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Four Years at the Mount

Holiday traditions

A Plate of Cookies

Sarah Muir
MSM Class of 2018

(12/2016) It starts early with the sweet smell of candied orange and ginger, coupled with the lingering scent of anise. The air seems laced with powdered sugar and a thin layer of flour is on some table, somewhere. Baking is all about timing. The first cookies to be made are the springerles followed in quick pursuit by the pfeffernŁsses. Both, I know are odd sounding names for Christmas cookies, and both have German backgrounds and a traditional standing in our family. Springerles are made with anise, a licorice tasting spice that no one in my family cares for except for my dad, which is why only one batch is made for him and are set aside to dry and harden. The pfeffernŁsses, on the other hand are powered sugared pillows of Christmas heaven. Each little crumb carries the sweet smells of cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, anise, cinnamon, and molasses.

The next cookie in line isnít really a cookie, rather, an old family recipe of the Nut Roll. Every year my mom makes an excessive amount, and every year we do not complain. Nut Roll is essentially a sweet bread dough, rolled out in a rough square, and spread liberally with a mixture of crushed walnuts, sugar, and milk. Afterward, they are rolled up and baked until they are perfectly golden brown and the house is filled with the rich smell of yeast, butter, and sugar. Every year, while they are cooling my mother will launch into a small oration of how perfect her grandmotherís cookies were and, as the rest of us shove our faces, we assure her that they are the best weíve ever had.

The closer to Christmas, the more intricate the cookies become. The tea cookies, are usually next followed by the labor-intensive lady locks. The tea cookie are small, delicate, and flaky with a small amount of sugar crystalized on the top followed by a liberal coating of butter cream. The lady locks are a labor of love since they take about two-three days to make. First, the repetitive process of making the homemade filo-dough, which takes several hours. Then, rolling and cutting of strips that are wrapped around small round, wooden dowels. After they are baked and the small fragile shells are removed from their little rods, they cool and are filled with cream and covered in powdered sugar.

I do not think it has always been solely about the cookies. I remember my mom teaching me how to bake, distributing jobs that were appropriate for whatever age I was at the time. She still has the same maroon binder that contains the various secret recipes handwritten by my great grandmother and magazine clippings of other delightful confections that she conjures in her kitchen. Because of her, I know the recipes that have been in our family for generations and why I will continue this tradition for whoever comes after me.

Now, I try to help out where I can, but to be perfectly honest, my mom does the majority. I never understood how my mom could finish making all of them and I could not tell you where the tradition of making too many cookies came from because it seems like it has always been this way. Luckily, the wedding in June has made this year easier. That and the chest freezer in the basement that has been storing countless cookies and frozen dough that my mother does not have to make this Christmas.

My mom is not the only member of the family that bakes this way. Every year, my sister and I make the quick pilgrimage up to grandmotherís house; traversing over rivers and through woods. While we are up there, we help her bake at least three different types of cookies. They are not as intricate as those my mom makes; mostly, they are sugar cookies, chocolate chip, and Pecan (substitute: walnut) Sandies. My favorite bit is decorating the sugar cookies. With red, yellow, green, and blue glazes and a vast assortment of sprinkles close at hand, we set to work. While our creations are a little more subdued now that we are older, we take time to make at least one cookie to pay homage to our inner child. The result of this is a gingerbread man shaped cookie that looks as though it was decorated with Woodstock in mind.

While the cookies are, in my opinion, the most delicious cookies ever to grace an oven, they are not what I love most about this particular tradition. Rather, what I hold deep in my heart is the baking. I will forever associate Christmas with a warm kitchen made heavy with the scent of vanilla and melting butter. I will remember my grandparentsí house, our colorfully dyed hands and kaleidoscopic cookie creations. I will forever picture my mom, hair frizzing slightly, standing over the oven as Christmas music plays from the radio. One day, I hope to be half the baker she is and have the privilege to complain how my cookies cannot compare to hers.

It seems this season people get warmer as the weather gets colder. Perhaps it is just me wishing to see it, but everyone smiles more and laughs more and are closer together. It is the time of year humanity appears softer than powdered sugar. Christmas means so much to so many people, but to me it will always be peace on earth, goodwill towards man, and a plate of cookies.

Read other articles by Sarah Muir