When my Great Grandma Caroline learned to bake as a child in Denmark during the 1860s, her specialty was Danish Cookies. She’d grab a couple handfuls of sugar, add heaping scoops of lard, an egg and cream it all together with a wooden spoon, before she tossed in a several handfuls of flour, pinches of baking powder, cream of tartar, salt and a few drops of vanilla.
I never met Great Grandma Caroline — she passed away before I was born — but every December, I roll her sweet, rich dough into balls the size of shooter marbles for a Christmas Eve treat.
I love following in her culinary footsteps, something I couldn’t do without my aunt’s foresight.
Aunt Helen sat down with Great Grandma and a set of measuring cups and spoons, pen and paper. When Caroline grabbed just enough lard, Helen asked her put it in a measuring cup. She repeated that with each ingredient to capture the recipe for posterity.
1 cup granulated sugar 2 cups flour 1 cup butter 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 egg 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. vanilla 1/2 tsp. salt
Cream sugar and butter. Add egg and vanilla. Stir in dry ingredients. Chill the dough for about 30 minutes. Roll out the dough into small balls, flatten with a fork and sprinkle with nonpareils. Bake at 350 degrees 10-15 minutes.
Handing down favored family recipes is a time-honored tradition around the world. Some families gather every Sunday night to feast on Nonna’s tomato sauce and meatballs. For other families, a bowl of Mom’s Chicken Noodle Soup is guaranteed to chase away a cold or sore throat. And, in another time-honored tradition, some cooks add a different ingredient or leave out one when someone asks for their recipe. I substitute butter for lard, when I make Great Grandma’s cookies.
Another factor that brought more recipes into our homes over the years was the popularity of packaged foods imprinted with a recipe on the back of the box.
“The Back of the Box Gourmet,” written by Michael McLaughlin, is a compendium of dozens of recipes from packaged foods, ranging from “Lipton California Onion Dip” to the “Classic Green Bean Bake,” starring Campbell’s Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup. It’s a recipe I’m quite familiar with because my husband gets nostalgic for it every year around Thanksgiving. I bought that cookbook years ago because it has page after page of favorite foods from my childhood. My all-time favorite is the recipe on the back of Marshmallow Fluff jars for “Never-Fail Fudge.” https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1933069.Back_of_the_Box_Gourmet. How sweet it is!
What “Back of the Box” recipes are your favorite?
Marilyn Ostermiller is a long-time journalist who delights in cooking, baking and sharing recipes.