When did this all begin? Good question! I don’t remember my mother baking Christmas cookies and my grandmother’s cookies, I recall, were always diamond shaped butter cutout cookies, onto which she brushed egg white and then dusted them with blended sugar and finely chopped walnuts. My sister Becky corrected me and insisted that Grandma made many different kinds of cookies such as Lebkuchen and Spritz, Holiday Fruit cookies, Pfefferneusse (pepper nuts) or Springerle (which requires a special rolling pin or a board with designs imprinted on it). Becky said each family received a dress box full of Grandma’s cookies. Why don’t I remember this?
Grandma was from Germany, Grandpa from Hungary, so her baking was generally European—we grew up on a lot of strudel, often made with apples from her back yard. She also made doughnuts (especially for the Feast of the Three Kings, when we would find a coin in our doughnut)—but for the life of me I can’t remember anything except those diamond shaped cookies. I have her cookie cutter today—that and a small heart shaped cutter.
I got married December 6th in 1958 and don’t have any memory of making cookies that first Christmas, although I did begin to search for recipes. I clipped some holiday baking ideas out of December women’s magazines and searched through a Betty Crocker Picture cookbook that was a wedding present. I think it highly unlikely that I would have attempted any cut-out cookies that first Christmas as a newlywed (did I even having a rolling pin?) but I might have made drop cookies, such as chocolate chip or oatmeal raisin, cookies I was already familiar with. In addition to the Becky Crocker Picture Cookbook, I had a Meta Given cookbook that had been my mother’s. As I think back on that first Christmas, I don’t know if I even had baking equipment – cookie sheets or baking pans. It had been a very small wedding.
My first child was born in September, 1960 and I probably began baking cookies when he was a toddler. What stands out most in my memory is that we had a wonderful big yellow stove that was popular in the 1920s. What wouldn’t I give to have that old stove today! (it was left behind when we moved to California in 1961).
What I do remember, quite well, is the Christmas of 1963. By this time my son Steve had been born and we drove across country to California a few weeks before Christmas, to avoid a heavy storm heading for the Midwest. We rented an apartment in Toluca Lake and friends came over on Christmas Eve to celebrate with homemade cookies and coffee. We didn’t have any furniture yet so everyone sat on the floor. Guests went home with bags of cookies – so sometime between 1958 and 1963 I did learn something about baking. We bought a small tree and some small toys for our two little boys. You don’t need much to celebrate Christmas. Cookies help!
–Sandra Lee Smith