early kitchen morning and tradition

When I was a kid, my mother made "Christmas Bell and Tree Cookies." I have her handwritten recipe for a butter cookie that was so delicious it melted in your mouth. She dyed a third of the dough green, a third red, and saved out a third for lining the cookies with "white."

It was a painstaking job, and a cookie she made all by herself, for some reason, perhaps so we wouldn't mess it up -- it required technical skill to wrap each bell and tree in white -- or perhaps she just enjoyed the solitude of making those cookies herself on a day we kids were in school.
We always made the regular sugar cookies decorated with colored sugars and red hots and those silver bells that would break your teeth. When I became a mother -- even in my poorest, youngest days -- I made those cookies with my children, too. It was tradition, and it tethered me to home, often when I was far away.

As my family grew and we all got older, we added M&Ms and licorice and Hershey Kisses, and eventually started making elaborate gingerbread houses with graham crackers and saved small cartons of milk (which got more elaborate, too), and all manner of colored treats -- sidewalks lined with marshmallows, windows of Brach's candies, roofs lined with Necco Wafers, and more.
Stories echo down the years as I tiptoe into this morning's kitchen to begin the annual cookie making. No wee ones this morning, but I have a grown one in residence who loves to bake. We have become more sophisticated in our choices through the years, just as my mother did when we kids grew up, and here are this year's cookies:

Brownie Roll-Out Cookies from Deb at SmittenKitchen. We made these last year to great acclaim (they are addictive), and Deb herself says, " According to my mother’s recipe, they’re called chocolate sugar cookies but I do not feel that it does them justice."
ReeRee's Pecan Sandies. My kids called my mother ReeRee (her name was Marie). Her pecan sandies recipe is in the old Better Homes and Garden Cookbook. My page of this cookbook (which I received when I first married at age 18) is stained up one side and down the other from making these cookies at Christmas. Let us just say that they are butter, sugar, vanilla, and pecans. That's about it. Some folks add rum and call them rum balls. We roll ours in confectioner's sugar and call it a day.
ReeRee's Divinity. Now y'all. This is diabetes candy. Not for the faint of insulin. Honestly, it's just sugar. Sugar, corn syrup (!), vanilla, egg whites, pecans... and my father adored it. My mother used to HIDE it from him at Christmas, those white pearls of spun sugar with a pecan in the middle that literally melted in your mouth. Mom ceremoniously brought Dad two pieces of divinity on a plate after dinner, while he sat in his recliner watching the news or a movie. They both laughed then at her subterfuge. And sometimes he found her hiding place. "Thomas P.!"

I haven't made divinity in years, but the resident adult baker says it's time, now that we have a stand mixer again. (Do not try it with a hand mixer; it will melt the blades and burn out the motor. There must be a hidden meaning in this.) If you want this recipe, leave a comment and I'll post it. Whoo-hoo!
Nibby Buckwheat Butter Cookies. Yes, we have a thing for butter cookies. I made these last year (though not at Christmas) and they are delectable (wish I could show you photos here, but click on the links for luscious photos of all cookies -- and we'll show you ours when we're done). This recipe is from 101 Cookbooks, which I've enthused about here many times.

Jam Thumbprints. From Martha Stewart. Very simple, very easy, almost instant gratification. A new try this year and on the list because I remember them from my childhood. My mother didn't make them, but a woman named Mary did, when we lived in the Philippines. I graduated high school there, and as I left to go back to the States for college, Mary gave me a box filled with jam thumbprints.

Apricot Bowties from Lottie & Doof's blog. These look and sound so delectable, I'm hoping they'll melt in my mouth. And I adore apricots, in part because my mother did. She would pull two dried apricots out of the box and munch them for an afternoon snack, which got me doing it. I still do.

Brown Sugar Walnut Shortbread, also from Lottie and Doof's Twelve Days of Cookies. My father's favorite cookie was a good scotch shortbread (followed closely by Fig Newtons). He adored Lorna Doone's, and my mother always had a box of them in the house for him. I'm sure that's why I feel great affection for them, too. I'm making this cookie in his honor. (And I, too, am a sucker for good shortbread.)

That's it on the cookie front today -- that's enough! We've earmarked a few more, such as Lottie and Doof's Orange Almond Buttons (I *will* make these, this winter!), and Heidi's Swedish Rye Cookies (at 101 Cookbooks), and her Hermit Cookies that make me drool.
Every choice is linked to a story and is, therefore, a tradition of its own. Even the Chex Mix. Long before you could buy Chex Mix in stores, making it from scratch was a novelty. My mother made it, year after year, every year, and we kids always swore it was the best. As air force kids, we lived in many different places at any given Christmas, but there was always Chex Mix.

Mom fiddled with it, fussed with it -- "I don't think this batch was a good as last year's!" -- she froze large quanitites when she knew we were coming home for Christmas, and we crunched it in front of the television on those Christmas week nights, all of us together with our own families in tow, and once again, even if for a few precious days, a family.
It occurs to me this morning as I begin to cream the butter and sugar, that no matter what befalls us or where we are... even if we have passed on... we are always strung together, link by link, cookie by cookie, by stories.


  1. I make Chex Mix every year, too. But I HAVE to make it exactly the way my grandmother did - with lots of butter and pecan halves. She also added pretzel sticks. I love that you add Cheerios (me too). I hate that the Chex recipe on the box doesn't have that (of course, I assume they are a competitor, but still....it's not the same.) Cooked in a low, low over for a couple of hours. Oh yeah....


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