My Grandmothers’ Christmas Cookies

Holidays and food…the combination can make almost anyone nostalgic. Do you honor tradition with a favorite recipe or two?

I didn’t know my father’s mother very well. Grandmother Ernst was Swiss, and reserved. I was too young when she died to have forged a close relationship with her. I have no personal mementos, no treasured keepsakes.

Not so with my mother’s mother. Grandma Johnston lived long enough to know that I’d developed a sincere interest in family stories.

Each year Grandma J. baked hundreds of Christmas cookies. Wherever I happened to be, I could count on receiving a tin box full of Christmas cookies. I visited one December during her final years, when her health was failing. She sat in a wheelchair in the kitchen, directing my grandfather as he mixed cookie dough. I can still see her frail hands patting the dough into balls and placing them carefully on cookie sheets.

After Grandma J. died, I inherited her recipe cards. Some were decades old, battered and ink-stained. Some were much newer, even typed. If she’d gotten the recipe from a friend, she noted the name.

My Grandma Johnston's recipe box.

I thumbed through the cookie recipes, recognizing family classics, puzzling over types I didn’t recall. Then I came to a card for Nut Wafers. In parenthesis my grandma had written “Mrs. Ernst.”

I’d never know that Grandma J. had gotten this, or any, recipe from Grandmother E.. I could hardly wait to bake these cookies.

Following her recipe precisely, I mixed up a batch. I used Grandma J.’s old brown bowl, the one she’d always used for cookies. I knew the Nut Wafers would be perfectly wonderful. After all, both my grandmothers had liked them.

Well, they weren’t perfect. The dough was to0 sticky to form as directed. When I baked the cookies, the edges crisped before the centers had set.

I spent a couple of days feeling sad. Then I gave myself permission to tinker. With just a couple of minor changes, I ended up with a cookie that I love.

Each December, I bake Nut Wafers. Doing so still makes me feel close to both of my grandmothers. It doesn’t matter that I changed the recipe a bit.  Traditions evolve. Now the recipe belongs to all of us.

Kathleen’s Grandmothers’ Nut Wafers

1 c. butter, softened
2 c. raw sugar
2 eggs
2 t. vanilla
1 c. ground walnuts
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, melted
1-1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. baking soda
2-1/2 c. flour

Cream the butter with the sugar. Beat in eggs, vanilla, ground nuts, and melted chocolate. Stir the remaining ingredients together in a separate bowl, and then add slowly to the dough mixture.

Drop by rounded teaspoons onto a greased cookie sheet, about 2″ apart. These spread, so don’t use too much dough. Bake 10-12 minutes at 325 degrees. Cool slightly before moving to a drying rack.

**
This post originally appeared on Amy Alessio’s wonderful vintage foods blog in 2009.

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2 Responses to “My Grandmothers’ Christmas Cookies”

  1. Arletta Dawdy's Blog Says:

    I love the idea of your grandmothers’ sharing the recipe and along you come to perfect it. SWEET, indeed!

  2. las artes Says:

    My grandmother was born in Austria and was a wonderful cook and baker. One of the pasteries she made was something she called “fludden” which was dough, wrapped around raspberry jam and chopped nuts and raisins. I have tried a number of different doughs and not one tastes like grandmas. Does anyone know the proper dough for this pastery. Another things she made was onion-poppy seed cookies. I would love to receive a receipe for this. Thanks for any help.

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