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).
A recent addition to my collection is THE GOURMET COOKIE BOOK, the single best recipe from each year from 1941-2009, from Gourmet Magazine. I bought it on Amazon.com from a private vendor and don’t remember exactly what I paid – very little, as I recall – but I happened to see it in a Barnes & Noble bookstore, too, priced at $6.00. A bargain, if you can find it. The lowest price I found today on Amazon.com is $3.26. Curious, I checked the price on Barnes & Noble – it’s listed there for $12.00. so, I checked with Alibris.com – they have pre-owned copies for $3.25 – or new starting at $3.60 (and apparently have a lot of copies. Since Gourmet magazine has gone out of business, I think the Gourmet Cookie Book may very well become collectible. I really love the photographs of all the featured cookies – so nice to know what something is supposed to look like when you get finished baking. J
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!!