Tag Archives: Christmas cookies

Who Doesn’t Love Christmas Cookies?


We are talking about Christmas cookies all during December, so naturally I talked to my friend, Brette Sember, the cookie expert. She shares all she knows about cookies in  Cookie: A Love Story. Great title, isn’t it?

Well, we were both astounded to learn that we had a heritage cookie in common, which made me wonder–how many ways are there to make a sugar cookie?

Brette wrote last year for the site, Living Large in Our Little House, about the traditions of Christmas Cookies. Did you know that Christmas cookies reach back to the 1500’s? And it all began with the Gingerbread man! Brette says:

Gingerbread was a sim­i­lar food [to cookies], but laws restricted its bak­ing to guilds­man. How­ever at the hol­i­days these reg­u­la­tions were relaxed and peo­ple were allowed to bake their own at home, mak­ing a very spe­cial once-a-year treat…. Eventually [gingerbread] became asso­ci­ated with Christmas when spec­u­laas (gin­ger­bread cook­ies) were made into ani­mal and peo­ple shapes and used as hol­i­day decorations.

Christmas Cookies

Frosted Sugar Cookies cut with a Gingerbread Man cookie cutter.

When I asked Brette about heritage recipes, she replied:

The book [Cookie: A Love Story]  includes a very special sugar cookie recipe. My grandmother’s recipe is made with buttermilk and produces a soft, cake-like cookie that is unlike any I’ve had anywhere else.

They are a bit of a pain to make, since the dough is very sticky, so you freeze the dough before baking. My grandmother used to keep a plastic container of the dough in her freezer (which was on the bottom of her fridge) and when I was little, I used to sneak out there and eat it with a spoon like ice cream.

When she passed away, she left me her handwritten recipe notebooks and I discovered the recipe was her mother’s. Her mother-in-law, my grandfather’s mother, also gave her a very similar recipe, which uses sour cream instead of buttermilk and creates the same type of very soft cookie.

I found it fascinating that both families had the same recipe. They both lived in the same small rural area, but my grandmother’s mother (who was a Mennonite) was from Kansas so I don’t know if it is a recipe she brought with her or was given once she got here. This cookie is a special part of our holiday traditions and learning to make it is a rite of passage in our family.

My aunt once famously had to make the recipe in a hurry with no time to freeze it, so she set up a table in the garage and rolled the dough out there where it was cold.

Christmas Cookie Assembly line

Cookie Assembly line

As Brette and I discussed this heritage recipe from her grandmother, I realized that it was nearly identical to the soft sugar cookie from my Grandmother Vera’s recipe– which is the must-have cookie at our house. My grandmother used sour milk instead of buttermilk, and sprinkled in nutmeg for the flavoring. I’ll be sharing that recipe later. If you want to try  out Brette’s version and learn a whole lot more about Christmas cookies, you can follow the link to Living Large in Our Little House.

Read more of Brette’s cooking and decorating and travel and other things at Putting It All on the Table. And of course, I recommend that you add Brette’s interesting and comprehensive book on cookies to your kitchen library.

Do you make sugar cookies for Christmas? Are they crispy or soft? Do they use sour cream or buttermilk? What flavoring do you use?

Pearl Harbor Day and Ration Book Threaten Christmas Cookies

PEARL HARBOR DAY: DECEMBER 7 Two days from now we mark Pearl Harbor Day. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, it changed the way Americans lived. And it made many changes in our family. Here are three men in uniform at Guy and Vera Anderson’s home in Killbuck, Ohio.

World War II Vets

Herbert and Bill Anderson and Frank Fair 1942

Men all over the country flocked to recruiting stations. Above is a picture taken in 1942 of part of our family’s contribution to the war.  My uncles Herbert Guy Anderson and William J. Anderson joined the Navy and were assigned to the Seabees. Both of them served in the Pacific, on small islands that we had never heard of before, and couldn’t find because their letters were heavily censored and we couldn’t get the name.s They liked to say that although the Marines claimed to be the first ashore on Pacific islands, the Seabees were there first, building the landing sites and airstrips.

The third man in the photo is my cousin Frank Fair, who was a pilot for the Army Air Force. The picture below shows another cousin, Donovan Anderson, grand-nephew of my grandfather, who joined the Coast Guard.  Not pictured is my cousin Robert Anderson, who also joined the Navy.  He and his father had at least one reunion in Hawaii during the war! Bob was actually too young to enlist–but that’s a story for another day.

Donovan Anderson

Donovan Anderson Late 1940’s Coast Guard

We were fortunate that all of these family members returned from the war with no physical damage.

HOME FRONT

On a less serious note, our Christmas Cookies were in danger because sugar was rationed, with the use of ration cards.

The life of civilians was affected by Pearl Harbor Day, too.  My mother and father and a three-year-old me lived in New Philadelphia, Ohio.  Dad had lost the sight in one eye as a child, plus he had a hernia, which was cause for his draft board to excuse him from service. But wanting to play his part, he walked the streets at night as an Air Raid Warden–watching for any light seeping out of windows during blackouts.  Even in New Philadelphia, Ohio, people were being careful that the Japanese or the Germans would not be able to drop bombs on their town because of someone carelessly leaving a light shining up to alert the bombers.

Perhaps the biggest change in daily life because of Pearl Harbor Day and subsequent events,  revolved around food.  I will devote an entire article (or maybe two) to that subject in the future, but for now, I wanted to share this World War II ration  book with you.

World War II Ration Book

World War II Ration Book

Mother went down to the Ration Registrars office on May 5, 1942 and got ration books for each family member–even the 3-year-old.  She signed for this one that is in my father’s name. There are three stamps left.

She also signed for one for me, Vera Marie Kaser, described as 3’2″, 34 lb., Brown eyes, Brown hair, 3 years old.

I learned from the Ames Iowa website (no longer current), that the ration books I have were the first issued after Pearl Harbor Day, and they were for sugar.

On the back of my ration book is a notation in pencil in my mother’s hand, “15 and 16 canning sugar” and  another pencil notation in someone else’s hand, “6-2-42 20#”. There is also a typewritten note, “8-25-42-19# second half canning allotment.”

On the back of Paul Kaser’s ration book, the typed notation says “8-25-42 – 29# second half canning allotment.” (that doesn’t mean 29# of sugar, it means stamp #29 was used.) At any rate, even with rationed sugar, the Christmas cookies and birthday cakes kept coming out of the oven, despite Pearl Harbor Day.

Christmas Cookies: Rhema’s raisin bars

Christmas Cookies: Raisin Bars

Put on your aprons, because we’re going to be cooking up some traditional cookie recipes this month.

 

I found the hand-written recipe headed “Raisin Bars” in my mother’s recipe box, and it looks like her handwriting, so I assumed it was her recipe for Christmas cookies. It had some tell-tale spots on it, so I knew it had actually been used–always a good sign.  But when I looked more closely, I saw that the card was printed with “From the recipe file of Rhema.” So here’s a cookie recipe from Aunt Rhema Anderson Fair.

Christmas Cookies: Raisin Bars

Aunt Rhema Fair’s Raisin Bar Recipe

As I made the Christmas cookies, I could see Aunt Rhema in a frilly pinafore apron, standing in her high heeled shoes in the kitchen, with her hair perfectly in place, as she efficiently mixed and stirred.  And although I had never made them before, I can testify that these spicy Christmas cookies are nothing short of addictive. Bet you can’t eat just one!

Fair Family 1954

Frank, Rhema, Earl and Dick Fair Christmas 1954

My mental picture of Aunt Rhema in the kitchen is very unlike me in my day-old sweatshirt and sweatpants and tennies, and who knows what my hair looked like! Thank goodness, in my case, the cook’s picture doesn’t go along with the baked goods. But I surely wish I had a picture of Aunt Rhema in her apron!

Rhema’s Raisin Bars

Serves 40-50
Cook time 30 minutes
Allergy Milk
Meal type Dessert
Misc Child Friendly, Freezable, Pre-preparable

Ingredients

  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 stick butter ((1/4 pound))
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg or mace
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons milk or fruit juice

Directions

cookies
1. Put raisins and water in pan and bring to a boil. Cook for 3-4 minutes. Add 1 stick [1/4 pound] butter until melted. [Note: I put raisins and water in microwave in a glass cup for one minute on high, then added butter, sliced into pieces and cooked one more minute.]
cookie
2. When butter is melted, let mixture cool. and then add 1 tsp [baking] soda.
3. Sift together dry ingredients [ except powedered sugar.]
4. Pour cooled raisin mixture over flour mixture and add 1 tsp. vanilla and stir well.
5. Pour into large flat pan (greased) 12 x 15. smooth out even and bake at 325 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes.
glaze
6. While cookies bake, mix together 1 cup powdered sugar and 2 tablespooons fruit juice or milk, spread over hot cookies for glaze.

Note

The instructions "smooth out even" was not as easy as it sounds. I was wondering if Aunt Rhema was mistaken about the size of pan and I should have used a 9 x 12. While you could use the smaller size pan for a thicker cookie, these cookies raise enough to make a respectable bar. However, it is challenging to get the dough spread over the pan. I wet the back of a large spoon I was using a few times as I was spreading and that worked well.