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Memories of Christmas cookies

PMSA board member

On Dec. 5, Susan Marshall will supervise a cookie walk during the PMSA Hometown Holiday event. Homemade cookies, some fancy, some not, will be baked and contributed by Peabody bakers to the sale.

Many of us know what we think is “the reason for the season” and we are happy to tell you. Others of us may agree with that view, but also love the sound of cash registers jingling, whether we stand behind them or in front.

Myself? I love cookies that way. Not just to eat, though I can never stop at just one, and not to sell, though I wish Susan lots of lucre.

No, I am an unregenerate cookie baker.

It’s the middle of November, and already I have fading and stained recipes set out. Extra butter, sugar, and nuts are piled in the pantry. I’ll make cookies for the walk as carefully as I bake anything, but it is the ones I make, pack, and ship across the country, to both coasts, that I enjoy most.

These cookies come with stories and names. They are ecumenical.

There is the recipe my Jewish neighbor in New York gave me for rugalah. The pastry is wonderful, and when I form the crescents, I think of her and how she went with me to the hospital when my first child was born.

Another favorite is the New York Italian cookie my first mother-in-law, the one who liked me, gave me. Green, pink, and white layers of almond paste cemented together with apricot jam remind me of Phila. After she died, I found out she had saved every card and letter I ever sent to her over the years. If I had known, I would have sent more.

There are family recipes from my grandmother, hermits and ginger cookies.

There is no recipe for the one I would like most; one I watched her make when I was a little girl during World War II. She rolled dough, cooked dates, and made filled cookies to send to five sons and one daughter scattered across the world. Packages went to the South Pacific, Sicily, the Philippines, and the Panama Canal Zone.

One of those “boys” was a baker and one of my favorite people, and each holiday I sent him a package of whatever I made that I thought he would like. He died a few years ago, and I sent the packages to his wife until she died. I think of both of them as I stir, cream, and chop.

In Peabody one Christmas after we had moved here, I was in the Peabody Bank and Ila Kieferle offered me some cookies she brought to work. They were marvelous and she gave me the recipe. I barely knew Ila, but each year I think of her. The date and coconut balls are the favorite cookie in the packages.

I have to stop and think sometimes who likes what cookie, but I know Ila’s cookies need to be in every package. Daughters-in-law love them. The grandkids love them. I love them. I will make some for Susan.

I never make rolled out, decorative cookies. Not since the hand cookie caper in the Bronx. My kids, my foster kids, and a few hangers-on were there to make Christmas cookies. I rolled out the dough, each kid put a hand on the dough, and I carefully cut out a hand-shaped cookie.

They decorated them with sugar doodads and food color and when they were baked, they waved them around while we oohed and aahed. Then I notice one boy, not mine, who had gnawed off all the fingers except one on his cookie. That was the end of the cookie caper.

So go to Susan’s cookie walk. The cookies there will have been made with care, and I bet many will have stories, ghosts, and memories behind them.

I bake with care, and mail with love. Now tell me, isn’t that the real “reason for the season?”

Last modified Nov. 24, 2009

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