With all the fairs and holiday light-ups, it really feels like Christmas is coming, and so I decided it was time to have a peek at some old food magazines and see what might inspire me for a bit of baking this weekend. Nothing fuels the festive spirit like a homemade cookie!
As I sat on the floor with various pages open around me, my mind began to wander and I thought of Christmases past and the favourite treats of bygone days. It occurred to me that every year I go through the ritual of looking for new favourites but the real spirit of Christmas seems to lurk in the tradition of the treats I make every year. Why is that, I wondered…
I stumbled upon an article that spoke of a small community in Pennsylvania where many of the women still get together every Christmas to bake thousands of cookies for the church fundraiser. They are three generations into their history and the money they raise they admit is no more than what is raised by passing the collection plate, so why do they do it? The answer is simple: it is a way to bring the community together with a common goal.
By now you know me well enough to understand I love the corny nature of small town logic and old fashioned morals. Well, this one is about as close to the centre of the universe as you can get, if you ask me. Baking cookies (or sewing quilts or building a barn) was a way that everyone could help out and be a part of something bigger than themselves. That is a wonderful feeling and we are often too busy these days doing our own thing to have that anymore.
You might be thinking I am trying to start a grass roots cookie-baking movement here. As much as I think that would be cool, all that really needs to happen is that you invite one friend over. Maybe, like a friend of mine, you invite someone who is not really handy in the kitchen and you let them make a mess. Then you smile when the mixer finally gets turned off and take a picture so you can both laugh about it years later. That is a great memory and a great friendship. Or perhaps you set the kids loose in the kitchen...
My brother and I used to discuss which decorations were right on shortbread as if the fate of the world depended on it. My mother had comments for both of us on why each of our designs was appropriate. My father would even eat them, and he claimed not to like shortbread (I think that was just for added effect). If you do have the time to make a whole mess of cookies, then they might even come in handy for the school bake sale or an office treat or even a special holiday offering for a mission or other charity. It’s amazing what a bit of butter and sugar and flour can become with some love mixed in.
Have you seen the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life”? If not, you might want to rent it and sit down with a cookie or two to watch. Jimmy Stewart does a great job of reminding us and himself that life is truly a wonderful thing. The best way not to forget is to share it with those we love, and having a tangible reminder helps us to keep doing that. Not all of us have Zuzu’s petals, but we can all have a cookie.
Here is that shortbread recipe we used when I was a kid – it’s a bit different than the usual shortbread but still melts in your mouth. Decorate them with candied cherries, chocolate chips, sprinkles, coloured sugar, almonds… as inspiration strikes you.
- 1 cup Butter
- ½ cup Brown sugar, firmly packed
- ½ teaspoon Vanilla extract
- 2-1/4 cups Flour
- ½ teaspoon Almond extract (optional)
Preheat oven to 325F.
Cream the butter and sugar in a medium bowl until fluffy. Add extract(s) and mix well. Add flour ¼ cup at a time, saving ¼ cup or so for the rolling.
Divide the dough into 4 equal portions. Place one portion on a well-floured surface. Pat it down and turn it over. Roll out to ¼ inch thickness. (Do not roll too thin or the cookies will burn.) Cut into desired shapes and place on ungreased cookie sheet. (If you have a silicone baking sheet you can still use that on the pan.) Decorate cookies and bake for approximately 12 minutes or until golden. Store in a sealed cookie jar.
Chef Martin pipes in:
Living in Quebec, traditional food was a big deal at Christmas but not so much baking cookies. In my family tourtiere (meat pie) is what we did and sometimes if my Mom had a not so hard year she baked homemade mashed potato donuts, which is a sweet donut that uses mashed potatoes in the dough!
My birth father is also a chef, well was a chef before he retired. He is now 70-years-old and in his retirement is still making 200 tourtieres for friends, family and neighbours. Way to go, Dad!
I hope that all of you with younger kids have started teaching them some of the family recipes. The best gift you can give a child is a recipe book of all the fun dishes you made during their childhood. My mom died when I was 10 years old and I have zero recipes from her. Don’t wait, do it today!
Less than a month to go!!