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Brassed off with Isaac’s Cookie Walk arrogance

Posted from the Newsletter on behalf of parishioner Don Ruthig

The nerve of that eagle Isaac. He freely admits not eating cookies, much less cooking them, but yet has the brass to urge us parishioners to ante up five pounds each.

He should have been around our house at Christmas. Then he’d know something about cookies.

The Thanksgiving dishes weren’t yet dry when the first batches were in the oven: lebkuchen, butter cookies, anise drops, rum balls, pecan sandies, pfeffernüsse, and on and on and on. We had five pounds safely tucked away in Peek Frean biscuit tins and mom hadn’t even broken a sweat.

It wasn’t like we didn’t get cookies the rest of the year—there were always plenty of oatmeal and chocolate chip cookies to keep three growing boys happy. But Christmas cookies were special. They were the recipes that were made once a year and, once gone, were anticipated for the next eleven months.

Christmas cookies were in our blood. After all, the tradition of baking cookies at Christmas can be traced back to medieval Europe, when modern ingredients like cinnamon, ginger, almonds, black pepper, and dried fruits were introduced to the west. The fact that sugar cost about $100 per pound in today’s dollars may have something to do with the prevalence of highly spiced cookie recipes.

The Germans favored lebkuchen, a dense, spicy dough rolled out, baked, and then cut into cookies. With family names like Schmahl, Krebs, and Ziegler in our background, it isn’t hard to explain why they were our favorites as well. In fact, I think my mother had the original medieval recipe! Every year she’d ask the same question: “what do they mean by a knife’s point of cardamon?”

Lebkuchen may have been the favorite cookie to eat but the butter cookies—or spritz as mom called them—were the most fun to make.

It was a family affair. Mom made the dough, coloring one portion red and another green, and pressed them using a cookie press to make Christmas trees, wreaths, stars, camels, and other shapes. We kids did the decorating with colored sugar, red–hots, bits of cherry, and chocolate sprinkles. My grandmother always did the baking.

Hers was a particularly skillful job; undercooked they fell apart, overcooked they turned brown. Of course she always managed to overcook one batch. The punishment for such a sin was levied upon the cookies—instant consumption.

After the tins were filled they’d be whisked away to some secret hiding place only mom knew (or so she thought), to reappear at all kinds of holiday gatherings.

But times have changed. Somewhere along the line we stopped producing mountains of Christmas cookies and their flavors have become a distant memory. Until now.

Thank you, St Stephen’s, for 20 years of Cookie Walks. Now we can bake one kind in abundance, take them to the Cookie Walk, and come home with six other kinds—and some peanut brittle to boot.

We’ll be doing mom’s Anise Drops this year—hard on the outside, soft on the inside, and perfect for dunking. Isaac can have his Brasso and lemon juice. DON RUTHIG

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