine Swiss Army knife.

–Sandra Lee Smith, 2010

 

A FEW OF MY FAVORITE CHRISTMAS COOKIE COOKBOOKS

The first cookbook I want to bring to your attention is THE GOURMET COOKIE BOOK, which features the best single recipes from each year in Gourmet magazine, from 1941 to 2009. The book was published by Conde Nast Publications in 2010 and is offered by Amazon.com with a wide range of price variations – if I remember correctly, I might have bought my copy about a year ago and I didn’t pay very much for the book – and probably got free shipping as I go for free shipping whenever possible.

Gourmet magazine’s demise also was a factor—since we won’t be reading the magazine anymore, it seemed logical to me to read whatever books are published under Gourmet’s umbrella.

In acknowledgements, we learn something about the birth of the Gourmet Cookie Cookbook—that it took a few people who were relatively new to Gourmet to realize what an extraordinary resource* (italics mine) the editors had. Several editors came up with the idea of featuring the best cookie recipe from each year of the magazine’s existence.

They tell us “It was not until executive food editor Kemp Minifie began trolling through the archives that we really understood that this was more than a fabulous collection of cookies; it also told a very American story.  It was no accident that every one of us found excuses to spend time in the kitchen while test kitchen director Ruth Cousineau—who threw herself boy and soul, into baking the cookies—was immersed in the project. These cookies were not only delicious; they are also a fascinating window into history that none of us wanted to miss..”

And as wonderful as the cookies were all by themselves, the editors say, “it took the passion and inspiration of creative director Richard Ferretti, associate art director   Kevin DeMaria, and photographer  Romulo Yanes to make them dance. Their vision has made this book a delight to look at…”

They also confess that in the end, the book would not have been possible without Gourmet’s devoted readers, who sent their cookies, their recipes, and their comments, for so many years.  “This book belongs to you,” they conclude, “and we thank you for it.”

For those of us who cannot cook or bake without a visual idea of what the cookie (or cake, dessert, appetizer or prime rib dinner) should look like—the table of contents will make you swoon. There is a delightful photograph of each year’s chosen winner, starting with 1941.

*I often muse longingly on that extraordinary resource buried – wherever the Gourmet magazines and accompanying research material are now stored, while wondering what editor Ruth Reichl is doing now. I was a subscriber for many years – then let my subscription lapse – because I didn’t feel that the magazine spoke to me any more. When Ruth Reichl joined Gourmet’s editorial staff – I re-subscribed – in part because I cherish and love her books, in part –because whenever she writes something, I feel like she is speaking to me. That is, I think, a gift—and one I try to impart on the readers and subscribers to my blog, Sandychatter. When someone writes to me and tells me I am speaking to them – I feel that I have learned something precious from Ruth Reichl – as well as the other cookbook authors  whose work I admire – Marion Cunningham, M.F.K. Fisher, and Jean Anderson, to name a few.

In the Introduction to The Gourmet Cookie Book, the editors tell us “Buy a cookie, and it’s just a bite of sugar, something sweet to get you through the day. Bake a cookie, on the other hand, and you send an instant message from the moment you measure out the flour. Long before they’re done, the cookies become a promise, their endlessly soothing scent offering both reassurance and solace. And even the tiniest bite is powerful, bringing with it the flavor of home. for anyone who is comfortable in a kitchen, a warm cookie is the easiest way to say I love you.

Somewhere in the back of our minds, we all know this. It is the reason we bake cookies at Christmas, why we exchange them as gifts. Not for nothing do we pack up our cookies and send them off to our far flung families. Like little ambassadors of good will, these morsels stand in for us. There are few people who don’t understand, at least subconsciously, how much a cookie can mean…”

But until the Gourmet editors began to work on THE GOURMET COOKIE BOOK, it had never occurred to them to look at history through a cookie prism. When they decided to select the best cookie from each of Gourmet’s sixty-eight years and became captivated, not surprisingly, by the language of cookies, so they printed the recipes as they originally appeared. In the early years, they write, the recipes were remarkably casual—as anyone who has collected cookbooks for decades would know.  (Church and club recipes from decades ago were especially casual). Write the editors “[it was a kind of] mysterious shorthand that assumes every reader was an accomplished cook who needed little in the way of guidance…”  “Bake in a moderate oven until crisp” is a classic instruction, they tell us.  They thought it interesting to watch as numbers crept into the recipes in the form of degrees, minutes and cups…”

[if I am not mistaken, it was Fannie Farmer who standardized recipes with measurements back in the day when she had a cooking school].

Following the Introduction, one of the most interesting I have ever read, there are two pages of Recipe Tips, with good suggestions—some that even I didn’t know.

The first chapter is the 1940s,  in which the editors write, “1941 was an unlikely time to laundry an epicurean magazine. War was looming along with the possibility of food rationing, but Gourmet’s founder. Earle MacAusland, convinced that soldiers who had spent time in Europe and Asia would be loath to come back to meat loaf, saw an opportunity.  Little wonder that Gourmet, published from a penthouse at the Plaza Hotel, concentrated on sophisticated fare. Cookies did not figure into the equation and the few recipes that the magazine published leaned towards old-fashioned American classics like wafers and sugar crisps, with a couple of European treats…”

Check out “Cajun Macaroons”, a crisp, chewy little cookie introduced in an early 1941 issue in which we also discover that Louis P. DeGouy became Gourmet’s Chef.  (I wrote about Chef DeGouy in Sandychatter – he was chef at the Waldorf Astoria for 30 years and was one of the founders of GOURMET magazine; see TRACING THE LIFE OF LOUIS P. DE GOUY posted in april, 2011 Sandychatter blog post. I am frequently nonplussed by the number of famous cooks/chefs/cookbook authors who—although prominent in their day—have all but disappeared from our culinary landscape – sls)

The next featured cookie is an icebox treat—the war was on and sugar was rationed. Actually, it was the first item to be rationed.  Wanting to do its patriotic bit, Gourmet magazine printed an article showing readers how to use honey in place of sugar. [Although one reason sugar was rationed was due to it being made in Hawaii—which, as we know, was bombed in Pearl Harbor at the onset of World War II, but it was also an ingredient used in making gun powder!  I discovered this when doing research of an article of mine, called HARD TIMES).

Gourmet provides us with a cookie called Honey Refrigerator Cookies which does contain a small amount of brown sugar but also contains half a cup of Honey.  This is followed by a recipe called Scotch Oat Crunchies; Gourmet Magazine and everybody else were trying various recipes using oatmeal and this recipe, which produces a small round cookie that you pair up with your choice of filling – dates, raisins, figs or whatever.  I think I will have to make a batch of these. They sound wonderful and I’m speculating that they would travel well if you send cookies to relatives or a favorite serviceman or woman. Another good traveler, advises Gourmet, is a cookie called Cinnamon Sugar Crisps, from Gourmet’s entire column called “Cookie Jar”.

The first postwar cookie to appear in Gourmet is one called Date Bars. Write the editors, “The recipe appeared in one of the many articles about Katish, a remarkable Russian cook who had many fans including M.F.K. Fisher who comments “I think I have copied every one of her recipes as they’ve appeared…”—and OMG, now I have discovered yet another great cook who appears in one of the Modern Library Food books published by Ruth Reichl in 2001 and containing an introduction from Marion Cunningham. The book was originally published in 1947, written by Wanda Frolov, under the title, “KATISH, OUR RUSSIAN COOK”—just another author I have never heard of before.

The next recipe that I am charmed with, this from December 1946 is Moravian White Christmas cookies, which I can’t wait to try.

If you only buy one more Christmas cookie cookbook in your life, check out THE GOURMET COOKIE BOOK which is available on Amazon.com but be forewarned – when you type in this book title, Amazon will present it with many other cookie cookbooks that you may find irresistible.  It is also available on Alibris.com for as little as $2.43 for a new copy.

Ok, I’m ready to start mixing Christmas cookie dough!

–Review by Sandra Lee Smith

NEW YEAR’S EVE & NEW YEAR’S DAY MEALS FOR GOOD LUCK !

Throughout most of written history, we know that people have eaten certain foods on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day, hoping for riches, love, or other good fortune.  For people of some nationalities, ham or pork has long been consideredthe luckiest thing to eat on New Year’s Day.  You might wonder how the pig became associated with the concept of good luck but in Europe during medieval times, wild boars were caught in the forests and killed on the first day of the year.  Since pigs are associated with plumpness and getting plenty to eat, it might be one explanation for having pork on New Year’s Day.

Austrians, Swedes, and Germans frequently chose pork or ham for their New Year’s meal and brought this tradition with them when they came to America. Germans and Swedes often picked cabbage as a lucky side dish and in my parents’ home, pork and sauerkraut was served at midnight on New Years Eve, along with mashed potatoes and creamed peas. (It might not have been so lucky, going to bed after eating such a hearty meal as after midnight!)

Turkey is considered lucky in some countries; Bolivians and residents in New Orleans follow this custom.  Fish is considered lucky food by people in the northwestern part of the United States who may eat salmon. Some Germans and Poles eat herring, which may be served in a cream sauce or pickled. Other Germans eat carp.

Sometimes sweets or pastries are eaten for luck. In the colony of New Amsterdam, now New York, the Dutch settlers still enjoy these treats. Germans often ate doughnuts while the French have traditionally celebrated with pancakes. In some places, a special cake is made with a coin baked inside. (Curiously, my German grandmother fried doughnuts with a coin inside each – on the Feast of the Three Kings, or the Epiphany, celebrated January 6th). Such cakes are traditional in Greece, which celebrates Saint Basil’s Day and New Year’s at the same time. The Saint Basil’s Day cake is made of yeast dough and flavored with lemon. The person who gets the slice with the silver or gold coin is considered very lucky!

Many of the luck-bringing foods are round or ring-shaped, because this signifies that the old year has been completed. Black-eyed peas are an example of this, and they are part of one of New Year’s most colorful dishes, Hoppin’ John, which is eaten in many southern states. Hoppin’ John is made with black-eyed peas or dried red peas, combined with hog jowls, bacon, or salt pork. Rice or other vegetables may be added. The children in the family might even hop around the table before the family sits down to eat this lucky dish. In Brazil, lentils are a symbol of prosperity, so lentil soup or lentils with rice is traditional for the first meal of the New Year.

Thousands of miles away, the Japanese observe their New Year’s tradition of eating a noodle called toshikoshi soba. (This means “sending out the old year.”) This buckwheat noodle is quite long, and those who can swallow at least one of them without chewing or breaking it are supposed to enjoy good luck and a long life. (Or maybe the luck might be not choking on the long noodle!)

In Portugal and Spain people have an interesting custom. When the clock strikes midnight, people in these countries eat twelve grapes or raisins to bring them luck for all twelve months of the coming year.

The ancient Romans gave gifts of nuts, dates, figs, and round cakes. Northern Italians began the new year eating lentils to symbolize coins. In the Piedmont region of Italy, the New Year’s Day meal of risotto signified wealth with its abundance of small grains. Another Italian custom is to eat sweets for a year of good luck. It can be as simple as a raisin or a more elaborate, almond-filled cake in the shape of a snake. As a snake sheds its old skin and leaves it behind, this cake symbolizes leaving the past behind as a new year begins.

In Spain, you are promised good luck in the new year if, at midnight, you eat one grape with each stroke of the clock.

Dumplings are a traditional New Year’s food in northern China. Because they look like nuggets of gold, they are thought to signal good fortune.

The Vietnamese celebrate their new year in late January and eat carp – a round-bodied fish thought to carry the god of good luck on its back.

Cambodians celebrate their new year in April by eating sticky rice cakes made with sweet beans.

In Iran, the New Year is celebrated in March, when grains of wheat and barley are sprouted in water to symbolize new life. Coins and colored eggs are placed on the table, which is set for a special meal of seven foods that begin with the letter “s”.

I posed this question – special foods to welcome in the New Year – to some friends. Lorraine wrote that at her mother’s they always had Menudo on New Years; she says her friend Geri always has Black Eyed Peas. My friend Patti who lives in Cincinnati wrote “Sauerkraut, Limburger cheese & Pickled Pigs Feet…I did not partake”.

Penpal Penny who lives in Oklahoma wrote “Here on New Year’s Day ……black-eyed peas and hog jowl……for good luck, greens…..for financial good luck then of course you have to have cornbread and fried potatoes. I always fix slaw though any kind of greens will do. You just want to make sure you eat PLENTY of both of the peas and greens!! Good ole poke salad  ( or as the old timers would say…. poke salit ) would be wonderful with it….some years I’ve lucked out and found plenty in the spring and had a bag or two in the freezer.”  And girlfriend Sylvia wrote, “We eat black eyed peas!!  I think that is a southern thing…”

From my penpal Bev, who lives in Oregon, I received this email, “My family had no New Years Eve or day traditions…When I was 40 became acquainted with a shy, soft spoken…gal when I went to ChemeketaCommunity College. She was taking classes as background for writing. and had in her mind a book she wanted to write…To my surprise, she was a member of MENSA. That was probably the first time I had ever heard of that elite society. Anyway, she and her husband invited us to their home for New Years Day, and served some type of beans. Seems to me it was limas. Have you heard of that before? This couple had lived in Japan but I can’t imagine beans being a good luck dish from that part of the world…” (In a subsequent email Bev decided it might have been black-eyed peas they were served).

Marge wrote “My grandmother was a first generation American born of German immigrants in Nebraska.  While that was not our usual New Year’s fare, we ate sauerkraut often especially in the winter time, and she used pork tails in hers often and often pork ribs while she cooked the kraut.  I rarely make sauerkraut though Dorman likes it.  I know some people make (sauerkraut) with bratwurst sausage…”

Chris wrote “As far as New Year’s Eve, I remember my grandpa always bringing home herring. It came in a squat jar in kind of a vinegar sauce. I don’t buy it anymore but it’s pretty popular in the grocery stores around here during the holidays.”

Rosie wrote “I never had anything special for New Year’s Eve or Day but Bernie always used to eat pickled herring on New Year’s Day before we were married.  It meant a prosperous year or something.  He’s German and Belgium so I’m assuming it’s one of those traditions”

And in my household, we returned to the custom of pork and sauerkraut, reflecting the German heritage of both Bob and myself.

This New Year’s Eve, my penpal Bev and her husband Leroy will be here for dinner and we are going to have sauerkraut (homemade!) and sausages. I cooked two corned beef briskets yesterday in my pressure cooker so we can have Reuben sandwiches the next day. When I was visiting them in Oregon in October, they took me to a wonderful German restaurant in Portland and we enjoyed Reuben sandwiches.  I may have lost a little of my connection with German and Hungarian cuisine and maybe this New Year’s dinner will be an opportunity to re-connect. I would love to share more of my German Hungarian roots with you!

May 2013 bring us all good luck and happiness.  Thank you for being such loyal subscribers to the Sandychatter blog.

Sandy@sandychatter