The Cookies of Christmas

According to Wikipedia, were it not for Alexander the Great,we might not have Christmas cookies. Not really, but in 327 BC he discovered and spread sugar cane that is the source for their basis, first throughout Persia and eventually Europe. The early little cakes or cookies would probably taste strange to us today. They were spiced with whatever was on hand,including cumin, and either shaped by hand or rolled and pressed on wooden boards carved with cut out shapes. The invention of cookie cutters helped form their myriad shapes.

          Their invention is shrouded in mist, however, we have Germany to thank for the Christmas cookie we know today. They also are responsible for gingerbread houses and the shapes that are commonly used as gingerbread men and women. The Pennsylvania Dutch, as the German immigrants were often called brought the tradition of the Christmas cookie to the US. Today there are many kinds of cookie exchanges. Magazines and books carry varieties of recipes for these sweet treats of the Season of Light. As well, families have treasured cookie recipes handed down to them from past generations.

           Many favorites, like Snickerdoodles, bars and brownies, or plain and chocolate meringues mingle with fancier kinds are served for holiday occasions. However,while almost any recipe will do for this time of year, the most traditional ones are decorated with colored sprinkles, are cut into shapes, or have decorations made of icing. I usually bake up several kinds of bars and cookies to give at the holidays to those who have been kind and helpful to Stephen and me. One of my most successful recipes is Disappearing Caramel Brownies. They do vanish quickly, and are very popular whenever I bring them to a potluck. Busy cooks only need one pan to wash.

 Disappearing Caramel Brownies: IMPORTANT follow baking directions or they will end up as rocks and not tasty bars. Preheat oven to 350 or 325 for glass pans. Grease and if possible use parchment paper to line 8″ square pan Ingredients:

1 cup brown sugar

1 egg

1 tsp. baking powder

¼ tsp. salt

½ tsp. vanilla

¼ cup butter

¼ cup chopped walnuts (may be omitted but taste good)

1 cup flour

Method:Heat butter, sugar in saucepan.  Stir slowly till sugar is dissolved, then a little longer to have it somewhat liquid. Do not boil.  Cool slightly.  Add beaten egg, salt, vanilla, baking powder,nuts and flour. Stir well to incorporate all the flour.  Spread in 8 or 9 inch pan.  Bake for 20 Minutes to start. Press lightly with finger, If it makes a slight dent, remove, otherwise bake a few more minutes. Rest for 10 minutes then cut into 16 squares cool in pan and remove when ready. These bake up well with alternative or gluten free flours also.

This recipe doubles easily. In which case bake wee bit longer, perhaps 10 minutes more for a 9X12 pan. Remember to test and not to over bake or they will be difficult to cut, let alone chew.

Giving Love at Christmas

Love for Christmas Giving

My mother wasn’t much for cooking, though she considered it her duty to serve us good, nourishing food. I don’t remember her ever baking anything sweet. She didn’t care for desserts; she considered them unnecessary and fattening. When I was old enough for her to trust me in the kitchen, she encouraged me to bake simple items like brownies or other easy recipes. Unlike her I truly enjoyed cooking and was happy to make what she permitted me to.

Once I had a family to bake for I broadened my repertoire and learned to make pies and cakes as well as cookies. However cookies were my favorite to make because they went farther. I used to count and divide up the cookies and each child knew what they could have. Because I was home with the children anyway, it was fun to try different recipes. Eventually I created a small Cookie Cookbook with my favorites that I still use today.

Although my family is grown and I no longer bake cookies regularly, every Christmas I make up several batches and create plates to give people who have been helpful or kind to Stephen and me in the past year. The newspaper delivery people who bring the newspaper to our floor, the ladies of the library where we take advantage of their services all year long, the fine gentlemen of the garage where we take our car for repairs and upkeep, and a few others I want to acknowledge for their kindness.

Favorite cookie recipes I usually make include my Disappearing Caramel Brownies, Jiffy Jam Delights, and Unexpected Company Bars, all reliable and relatively easy to make recipes. This time of year there are cookie recipes everywhere to be found, and while these are my personal favorites for giving, those with more time and energy than yours truly might make cut out cookies to decorate or even more fancy treats. If you want one of my recipes, please let me know which, and I will email it. To my way of thinking however one wishes to express love is valid. Spending time on a gift is one of my favorite ways.

While feeding people is one of the ways I use to express my love, I also appreciate recipes that take less rather than more time, yet still provide delicious tasting healthy food. I also collect recipes from others when they have something unique and special to share. Sometimes they even write them out for me. I have loose leaf notebook where I keep these, along with others. Within its plastic sheeted pages are pressed their treasured, handwritten pieces of paper.

The following recipe wasn’t written out by my late friend because it was so simple. Avocado and Grapefruit salad requires one grapefruit and one avocado per two people, so if you are serving a family you need to double or triple, depending. Think kind thoughts as you peel and section grapefruit, removing membrane and preserving juice. Cut in half, remove seed and section one avocado into slices. Combine all, add a tablespoon or two of a good tasting olive oil, stir well, chill slightly, and serve with love for the holidays or at any time at all.