Thursday, December 18, 2008

Mom's Christmas Cookies

There is a holiday tradition among the women in my family to exchange Christmas baking. It is a well anticipated gift as each member has their own very special recipes made only at Christmas. Beautifully presented tins filled with the best and most decadent treats you can imagine. Each year the baking presents it's own challenges and the stories that accompany the cookies are as much a part of the gift as the gift itself.

Story lines have included:
* My mixer broke - the motor finally cacked out. ( Aunt Ann)

* I forgot about making mom's Chinese Chews! (Aunt Dianne)

* Did you see the price of almonds this year? You almost didn't get the almond clusters, then I burnt the first damn batch! (Mom)

* The squirrel broke into the back screened in porch and chewed threw the bag of marshmallows, so, I had to make a special trip to the store just to get more and wait in all the lines again! (Aunt Alice)

* I baked an iced and now you have "tree ornaments" -please don't try to eat them. I refuse to pay for your dental work. (Me)

* I baked Martha Stewart's iced sugar cookies ... they all broke on the flight here. Enjoy your tin of crumbs. (Me)

It seems to me, when I look back at Christmas over the years, the one main stay are all the tins of baking. It is also known that over the years my mother spent a lot of time sick and in and out of hospital for various operations and treatments during the Christmas holiday time. In those times the one thing my sister and I knew would make mom happy was to clean her house and help make her Christmas baking. It's as though normalcy in a tumultuous time could be eased by the familiarity of seeing and tasting a once a year treat. If the cookies were there so were we, okay and intact.

As kids, my sister and I were at each other's throats - a lot. But when we chose to work together we really could accomplish a fair bit. One year mom was in hospital for a lady problem operation - I am thinking it was a precursor to the hysterectomy the following Christmas time. Regardless of what it was, mom was not returning home until quite close to Christmas and she was going to have no strength to bake. Sue and I manage to make a double batch of her peanut butter cookies. We decorated each cookie with a slice of red or green maraschino cherry just like mom always did. We were all of 12 and 10 years of age at the time. We kept our baking a secret so we could surprise her when she returned home.

Our mother passed away just before Christmas and so it really put a damper on our Christmases to follow. The second Christmas without our mother was particularily difficult. Living five hours apart, sister and I were on the telephone, I was directing as Sue wandred around the house looking through the cupboards, cookbooks and recipe boxes trying to located mom's cookie recipes. We were going to work on a few recipes each and bring them home to Christmas. A continuity we greatly needed that year. The recipes were no where to be found. We were both annoyed. The cookie recipes are important! Why did mom not put them aside or make sure we had them before she died? We knew of other mothers who were terminal who wrote lovely letters to their children, took them shopping for wedding dresses and did other important mother daughter activities they would miss out on when the time came. Those mothers handed down heirlooms in articles and recipes, and memories as they wanted their legacy to transcend. Not our mother. She did none of these things? Why didn't she, my sister and I would ask each other. Why? We could only surmise that mom must have thought we knew all of these things without having to be told.

Last summer my dad who was preparing to move out of our family home asked me to go through a few things and take what I wanted as he would be doing a thorough clean out when the time came to move. I sat on the floor in front of my mother 's antique cabinet and began pulling out all her cookbooks. She had bazillions! Lo and behold I found a list scribed in my mother's familiar handwriting. Each of her Christmas cookies was written out along with the corresponding cookbook and page number from which she baked from.

I can only figure they were meant to be found some 7 years after her passing because I was ready to find them. Sometimes I just can't see for looking. Likely, I was so deeply routed in my grief I couldn't see until that day last summer.

This year I baked. I was in my new home, my frst marital home, a bun in my oven, the weather a balmy 71 degrees, the windows wide open. I baked my mother's recipes and a few new ones of my own while Pandora Radio played the same 10 Christmas songs over and over by various artists and I sang along, and for the first time I was not sad.

Mom's Thimble Cookies filled with homemade (not by me) strawberry rhubarb jam.

Mrs. Katinis's (Mom & Dad's first landlord) Cookies - A.K.A Almond Crescents

This year for the first time I am able to share my family's tradition with my new family, gifting them with a tiny tin of baked Christmas treats, thus, injecting a little bit of my familiar Christmas into an otherwise unfamiliar one. A small comforting hold on all my Christmases past as I take a huge leap into all my future Christmases.

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