On Christmas Cookies
‘Tis the season, and all that, so, as I had no school on Thursday, I took out my mother’s old cookbook and made the chocolate Christmas cookies from the recipe she always used when we were kids.
The book is ancient. I believe it was given to my mother as a wedding present. It’s called Anybody Can Cook, and was written by Gwen French, published by Little, Brown in 1954. When I was a kid it had a green cover, but that has long since fallen off from use. This is a cookbook for any 50’s housewife who has never had to be in charge of her own kitchen, with introductory chapters entitled “Let’s Look at Your Kitchen,” “What’s in Your Pantry?” and “Trot, Trot to Market” before advancing into the exciting stuff: “How to Cook a Roast,” “It’s Fun to Make Frostings and Fillings” and “What to Do with Leftovers.”
Chapter XXXVII is entitled “You Can Make Cookies,” and the recipe my mother used was Master Recipe #86: Sugar Cookies, with the chocolate cookie variation on page 484. After all these years, the book falls open magically to this page, and why shouldn’t it? The page is grimy with 50-odd years of spills and handprints. At the top of the page with the master recipe, my mother’s handwriting slants across the top: “3 tsp cocoa to 1 sq choc” and then “1 tbsp shortening to 3 tsp cocoa.” Two pages later, at the variation, my older sister’s handwriting is under the chocolate cookie instruction–this is from years ago, too, when Susie’s writing was rounder and less sure than it is now–and reads “Or–6 tbsp cocoa and 2 tbsp shortening.” (On the very first page of the book, my mother had written a recipe for paint cleaner, too, but I think that’s a whole other story.) We’ve been living with this cookbook, one way or another, for a very long time.
This recipe is for dough to be rolled and cut. Way back then, my mother had a rolling pin she’d also gotten as a wedding present; and there were silver cutters in the shapes of a heart, a diamond, a club, a spade (is there a theme here?), a flower, a star and a
Christmas tree. For some reason I remember always cutting out these cookies after supper, on a weeknight, after my mother had come home from her job at Maine Central Railroad. I remember fighting with my brother and sisters, and sometimes our neighbor Howard (the youngest of the nine Nichols kids from the corner, the one my mother called her fifth child) over who got to use what cutter when. And I remember the red and green sugar to decorate, and how that got all over the place, because we were not neat children. Strangely, I also remember Howard building free-form cookies, involving fireplaces with stockings hanging from the mantlepieces: an imaginative neighbor–no wonder my mother liked him.
So. Here it is, dog’s ages later, and I’m making the same cookies from the same recipe. Oddly, I’m also using that same rolling pin on my counter. And, of course, I have those seven silver cutters. But over the years, the heathens and I have collected other cutters: somewhere along the line, Molly chose a butterfly and a frog (not exactly Christmassy, but she liked them). Ben has a tyrannosaurus rex cutter (it figures). Rosalie has a teddy bear. We’ve added various other hearts, stars and Christmas trees. There are two cats, a large and a small. We’ve got an angel now, and a bell. Last week, for a pre-Christmas present, Molly brought me a moose and a lobster. This year I made a quadruple batch from the recipe, and all those cutters went into action. I had the requisite green and red sugar, and also colored sprinkles, because my heathens always have preferred those. When the cookies were all made, I bagged up all the flower cookies and gave them away to friends for Christmas, but we kept all the odd creatures for ourselves. They are still the best chocolate Christmas cookies I have ever eaten. And it wouldn’t be Christmas around here without them.
Happy Christmas, all. I hope your mothers left you a good cookie recipe, too.