Wednesday, June 23, 2010

From Nellie's Kitchen - Sugar Cookies

I am a firm believer that the most potent memories are those that call upon sound, sensation or taste to render an impact. Which is why I am fascinated by recipes, musical scores and physical objects of the past. At every opportunity, I attempt to cook with recipes that are from the previous generations. By sharing a taste experience, perhaps we can get just a bit closer to those who came before us. So, from time to time, I hope to share a recipe or two, to bring out the more flavorful elements of my family memories.

Some of my most precious, as well as tactile, memories from childhood are centered on visits to my great-grandmother, Nellie Isabelle Cox Beyersdoerfer's home. She lived to be 90, but passed away when I was nine, so even though my years with her were few, she made quite an impact.....and continues to do so. She was the family's keeper of history. Not only did her collection include stories and family heirlooms, but also antiques from her community of Pendleton County Kentucky. My mother spent many a weekend taking Nellie around to estate sales to buy up some of her favorite items. I have even heard tale of grandma Nellie (aka "Ma") instructing my mother to crawl down into the cellar of a burnt house because she could see a fancy teacup lying among the debris.....a sort of accepted form of looting, I suppose, but Mom still has the teacup, complete with blackened melted glass stuck on the side. Those two were quite the wild pair, but their closeness meant I was taken along for visits to Ma's on a regular basis.

Whenever I would arrive, there on her kitchen table was an antique cut glass covered bowl full of her signature sugar cookies. I would pull up a stool that was part ladder and had supported many of the children in our family over the years, and devour a big, delectable cookie. However, Ma's recipe was not exactly HER signature recipe since she got it from an old William Tell flour package or booklet. My mother still has the original as Ma used it, a roughly torn out piece of paper from the early part of the century. Sadly, Dad laminated it years ago, before we all understood the implications of lamination from the preservation point of view, but we've since made multiple scans and copies to pass out to the family over the years. I have a copy framed and sitting on my counter at all times.....I love decorating with old recipes!
At first glance, this appears to be just your standard, run of the mill, sugar cookie recipe, but it is the addition of nutmeg that makes this little cookie unique. As you can see, the recipe calls for a half teaspoon of nutmeg, but no salt, which is a staple among other sugar cookie recipes. I will confess that I use salted butter when making this recipe, so there is a little salt in there. Otherwise, I can say I don't miss the extra saltiness. Although, if you can swing freshly grated nutmeg, which is much easier than it sounds, the taste is a bit more robust.

All in all, it turns out to be a very light and soft cookie. Ma always followed the tip at the bottom and added sugar with her own addition of cinnamon to the top of the cookies prior to going into the oven, and I completely agree with this little step. The cinnamon, sugar and nutmeg, make this cookie a delicious little treat.

When I make this one at Christmas, I forgo the cinnamon and sugar in lieu of a simple confectioner's sugar icing which adds even more sweetness with a bit of a bite. I have always noticed that the fine print at the bottom suggests the addition of lemon for a smart little lemon cookie. I haven't tried that simply because I love the original version so much. Either way, the secret to this cookie is taking the cookie out of the oven after it has puffed up a bit and before you notice any golden color at the base. If you see the light brown forming, the end product can be a little more crispy than desired. One thing I have changed from the recipe, I cook them at 350 or 375 instead of the 450 as recommended. It cooks them a little slower, and gives you plenty of time to watch over them to prevent burning. One other thing I remember....Ma's cookies were much larger than the standard cut out we use today. I was never around when she made these, but I'm guessing she used a lid or jar for her cookies to get them so big. All kinds of shapes work well with this cookie, as long as it has been well refrigerated first! Oh, and be sure to keep them in an air tight container to keep them soft!

Enjoy this family memory, and have some fun experimenting with it!
C
6/26/10

In case you can't see the print of the original recipe very well, I have transcribed it below:
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar (granulated)
2 eggs
1 tablespoon cream
2 1/2 cups William Tell Flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Cream butter and sugar; add beaten eggs and cream. Sift the dry ingredients and beat into mixture. Roll and cut. Sprinkle with sugar or nuts and bake at about 450 degrees F.

Note: Grated rind of a lemon and a tablespoon of lemon juice will make delicious lemon cookies over this recipe.

4 comments:

Greta Koehl said...

This recipe reminds me of one of my favorite sugar cookie recipe, which has a dollop of sour cream and plenty of nutmeg ... yum! Thanks for posting this.

Admin said...

You've had such a beautiful relationship with her. Lucky, you are. :)

Unfortunately, no special past memories can associated with cookies in this part of the world. They're rarely baked in here at homes.

They seem yummy, though. Thanks for sharing. :)

Admin said...

Lovely layout BTW :)

Cheri Daniels said...

Greta...sour cream sounds like a wonderful addition...you ahve me curious about how that tastes.

Admin...thank you...although, I can't imagine a home without the smell of cookies baking...ok, maybe not all year...I only cook them about 5 times maybe, but the Holidays would certainly not be any fun without baking cookies! Any Holiday we can think of will afford the opportunity ;-)

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