DOWN THE ROAD A PIECE
By Jane D. Brown
I think of my Mom as I consult the spattered page of her sugar cookie recipe. It feels like she is standing next to me in her Christmas apron tied around her waist ready to help. I smile at the thought and then realize it was 51 years ago on this date that she died. Since then, I make these cookies every year, remembering the fun we always had making them together.
I add the distinctive nutmeg and grated lemon rind that make her sugar cookies special. I even use Crisco for the shortening because she wrote a note in the margin: “butter makes too sticky.”
I try to roll the dough as thin as she could, so thin the dough board underneath begins to show through. Some folks like their sugar cookies thicker and softer to decorate with icing, but we like ours thin and crunchy with lots of colorful sprinkles.
I use the same cookie cutters my sister, brother and I used all those years ago. I remember us standing at the kitchen table poised with our favorite star, Christmas tree or candy cane cutter waiting for Mom to get the dough rolled out. These cookie cutters are the old-fashioned kind made with real metal and sharp edges, not today’s red or green plastic ones. We’d make only a few reindeer because all those legs and antlers are too hard to get from the rolling surface to the baking sheet.
For many years two friends joined me in early December in a marathon Christmas cookie baking day. We each brought our own utensils and ingredients for our two favorite cookie recipes. I wore Mom’s special apron until it was threadbare and then we each got our own red and green chef aprons.
It was a little tricky to figure out who got to put her trays in the oven when and at what temperature, but it always worked out. While someone was waiting for her cookies to bake, she helped put the chocolate kisses on the peanut butter blossoms, or chopped black walnuts for the holiday nuggets.
Our daughter helped as soon as she was big enough to shake sprinkles and now our grandchildren help, too. They all love the dough as much as the finished cookies and sprinkles fly everywhere. It’s a marvelous mess.
At the end of the day, our dining room table is covered with dozens of delicious cookies. Then we each get to fill our cookie tins with an array of stunning yummies. My friend Marcy used to send one of her tins to her adult son on the West Coast, but he now prefers something not quite as dangerous for the waistline.
I put an assortment in our Christmas cookie jar, and am amazed by how often that needs refilling. I suspect my husband has decided cookies are an important food group this time of year.
A friend gave me the Moosewood Cookbook years ago as I was setting up my first kitchen. He wrote on the inside cover: “In our kitchens we not only make meals, we make love and celebrate life, the life within us and around us.” For me, that’s what making all these cookies is – a celebration of those warm moments in my past, the fun of making new memories with friends and family.
I hope you have the pleasure of delicious warmth as you celebrate this season with those you love and those you remember.
Jane D. Brown taught in the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media for 35 years and has lived in Chapel Hill since 1977.