Every cookie baker knows they keep a little bit of history in their recipe files.
When I go digging into the cabinet that houses the bottle of molasses, I never fail to think of my paternal grandmother, Alberta Walker. She was a tomboy while growing up in Iowa, she always told us. But when she was 17, she and her boyfriend, my grandfather, Dave Walker, left for a neighboring town one Saturday morning, telling their parents they were going to the fair. They got married, returned to their hometown and continued to live in their respective parents’ homes, not telling anyone they’d eloped, for quite some time.
She passed away more than 15 years ago. She may have been a tomboy in her youth, but she turned into an excellent cook and baker. One of the many things we remember about her was her gingery Molasses Cookies. A plateful of these were always waiting for us when we visited. She gave us the recipe, and my mother and I tried for many years to make our cookies come out like hers. We finally figured out, with some embarrassment, that we were leaving them in the oven too long. These aren’t crunchy gingersnaps, but moist cookies that are chewy and delectable.
Noel Bars came from my sister-in-law, Lisa Krueger, years ago. They aren’t fancy to look at, but just one bite turned me into a wide-eyed believer. When I asked her for the recipe, she said she’d go look in her mom’s old red-and-white cookbook. She didn’t find the cookbook. But she e-mailed me an image of the recipe card, smeared with ink, speckled with age spots and no doubt some ancient remnants of cookie dough, too.
When I say the Noel Bars weren’t fancy, I should add that the reason for their name is that you are supposed to write the word “Noel” on each bar in green icing before serving. “That never happened at our house,” said Lisa. I didn’t have to ask why.
Finally, the Nutmeg Cookie Logs are a longtime favorite of mine. I had asked a friend, Judy Smith, for the recipe when she and I were reporters together in Prescott, Ariz. When I got married, I not only received this recipe but an entire file of recipes, neatly printed on index cards, from her own collection of favorites. It has been 21 years, but I still treasure them.
Another memory I have of these cookies also always makes me smile. I worked here with a young reporter, Dee Dixon, for several years. One Christmas at work we had a cookie exchange. I say “one” Christmas because I was in charge of it and was amazed at how much coordination it took. My other contribution was a plate of Nutmeg Cookie Logs. My friend took one look at them and turned up her nose. “Wa-ay too much work,” she sniffed. But I noticed it wasn’t at all difficult for her to eat them up.
Too much work? Well, you have to roll out the dough into long logs, then cut them into shorter logs. After they are baked and cooled, you frost them with a buttercream icing, then pull the tines of a fork through the icing and sprinkle on ground nutmeg. They sort of look like little Yule logs. They taste amazingly good.
Finally, while some like to serve eggnog or punch or other sweet drinks with Christmas cookies, I’ll always vote for one of two things — good, strong hot coffee or a glass of cold milk. And, that’s my own tradition.