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.

My mother, cooking, long before I was around.

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.”

You Can Make Cookies

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

My mother's cutters, and some of ours

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.

I gave all these away.


Happy Christmas, all.  I hope your mothers left you a good cookie recipe, too.


  1. Linda Berkowitz

    Loved this Anne. I have been missing my mother and aunts.They used to do all the cooking and were the hub for all our holidays. Now they are all gone except for one aunt in Philly. A long way away. I find I am the one with all the recipes and the one whose house they come to for dinner. I don’t have an ancient cookbook but there is a tin box with cards and odd scraps of paper with many of my mother in laws Jewish holiday dishes. The cards have shopping lists attached and the recipes have cryptic notes that I never bothered to ask about.

    You could make a whole book out of this one blog. i would read it.


    • Linda, you’re lovely to say it.

      It’s funny, the things I thought to take when we lost my mother’s house. But I wouldn’t want to be without that cookbook.


  2. Elderly Friend

    I’m very happy to meet Cathlene and I can vouch for the opinion that the cookies are outstanding as I was one of the fortunate receipients of a bagfull. I too have some cherished recipies from the past.


  3. Lisa

    Hey, we had the hearts, spades, diamonds and clubs too! And…an axe, for some reason. I never thought about it then, but it sure is weird to think about that now. It was Irma Rombauer’s JOY OF COOKING at our house. Mom’s fell apart, but she bought me my own copy way back when. And who knows where those cutters went to, but Mia and I have stocked a good supply of our own which we press (sorry, couldn’t help it) into service every year. Next year we will have to do a cookie swap!


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