Friday, December 12, 2014


Advent calendar, 1960s

I know I’ve mentioned before that Mother was “into” holiday baking. I think a lot of mid-century housewives were. You would hear them speaking in a tone of feigned nonchalance about “my holiday baking” or “my fruitcake” or “my special fudge recipe.” In my mind, I knew it meant long hours of hard work – maybe even “burning the midnight oil.”

My mother loved traditional cookies – spritz and shortbread were her favorites. In deference to the children, she also made frosted cookies – meticulously decorated, of course -- but those seemed to disappear from her repertoire when I was no longer living at home. At the top of her holiday baking list was fruitcake – and we mustn’t forget divinity.

Christmas Eve 1966
During my years at home, on a December Saturday, my sister Nina would arrive with her children so that “we” could bake cookies. I always thought “we” were baking cookies – and I looked forward to it -- but in reality, Mother and Nina were doing it while I baby-sat, ran errands, prepared meals, did the dishes, changed Christmas records on the stereo, and quickly diced red and green candied cherries to decorate the cookies when needed. I was a pivotal person, making possible their non-stop operation to bake and decorate dozens of beautiful cookies. (I AM entitled to my perspective, but I suspect they knew this.)

And folks – this was before the days of cookie shooters. Mother pressed the spritz cookies with her manual cookie press. It was hard work! And it took some practice to make those strips of dough to the right length for canes and wreaths.

Brother Chuck w/ his daughter Cheryl in Mother's kitchen, '66.
In those days of supporting my mother’s cookie baking, I was also formulating my opinion regarding these traditional cookies. Spritz and shortbread are rich and really not flavorful. Piping frosting onto cut-out cookies is time-consuming and to tell you the truth, I’m not good at it. On the other hand, I just don’t accept that every cookie in today’s over-the-top cookie countdown is actually a Christmas cookie, no matter how much Betty, the Pillsbury people, and the BHG staff say so.

The thing is – I just don’t quite have the temperament for the fine details, and it’s taken me a lifetime to come to grips with the fact that my contribution is not less because I do it my way. My favorite “traditional” cookies are cut-out cookies, either ginger or sugar. I use rather large cutters in shapes that are easy to frost – a star, a tree, a heart – and then I frost them with a powdered sugar glaze. “That gets hard,” observed Mother. And that threw me for years, but there’s something to be said for it. KW

Saturday, Dec. 12, 1896 -- on this date at Gilbert:
Went to Russell P.O. and got my pension vouchers made out. Cloudy. Rainy towards evening. Wind lively from south. No snow to speak of on the prairie.
~M. L. Dickson 


Hallie said...

It's fun to make lots of cookies, but if you feel like you have to do it, and you have to make a whole lot of them, it's just another chore.

Kathy said...

So true. Anything you like to do may become a chore when it's something you have to do. Shopping, baking, decorating, making gifts used to be the focus of the home, but somehow, the simple pleasure of doing these things has been lost. It makes a big difference when we're grown up and also when children aren't present. I just remember Ina who said, "We'll all be children . . ."