Christmas cookies past and present

This week I started making my Christmas cookies oh, I know on television they call them holiday cookies but to me they will always be Christmas cookies. I make all of the cutouts and keep them out back where it is cold.

Each time I dig out the cookie cutters I think about grandma. Many of the cutters I use regularly came from her collection. This year I used grandma’s old-fashioned recipe. The original recipe called for lard, but I substitute a combination of butter and margarine. The shortening goes into this recipe melted.

When my granddaughter and grandson came home from school we dug in. Right away my granddaughter noticed that these cutouts were a little more difficult to handle. We had to add flour before doing any rolling.

I rolled out the first tray and cut them so I could give instructions about the process. My granddaughter took over from there. She is really very good at the process. I remember when we were making cookies to enter in the fair. She was only about seven years old and she completely floored me when she took over the rolling and cutting. At fifteen she is quite adept at it. I did have to finish the last couple pans because mother came to pick them up.

Next week we do the gingerbread men. That dough has to set before it can be rolled out. The recipe I use came from my great-grandmother. I never knew her since she died when my mother and her siblings were quite young.

The first time I tried this recipe I was living in an apartment, but was not married. Before I moved from Grandma’s house I copied the recipes that I really wanted to keep. When I started to mix up the batter I noticed right away that there was no flour listed! I knew my grandmother used flour in these cookies so I made a phone call to check on this.

Grandma told me she did use flour, but she had absolutely no idea how much she used. Her baking was by feel and look. I tried to get grandma to give me a ball park figure. By that time I had baked quite a bit so I had a fair idea what the dough should be like. My cookies came out just fine so I made a note about the amount of flour I added.

One day as it gets closer to Christmas we will have a cookie decorating day. Usually we just frost them with a simple butter frosting and sprinkle them with colored sugar and sprinkles. It is too much trouble to decorate them with a cake decorator because they disappear so quickly.

If I make no other cookies the family will be happy. When they think of Christmas cookies they really mean the cutouts.

Our family celebrates on Christmas Eve that is a vestige from the years that my husband had cows to milk. He always said that Christmas Eve in the barn was a special time. They had a radio and the Christmas carols flowed freely. As the children got older they joined him at the barn, but when they were small it was my job to keep them occupied until Santa came.

Santa visited Hickory Heights early. One year my husband took some sleigh bells and ran around the house ringing them. Unfortunately he wiped out somewhere out back and got pretty muddy. He snuck in the back door and called me to get him some clean clothes.

In those days he read The Night before Christmas to the children. That was my cue to dig out the Santa things.

We still celebrate on Christmas Eve. First, we go to the early candlelight service at our church, then, everyone comes to Hickory Heights. We eat our holiday meal then we open gifts. Even what we eat is a family tradition. We have ham and korv. We also have rice pudding and potato salad. A salad or just plain fruit and raw vegetables round out the meal.

After the gifts we have peppermint stick ice cream and cookies. We used to get ice cream with a shape in the middle, but when those disappeared we switched to the peppermint stick. This year I think I might make my own in my little ice cream maker. If I do I will also make eggnog ice cream. The first time we had that was at The Creamery at Penn State.

Last year my grandson saw that flavor on the menu and asked to try it. He really liked it. This year I already made one batch of eggnog ice cream using just commercial eggnog, but I do have a recipe to make my own eggnog.

No matter what we have to eat the most important thing of all is that the family is together. When the family gets to talking about the old times I get to wondering where I was and how I missed some of the things that they remember. It gets to be rather a silly time.

When we went to Amish country for the Christmas season we learned a new game. Everyone sits around the table. The host or hostess reads a story that has the words “right” and “left” repeated many times. Each person has a small package to pass. The packages go right when the host says right and left when the host says left. It was a lot of fun.

We were told that the stories were on line so I went looking. I copied off several so that we can play the game on Christmas Eve. At church last week one family told me they also were going to try this game. I hope they had fun.

Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell, Pa. Contact at