‘Tis the season for all good tidings, for winter magic that brings family, friends, and whole communities together in yuletide cheer. It’s the time of year for mulled cider or warmed Glühwein (a treasure I discovered during my stay in Germany), when Nature is brought indoors and all sorts of pine-cone studded evergreens are woven into beautiful adornments for mantel, railing, and door.
It’s also the time of year for cookies.
Christmas cookies. Such a vast and wide array of delectable treats. It’s not just an American phenomenon though. I’ve certainly seen my share of confectionery wonders in Germany’s famous Christmas markets. But it was there, in Europe, where I discovered the truth about place, about home, and how it can be defined by its traditional foods.
Can we ever, truly go home again? That image of home we carry inside our personal childhood memories.
As an American, Christmas at home means traditional foods that I had not previously identified as distinctly American. What would Christmas be without Peanut Butter cookies, Chocolate Chip cookies, Sugar cookies, Icebox cookies…?
When I was a child, my mother made Christmas cookies only a couple of times yet that experience forever remained, indelibly fixed, in memory. It became synonymous with my idea – illusion if you will – of Christmas cheer.
Especially the ones that were buttery delights tinted red and green. And one year she combined the different colored dough in such a way that it formed a spiral when sliced. It was part of the Christmas magic to my young self and I’ve never forgotten.
Funny how we choose these isolated moments to define our lives. What means home to you? For me it’s these silly cookies.
Many years later, when I had children of my own, I asked my mother for the cookie recipe. Her only recollection was that they were called “Refrigerator Cookies”.
So, being a bit of a home-baker, I went in search of a recipe that would recreate my childhood memory. I wanted to experience once again, the festive spirit, the thrill of creating colorful cookies that marked the very essence of the Yuletide season.
I found dozens of recipes. I learned that Refrigerator cookies were the evolved version of early America’s Icebox cookies. Each recipe was similar in nature, but held distinctive differences too. I tried them all. And none of them tasted like the ones that Mom made.
For me, that was the moment I realized I could never go home again. Home lived inside me. The things I cherish, or hold in memory, are intangible. And that’s ok.
So I made different cookie traditions for my children, and held the hope that they too would have a magical Christmas-tide that would live in their own memories.
These days, I bake cookies as gifts for my neighbors. It pleases me to spread a little Christmas cheer in the form of cookies. Especially the kind that dusts fingers with confectioner’s sugar or oozes creamy chocolate…