When I was a little girl, my favorite part of Christmas was our trip to my grandparent’s house and all the good things there would be to eat, especially the cookies. The fragrance of that time is still so much in my memory–fragrance, with food just as in the garden, is such a power sense and from what I understand, this is because the part of the brain that perceives scent is located near the part of the brain that houses memory. Right now, for me, the connections are to people who gave of themselves, generously and, without thinking of this at the time, lastingly.
My grandmother made the Snowball cookies, a very basic butter cookie with walnuts and powdered sugar. I’ve modified the recipe and make mine with pecans– time spent in North Carolina changed my nut preference. In keeping with our Polish heritage, Grandma Jean also made anise cookies–little knot-shaped pieces of dough dipped in sugar glaze. There were also nut crescents and other baking–not the cookie variety–included poppy seed roll and a sour cream coffee cake with crumb topping and golden raisins. The thoughts of these conjure the fragrance and thoughts of her. Here are my picks for favorite holiday cookies:
1. Jam thumbprints–my jam of choice is raspberry or blackberry
2. Russian Snowballs
3. Frosted sugar cookies
From the time my daughter was big enough to stand on a chair at the counter, she would help me bake. I am glad she still likes to do this and I hope the tradition, the side-by-side of it too, will be passed down to her children. This Christmas I welcome my son Blake’s fiancé, Arielle, to the cookie fold with a set of cutters.
Aunt K isn’t even my Aunt; she is the Aunt of a friend.
The recipe card is time-stamped November 19, 1990, the first year I made Aunt K’s Peachy-Pear Jam. The card is rather ratty from 24 years of use, the ink smeared from pear juice.
Isn’t it grand to receive a gift that you were not at all expecting? A total surprise and expression of generosity just for the sake of. I never even met Aunt K but I have her pear jam recipe and a beautiful silver serving spoon that she gave me for my bridal shower sent by way of my friend. So I think of this each time I use the spoon or make the jam–which is reserved for Christmas time when pears are soooooo good–I follow the recipe with pears only. The color complete is a beautiful caramel gold with flecks of nutmeg visible.
In Aunt K’s spirit of grace and kindness, I pass along the story and the recipe: Note: my son Blake was three when I made this recipe for the first time and when he tasted it his big, brown expressive eyes just widened with surprise at a flavor he had not yet enjoyed–then he asked for more.
Aunt K’s Peachy Pear Jam
12 half pint jelly jars and lids and rings, sterilized and dried, ready for canning
3 + 1/2 cups mashed peaches and pears (peeled and cored) or any combination or all peaches or all pear
6 + 1/2 cups granulated sugar
Juice of 2 lemons
Zest of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg (I go a bit heavier on the nutmeg because I like it; freshly ground even better)
1 foil package of Certo Pectin
Mix sugar, lemon juice, zest and spices together in large saucepan. As each pear or peach is peeled and cored, place into mini food processor (process gently to maintain chunky-ness) or in bowl and mash gently with potato masher; add to sugar mixture; doing this as you go along helps keep the fruit from discoloring. After all fruit is added to sugar mixture, mix thoroughly. Place over high heat on range top and bring to a full boil. Boil hard for a minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and immediately stir in Certo. Skim off foam. Continue to stir and skim for 5 minutes. Ladle into prepared jars within half inch of tops, cap jars and invert. Leave undisturbed for 24 hours. When jars are righted the seals should be intact. Wipe sticky edges/sides of jars with damp towel. Any extra not enough to fill a jar can be stored in the refrigerator in any appropriately-sized jar and enjoyed first.