Author’s program note. I’ve got this day all planned. First, I’ll finish this article and get it out to the awaiting world; then I’ll finish my Christmas shopping. I’ve been well organized about it. So far, so good; even the help at the other end of the telephone line, the people who take the orders, seem better and friendlier this year. Maybe they’re glad to have a job, even a seasonal one, with so many unemployed and likely to remain so.
I’ve got an objective that keeps me focused today… and that objective is to help myself to some good old, home-baked Christmas cookies… and not just one or two either. Diabetes be damned; Christmas and its cookies come but once a year…. and tonight I’ll translate that into some serious munching.
One guy you may know who’ll be helping me get in the mood is George Strait. He’s called the “King of Country,” his brand of music a toe-tapping mixture of western swing, bar-room ballads, honky-tonk style and fresh yet traditional Country. He seems a genuinely nice fellow, the kind of man who in real life would give you a big smile, a strong hand shake, and a tip of his over sized cowboy hat. Under the right circumstances, I could be persuaded to give him one of my Christmas cookies… but not more, no matter how nice he is.
In 1999 Strait recorded a peppy little number by Aaron Barker called “Christmas Cookies.” It’s got the necessary “gosh, ma’am” twang factor and an infectious beat that’ll follow you around the house like your favorite dawg, “I sure do like those Christmas cookies, sugar.” The tune is about how he wolfs them down before his sugar babe even finishes the sprinkles and the icing…. his good woman outwardly chiding, but inwardly glad she has this big overgrown boy around the house; women like a little boy in their man… at Christmas and watching them down those cookies at record speed constitutes proof positive that she’s got one. “Ah, shucks, babe, I didn’t mean to eat them all…. but they were so good I couldn’t help myself”. What woman, and especially at Christmas, could take offense at that?”
No cookies, no Christmas.
Christmas for me means many, many things. Of the school pageant where my Midwestern school fellows shuffled through the first Noel all gawky embarrassment and barely suppressed giggles.
Of the all important trip to the car lot where one of those trees was ours… and no matter that it wasn’t quite symmetrical and never, ever of decorator quality. Our trees were mauled by love and had, from the very first moment, a family look… that became pure Currier and Ives when we tossed on the tinsel; (we were too impatient to put it on piece by piece; clumps were more our style). And when my father put the star on the top of the tree (and it was always the job of my father to do so), we all agreed, with our dog Missy reaffirming with her strident barks and capers, that this was the best tree yet. And so it was… every single year.
Christmas was all about tradition… and no one was more traditional than the three children in our home…. and woe if such and such a thing done a certain way the year before should, by an unthinking adult, be done differently this year. It was done that way before; it must be done that way now. This adamancy makes me smile when I think of it now. No army officer of ancient regiment could have been more devoted to the old ways and true than we were.
And this, of course, is where Christmas cookies come in. We were most dedicated to and unyielding about them, and not just because we always had the best cookies in the world baking in who’s ever kitchen we found ourselves. Quite simply, certain cookies with their unmistakable contours, tastes, and looks meant Christmas, and there would have been no Christmas at all without them.
The minute Thanksgiving was over…
I was born in Illinois in 1947, in February, so I was almost a year old when my first Christmas came along. There were just three of us for that first Christmas, two young parents in their mid-twenties… and me, the apple of every eye with consequences still playing themselves out over 60 years later. The first cookie story I remember is so good I have to insert it here… even though it’s not about Christmas, but says everything about my mother and her unceasing concern about my welfare and place in the world.
When I was about three or four POM (Poor Old Mother) was so anxious that I have lots of friends and assured position at our neighborhood park, that she sent me into that park alone (whilst she watched anxiously from a distance), a backpack strapped to me and a big package of Oreo cookies filling that pack. So accoutered I became the bait that would ensure my popularity and social advance. There was a certain crazy logic to the scheme… and whilst I do not remember the incident itself, POM told me years later, I was mobbed by moppets who were not about to turn down free cookies, whatever the strings attached. And so my charismatic career was well and truly launched…
… thus was the importance of cookies made clear… so much so, that I can never recall even a short period of my life when I was cookie-less, and certainly never at Christmas.
My grandmother was of English descent; my grandfather’s was German. Yet neither English nor German cookies were favorites. That was the klotschkis which truly symbolized the holidays. Needless to say as a boy I cared nothing for the proper description, where it came from, even how they were made. I was simply mad for this one cookie, the cookie we only got at Christmas and ate wildly, regardless of its astronomic sugar content and stratospheric calories. And I was not alone in this. Klotschkis were everybody’s favorite… and so my English-born grandmother bearing the name of the great queen who died the year she was born, was kept baking what we all craved… and knew too well would be gone soon, severely to test our patience before returning.
This year thanks to Sharon Oshatz and fast Internet searches, I got the low-down on the klotschkis, everything but the taste; that I had never forgotten and needed absolutely no assistance to recall.
Klotschkis are simple Polish butter cookies festooned by various jams… particularly strawberry, and the ones I remember best… apricot and prune. My grandmother always finished them with white confectioner’s sugar. She knew the importance of tradition, particularly but not exclusively to her youngest relations; she never tampered with what she knew we wanted, expected, and would have been disappointed, dismayed and distraught had even the smallest particular concerning these cookies been neglected or overlooked. And in her kitchen they never were. Though common sense was.
The problem with traditions is that they all have the feeling of forever about them; that what one celebrates today will necessarily be here to be celebrated tomorrow. Nothing could be less true… for every tradition (like everything in the human condition) is doomed to fade, become uncertain and inaccurate, and pass on; and we humans are careless about such matters. We believe in “forever”; when we should be working instead to ensure that forever, by working hard to avoid forgetfulness and oblivion. And as a species we are just horrid at this.
Thus, in this year of our Lord 2011, I shall not have the joy of klotschkis, either the memory or the richness of flavor. My grandmother Victoria, as stolid and certain as Queen Victoria herself, would never be anything but forever; that’s the way we acted… only to be upended by the predictable death that turns “forever” into a macabre joke. No recipe written; no recipe transmitted to her daughters, then to me and mine. If only she had said such and such amount of butter, so many dozens of eggs, blended in a bowl and baked for so many minutes. For without these simple directions, this cookie, made magic by Grammie, becomes the task of historians and archeologists.
Still this evening I shall do my best to recreate perfection, recipe in hand, high standard daunting but not inhibiting. For I was there to sample this perfection in the first place… and I must try to recapture it before I, too, cannot do so. I owe it to Grammie… my mother and siblings et al. And I owe it to myself, too, because you see
“I sure do like those Christmas cookies, sugar I sure do like those Christmas cookies, babe.”
Dedicated to Sharon Oshatz, colleague, friend, cook, on the occasion of her birthday. I didn’t ask how many, because I know she’s just getting better and especially appreciate the help she’s given to make me better, too.
by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
About the Author
Now with near seven decades of a successful writing career, Dr. Lant is, he likes to say, in the prime of his prime. Thus does the “scribbling” life he commenced at age 5 continue. Twenty books. Thousands of articles. Untold radio and television programs;
worldwide recognition and enthusiasm, all of which culminated in the publication of his autobiography, “A Connoisseur’s Journey, being the artful memoirs of a man of wit, discernment, pluck and joy”. It was a book that screamed “classic!”, and he has
delighted in the several awards that followed.
To get your copy go to www.writerssecrets.com. You will also want to join his writing course and learn from this master communicator just how you can improve everything you ever write. https://writerssecret.samcart.com/products/writers-secrets-package
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