Published in Mustard Seed Sentinel, Saturday, November 28, 2020~
I’ve been making them for more than five decades. I began when I was ten. And I’ve probably eaten more than my own weight in raw dough. Ever since my mother first let me loose in the kitchen.
It’s what she did when I was young. It’s what I did as a tween, then teen. What I did when my children were young. What I still do now.
My repertoire has expanded and contracted over the years to include peanut butter blossoms (chocolate kiss cookies), anise pizzelles, nut puffs (a harkening back to my children’s Italian heritage), buckeyes, haystacks, cocoa cookies with peanut butter chips, and just added a few years ago, a gingerbread cookie with peanut butter chips (a personal invention—with an option for butterscotch chips too).
Primarily, though, there is the chocolate chip cookie. It is the one where I began. It is my mainstay recipe.
In the hard days of single-motherhood, I clung to tradition. I refused to settle for less than real vanilla extract.
I tweaked the recipe over the years. Switching from half margarine and half butter to all butter. From half granulated, half brown sugar to all dark brown sugar. Some extra chips thrown in. The recipe is now my own. It’s been years since I checked a recipe to determine the next step.
As baseball was for Terence Mann in Field of Dreams, so the cookie has been a constant throughout my life. Cookie baking threads the quilt of my years together. It connects seasons of anticipation, yearning, trial, fulfillment, and joy.
When I was a novice baker, my older brother was in the navy, out to sea in the Mediterranean. I sent him some cinnamon coated cut-out cookies. He wrote back that, if I ever shipped that recipe again, I should be sure to include a spoon.
Another year, I baked and baked and baked. And my other brother and his crowd of friends ate and ate and ate. My mother frowned at noon on Christmas Day as someone ate the last cookie.
Then I was a young wife experimenting with cookie recipes. Some fell off the list; others remained. The children grew to love lemon sugar cookies, sometimes a gift for my father.
The year I had a new baby, my third, I learned that baking early and storing everything in the same container just makes all the cookies taste the same–none of which was good.
As a single mother, there was a year I hardly baked at all because money was so tight and time too pinched. A demanding job provided little money and ate my time. I still baked peanut butter blossoms.
Then there were years when Christmas cookies were on our table and in the mail to a son deployed overseas. None were of the cinnamon crumbly type.
My mind can still return to the kitchen of my youth. Mother’s old cabinets that went from floor to ceiling. An old porcelain sink with its own drain board in the pantry. My Easy Bake Oven–miniature pies and cakes. The cinnamon cookies in a box of hope to please the recipient. My eventual graduation to the oven.
Mental snapshots of toddlers milling around my own tiny kitchen waiting to taste. It was their task, their responsibility to test—to make sure all was good enough for us. Few concoctions failed. Some did, however, burn, the result of me forgetting to set the timer. Years flash through my mind in Technicolor. Handfuls of hope and pleased chocolate-smeared faces.
What were once Tupperware containers in the freezer are now individual cookie trays for each household. A taste of memory from Mom to grace their tables, evoke their memories, and form new ones.
This weekend has marked a tradition of more than a decade and a half. The day after Thanksgiving has been the day I baked cookies and made an easy fudge recipe for our local Armed Forces Mothers unit to ship off to domestic and overseas deployed troops.
Each member contributed a serving of cookies and fudge for each container to be packed into the larger boxes containing donated items and purchased gifts to be shipped to those serving our country. Our organization has packed between 60 and 100 or so boxes every year. I joined in 2003 after my middle son joined the reserves and departed for Iraq. His younger brother has since deployed twice. We packed enough homemade treats to satisfy a number of troops, many miles from home.
For the last several years, two granddaughters have assisted with box packing. We’ve packed a box or two followed by a trip to a local Wendy’s afterward. A few years ago, one of the girls remarked: “I know it’s Christmas when we do this.”
Because of COVID this year and an uptick of cases locally, box packing is limited to our group president and her family gathering supplies and sending fewer boxes themselves.
My tradition loving heart hurt to hear the news of a tradition broken.
Yet as long as we stay well, these two oldest grand-girls and I plan to celebrate a modified version of another tradition. Every year for the last dozen years, we have attended a performance of The Nutcracker ballet preceded or followed by Asian cuisine. We had hoped to include younger girls this year. But since COVID cancelled live performances this year, I bought a DVD featuring Mikhail Baryshnikov.
The theater won’t be fancy like some we’ve haunted over the years. Just my living room, as we watch a world-class performance.
And cookies. There will have to be cookies.
Perhaps cookie baking for the troops will return next year. Perhaps we’ll see that missing tradition restored for 2021.
But this year with the Baryshnikov DVD, I expect we’re marking the end of one tradition and the beginning of a new one—with a constant of Christmas cookies stirred in. Old and new mixed together to make memories.
May you make your own sweet memories as you anticipate the celebration of Christ’s birth in 2020!
About the Author
Author Nancy E. Head was a single mother with five children under the age of 14 when many in the Church came to her aid. Her story illustrates common problems in our society such as the fracturing of families and communities, reflecting a splintering Church.
Alienated families and a riven Church cannot minister as effectively to their own members or others until they find accord. Nancy is the author of Restoring the Shattered: Illustrating Christ’s Love Through the Church in One Accord. She leads a small group ministering to the needy in her community.
You can read Nancy’s HEADlines column on the 4th Saturday each month at Mustard Seed Sentinel.