A few years after my grandmother passed away, I went on a kick to recreate the parts of Christmas with her that I missed the most. I found they were all centered around cookies, those special cookies we made only for Christmas. The memories of the smells that permeated my grandmother’s and mother’s houses stayed with me and I wanted my children to experience it at least once. So, two weeks before Christmas that year, we took off for a long weekend and headed to Pennsylvania. I asked my mother for her help and kitchen in order to fulfill my quest: to make the 12 kinds of Christmas cookies. Mom was skeptical at first and kept saying she gets her Christmas cookies from the Stoltzfus Amish ladies, but she still had the old cookbook and so we gave it a try.
One thing you must know about my family is that, although they are really good cooks and bakers, the idea of actually writing down a complete recipe is a foreign concept. Once my mother and aunt got into the spirit of the quest, our first step was deciphering the “recipes” in grandma’s “cookbook.” The book was an old composition book, and I mean OLD. It didn’t even have the old black and white hard cover, but was a blue book from the 1950s. My mother assured me all the recipes for cookies that grandma made to sell for the holidays were in there. And it couldn’t be too hard to transcribe them into a new book for me to take back to Texas.
And did I mention the notebook was filled with little scraps of papers? Or that on one side there was a calendar from the 1940s and on the other side a list of ingredients? No measurements, just ingredients. My mother and aunt, identical twins by the way, were able to figure out the words and translate into English most of the instructions and ingredients. I had come prepared with a brand new black and white composition book to record all our efforts. Our first night was spent in the kitchen with bits of paper transcribing the magic of the cookies into a more formal recipe format. We also started to list the places where the best ingredients were to be found. Since, to be authentic, we had to use the same type of flour, sugar, spices and pans my grandmother used. And this was when I realized the quest would include not only capturing of recipes but also trekking all over Lancaster County. Lucky for me, my aunt still lived in the house with the same stove and ovens that my grandmother used for the last 20 years of her life. Part of the battle was won immediately.
The next part was a bit more difficult—tracking down the authentic ingredients. At this point, my sisters came into the game with all their memories of going to the various shops and stores to buy ingredients for cookie making. Although they didn’t want to do the baking, they all were happy to give direction and suggestions. They also offered to stop by and taste test. So early on Saturday we headed for the Amish stores and mills to get the right flour, sugar and spices. And we had to go early since the stores opened when the sun came up and the cows were milked. By 9 a.m., we had shopped and stocked and were ready to bake. By the end of that memorable day, we made over 1000 cookies, enough for all the families to fill up trays for Christmas, and had memories to last for another generation. And the cookie composition book? I still use it every year and it’s now bulging with handwritten recipes—complete with instructions—as well as pieces of paper with recipes we’ve collected.
All the memories of that Christmas cookie weekend years ago came flooding back when I saw Lori Wilde’s The Christmas Cookie Collection (Avon, November 2013), set in her little town of Twilight, Texas. Although it’s not my story, I connected with Wilde’s tale about three women who come to terms with the results of decisions they made years before during the Christmas season. Carrie and Mark had eloped in Vegas when they were young and foolish but the marriage didn’t last past their return to town. Now, years later, they have a second chance. Will it work? Christine may be able to make the best cookies in town but her love life is nonexistent, until Eli walks into her store. And Raelene’s husband left her high and dry, but sometimes secrets don’t matter anymore. An emotional read filled with second chances and new beginnings, you should definitely add this one to your holiday reading. Oh, and be sure to have some cookies nearby to enjoy as well. After all, cookies are in the title! It’s a sign.
And I think if it stays really cold, I should be able to go to that little Amish dairy and get 20 pounds of butter. You can freeze butter for a year and think of all the cookies it would make! Do you have some Christmas cookie favorites you make each year? Let me know because I have room in my cookie book for new things to try!
Sara Reyes is the founder and partner at FreshFiction.com, a popular fiction web site for today's reader with new titles, contests, over 50,000 genre fiction author profiles with backlists, and permanently archived reviews, plus all the industry buzz. Fresh Fiction has a biweekly segment (Buy the Book) on WFAA Channel 8 Good Morning Texas to talk about new books not to miss. Believing face-to-face interaction is as important as virtual communities, Fresh Fiction sponsors an annual author reader tea in June, a readers conference in November, monthly literary events, and book clubs. Follow Sara at @FreshFiction on Twitter or Facebook.com/FreshFiction.