The annual Holiday Cookie Contest is coming up in our local newspaper, and I am thinking that this is my year to enter. I've got less than a month to come up with a recipe either adapted or original. I think I want to enter the "Localicious" category where you need to use products from Wisconsin (not counting butter).
I decided to check out what the top Wisconsin crops are to give me some inspiration. Besides dairy products, they are: corn (human food and livestock food), soybeans, potatoes, and cranberries. Apples and cherries are also grown in Wisconsin, but didn't come in at the top. I knew most of these thanks to my years of working at the Wisconsin State Fair, but I don't think I could make a cookie with potatoes. I'm thinking cranberries would be the way to go.
After checking the products list and reading the rules of the contest, my first thought was, "I need to raid Grandma's recipes" for some advice. For about 20 years, since the time I was old enough to be trusted to not lick my fingers between every chocolate-dipped peanut butter truffle I rolled (about 5-years-old) until a few years back when Grandma had a few strokes and lost most of her vision, we have made Christmas cookies at Grandma's house. Grandma is one of my kitchen crushes.
During the Great Depression, my young adult grandmother and her two sisters took jobs to help support their family. My great-grandpa died when the girls were small children (one great aunt was a newborn), so they depended on taking in boarders and other family members to help pay the bills. My Grandma, a college graduate despite financial hardship, became the head telephone operator in Watertown, located in southern central Wisconsin. Her mother continued to keep house while Grandma and her sisters worked.
In 1942, halfway through World War II, Grandma and Grandpa got married. As a "career woman", Grandma didn't know how to do many common household chores. One family story tells about how as a newlywed, she starched Grandpa's boxer shorts so much that he could barely get them on! So, at 26-years-old, Grandma learned how to cook and bake, and became quite the domestic goddess. She could whip together a dinner party without trouble, and collected cookbooks from around the country until Grandpa claimed she could not possibly fit one more in their house.
Now at 96-years-old, Grandma doesn't cook anymore. Mom makes almost all of their meals. Like I said, Grandma had a number of strokes and has lost her vision almost completely. She still dreams of cooking and often wakes up from her afternoon nap wondering if they are having the lamb chops she baked in her sleep for dinner. Her dreams are so vivid she tells Grandpa (also 96) that she can smell them cooling in the kitchen.
I can describe to her any meal I make by giving her a detailed list of ingredients and description of how I made it. She will close her eyes and mentally walk through every step of the process. She's a tough judge. There's been a few times where she'll ask why I did a certain step or suggest that I maybe not make that meal again. On the plus side, she is spot-on with her suggestions. Grandma even gave me the idea the first meal I made for my husband while we were dating (stuffed pork chops).
Grandma still enjoys the Christmas cookies that we make and has her favorites (meringues and pecan fingers). Most of them are her recipes after all. We've switched baking in her kitchen to Mom's. Although she's not there commanding the kitchen in person, she's there in our minds when we ask, "Will she like this?" or "This is how Grandma did it." We even use her ancient nut chopper and Sunbeam stand mixer. Some things you just don't mess with.
I guess I'll have to make some test cookies up and bring them over for her to see if they get her approval for contest submission!
How about you? Do you have any family favorite cookies? Do you have any tips for submitting recipes for contests?