Like many families’ ancestors, my maternal grandmother learned to save everything and to reuse items long before the popular “repurposing” trend. Throughout her married life in Michigan, she practiced this home economy even when it was no longer necessary; she salvaged buttons, remade dresses, canned and preserved foods, and saved bacon fat to add with to the lard for her holiday cookies. She made special holiday goodies: peppermint drops, molasses crinkles, gingerbread men, and church glass windows. But the most memorable treat, and the one I most associate with the holidays is her rolled sugar cookies. Her recipe came from her favorite cookbook: Practical Cookery, published in 1945.
My grandmother was sweet, strong, and stout. When I was five, she attacked the cookie dough with her rolling pin as I eagerly watched and waited. Her old cat-eye spectacles smudged with flour, she cheerfully pressed her sugar cookies with timeless cookie cutter shapes: Santa with his pack, a plump Christmas tree, an angel with fragile wings, a gingerbread man, and a gently curved bell. She helped me roll the dough, covering my tiny hands with hers, the knobs of the rolling pin pressed beneath my fingers. I still remember the feel of her tender kiss on the top of my head.
The cookie-baking tradition continued during our childhood in the farmhouse’s kitchen. My mother also used Grandma’s sugar cookie recipe, and we children made cookies using the same standard shapes my grandmother used. During those years, there was usually a baby brother in the wooden highchair, kicking and gurgling as the rest of us frosted warm cookies and licked our sticky fingers. We had different colored icing—usually blue, green, and red—and an assortment of candies and sprinkles to embellish our crispy treats. It seemed like it took a whole Saturday afternoon, and I’m sure it took every speck of patience our dear mother possessed. She circled the table, guiding the rolling pin, helping to move the fragile shapes to the empty cookie sheets. We rolled, baked, frosted, and filled boxes and plates with our tasty creations.
Winter snow fell as the December sky darkened: the comforting smells of cookies cooling on the counter, supper simmering on the stove, and wool mittens drying on the heat vent filled that old kitchen. Eventually, stomping his feet and removing his stocking cap, our hungry father came in from the cold and his evening chores. Proudly, each of us carefully selected a special cookie for him from our private cache. He savored each cookie and each of our faces, and he mirrored the joy we all found in our afternoon of baking.
I followed the same recipe when holiday baking with our three children, and I hope to bake cookies with our grandchildren this December. I will used my grandmother’s rolling pin—a prized possession I have cherished since her death in 1978. Many of her cookie cutters hang on our kitchen wall, and I will wash and use them, treasuring and honoring this generational tradition.
The same Michigan sky will darken, beautiful snowflakes will fall, and my grandchildren’s sweet voices—and my grandmother’s memory—will linger in my cozy kitchen.
It’s a Fine Life.