The holidays include an intersection of family and food. While it may be fun to mix it up and try new things, holiday cooking invariably includes traditional dishes. While studying funerary rituals in Kamchatka, I often heard that each family has its own traditions, and this is equally true for holiday recipes in America. While growing up, my mom (Lillis) always made two kinds of Christmas cookies: fruit cookies and white cookies, the later of which we frosted when my brother and I were small and then just sprinkled sugar on top when we were all older and busier. When I got married and started my own family, we blended our cookie traditions. We make my mother’s fruit cookies and my wife’s mother’s (Joan) white cookies. In 2004 Christina emailed my mom asking for the fruit cookie recipe and she replied with an epistle blending cooking, kinship, and history.
The recipe follows some family info:
“Next, here is the cookie recipe. First I will copy the recipe as I got it from my sister. [Beryl, born in 1916, 24 years before Lillis, my mother]. You may get a kick out of these old fashioned recipes. Below, I have the recipe cut in half because it makes a horrendous amount of cookies. You will be rolling out cookies for 4 hours [or if you have my skill level, 10 hours] if you make a full recipe. My Grandmother Jacobs [Lillis’s father’s mother] who had 9 children had this recipe. I think it came from Germany, around the area of Cologne where the Jacobs/Esser clan emigrated from. My grandmother’s name was Esser. Her sister, an old maid (!), lived with Grandma and Grandpa Jacobs. She did most of the cooking from what I can gather. Perhaps the recipe was hers. Her name was Sophia, Sophie Esser.
2 qts. sugar
1 lb. butter
1 lb. lard
1/2 pint cream
1/2 pint hot water
5 tsp soda
1 Tblsp. cloves
1 ” cinnamon
2 candied lemon peel
1/2 lb candied orange peel
2 packages raisins
2 lbs. blanched almonds
Grind all the fruit and nuts in coarse food chopper. Melt larg and buttter. Add flour, enough for stiff dough to roll out.
“(Sometimes I add a package of candied assorted fruit, too. It give the cookies a little color and adds a subtly different taste)
“I use the Cuisinart to grind all the fruit and nuts. [I remember Mom using a hand meat grinder clamped to the counter when I was a little kid in the 1970s]. If I add gradually the nuts to the raisins as they grind, I don’t get a gooey mess of raisins. The nuts help to keep the raisins from glopping together. Hooray for electricity!
“While I am melting the butter and lard together, I beat the eggs a little so they will mix with the sugar and the butter/lard. Just mix the ingredients up in the order you would for any cookies. I experimented and found this gives me the results that tast like my mother’s cookies.
“I can’t tell you how much flour, but it always seems more than what I expect. [I used about 17 cups this year]. After the initial 4 cups, I add a cup at a time to judge how much more. Just be careful not to get them too stiff because as you roll them out, you’ll add flour to the dough when you put it on the board and the rolling pin. The last of the dough can get too stiff.
“Roll them out fairly thick. They taste better and aren’t so crispy. It may depend upon what you like how think you make them. They will rise in the oven. Also, you won’t be standing, cutting out cookies for hours.
“Before I put them into the oven, I sprinkle a little sugar on each cookie.
“Mother didn’t tell me the oven temperature, so I found 375 to be ok most years, and 350 others. After the first batch comes out, you can tell if the 7 minutes is all right, too. Geez, I sound like those old ladies who’ve come before me with nebulous directions. Sorry!
“I hope I haven’t forgotten anything. If you have any queestions, just e-mail–or you can call after Dec. 19. [Mom was busy as a high school English teacher until school let out for the holidays.] I would love to hear about your adventure making these. Also, I really am pleased that you are willing to make these. They are a family custom. My nephew’s wife in Texas is the only one who still makes these besides me.”
My brother Trevor and maybe some other cousins have started making them since this missive was dispatched in 2004. Trevor has converted the above to a vegan version. Lillis Jacobs King passed away from skin cancer December 30, 2018. She is remembered in myriad ways; these cookies are one of the ways, and she is one link in an important chain of kinswomen sharing traditional recipes.