Thursday, July 7, 2011

Cookies and bits from the past...

I enjoy sending and receiving handwritten notes and letters.  Seems a bit strange because I also want immediate responses when I send an email or text.  Maybe that's part of what I like about 'snail mail,' I know they will be slow.  Another reason I like them is because they give me something to hold in my hand.  I have a box (or two) of my favorite letters and a box of favorite (usually funny) cards I've received over the years.  At Christmas, one of my decorations is my collection of Christmas cards - now over 25 years old - I add to it each year always writing the year on the back of every card when I'm putting the decorations away.  For the last 20 or so years I've put a special note on "First Card Received."  I suppose this is my tribute to the Ghost(s) of Christmas Past.

Occasionally, my mom will send me a card or letter (hand written - my favorite! - also, the only way mom sends a letter). I love to see mom's handwriting, read the tales of her gardening, flea market shopping, and other adventures. A few months ago she sent me a copy of a recipe for Ice Box Cookies. This ice box cookie could be found in our home circa 1965. Neatly wrapped in wax paper, tucked away in the fridge, waiting patiently to be sliced and cooked and served warm to us with a glass of milk. You should try them. Not only did Mom give me the recipe for a favorite childhood treat, she also stirred up happy memories, gave me news from home, and (best of all) gave me the gift of herself in a letter.

When I asked mom for this recipe, I thought it was called 'Pecan Sandies' because pecan was the only nut I remember her using when she made these.  Next time I make them, I will try almonds or maybe just a mix of different nuts (yes, leftovers from other cooking adventures).  Here's my version of Ice Box / Refrigerator Cookies - Pecan (it's half the original recipe, I like the taste a little better - I'm pretty sure it's the butter and extra vanilla).

Ice Box Cookies - 2011

1 1/2 cups plain flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4  teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 stick of butter (1/2 cup), soft not melted
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/2 cup of nuts, finely chopped

Mix together and sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt three times (yes, really three times).  Set aside.

Cream butter and sugars (2-3 minutes, slow speed).  Add egg and vanilla mix well (1 - 2 minutes) add nuts mix well (1-2 minutes).  Add dry ingredients, mix 2 minutes (more or less).  The contents of your bowl should look like this.

Divide dough into portions and shape each portion into a roll.  You can make short or long rolls, depending on how many cookies you want to bake at a time.  These are 2 inches in diameter.


Just put the amount you like on freezer or waxed paper.  I think the wax paper is prettier, but freezer paper was easiest to reach and I went with that.  If you use freezer paper be sure to use the wax-y (shiny) side - this will keep the dough from sticking.  After you shape the dough, wrap the paper around it and secure the ends.  I used rubber bands, you can tape them or just tuck them under.

Chill several hours or overnight until dough is stiff enough to slice.  They will last a few days in the fridge or you can seal them up better (put them in freezer bags) and keep them a week or two longer in the freezer.  Put them in the fridge to defrost before you cook them.

After 4 hours they are firm and sliceable.  Slice the dough into 1/4 inch thick slices with sharp knife. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet (I always use parchment paper when I make cookies) in moderate oven (375) about 10 minutes or until lightly browned. 

Let them cool for 5 to 10 minutes.  Remove from pan to cake racks. 

Yields approximately 4 dozen.  These are not giant cookies.  Their size makes having a few or several with a cup of tea a nice afternoon snack.

In case you'd like to try the original - here's the recipe as written down in 1965 by my mom's friend and neighbor, Cathy.  When Cathy jotted this down I wonder if she had ever stopped to think what the year 2011 would be like (The Jetsons maybe?).  Could she have thought of someone 45 years later reading her handwriting and making her cookies?  I love the idea of touching the future/touching the past.


3 cups plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup Crisco
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup of nuts, finely chopped
Sift flour, measure, resift 3 times with baking powder, soda and salt.
Cream shortening with sugar thoroughly. Add eggs, vanilla and nuts. Mix well.
Add flour mixture in 4 or 5 portions. Mix thoroughly after each addition.
Divide dough into portions and shape each portion in a roll. Wrap in waxed paper.
Chill several hours or overnight until dough is stiff enough to slice. Slice 3/16 inches thick with sharp knife. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet in moderate oven (375) about 12 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from pan to cake racks. Yields 12 to 12 1/2 dozen. 

Note: Mom's 'rolls' looked like tiny rolling pins. They were approximately 10 inches long and 1-2 inches around and wrapped in the wax paper like little presents. If you cook the full 12 minutes they get a bit crispy.  I can't believe anybody really got 12 dozen cookies - I think 8 dozen is more like it - maybe that 1/16 of an inch makes all the difference.  I don't ever remember my mom cooking all the cookies at once. Just enough to enjoy, the rest were in the fridge or freezer, waiting more patiently for us than we were for them. 

One of the happy things about this recipe for me now is knowing that all of the ingredients are always in my kitchen, as they were in mom's kitchen in 1965.

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