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Vintage Cookbooks: Family cookie recipes are most cherished at holidays

Thursday, December 07, 2000

By Alice Demetrius Stock

Commercial cookbooks, no matter how well-conceived, can't hold a Christmas candle to my special collection of holiday recipes, gleaned over the years from family and friends and lovingly preserved in a notebook with notes and photos.

Each handwritten recipe, moreover, holds a dear memory treasured more each year as children grow up, friends move away and older family members pass on.

Here's a recipe for spiced tea I made for my grandmother back in the 1960s. She was in her 90s then and pleased with the gift. I enjoy remembering her smile as she savored the fragrance, the skin on her old hands almost as translucent as the bone china tea cup she held in them.

And here is the recipe for my mother's individual fruitcakes made in cupcake tins. Moist and tasty, they make great little handouts for unexpected guests during the holidays.

Here's my next-door neighbor's recipe for easy, delicious caramel corn. But woven into the list of ingredients are golden memories of our children talking, giggling, shouting to each other, playing in the back yard.

After years of testing many others, I would hate to lose this, my best recipe for sturdy gingerbread houses, as well as the photos of the actual creations that my daughter and I fully furnished with the tiniest of her dolls and toys. I'll share it with you: Combine 6 cups sifted flour, 11/2 teaspoons each cinnamon, cloves and ginger and 21/4 cups sugar. Combine 4 large, beaten eggs with 1/2 cup honey and mix into the dry ingredients by hand. Let rest overnight. Roll to 1/8 inch thick before cutting into shapes.

Here's the black cherry conserve with slivered almonds Uncle Tom always raved about and the recipe for butterscotch pie my sister, Annabelle, and I wouldn't like to do without after a holiday dinner.

I'm thankful my mother-in-law, Bess Bryant Stock, left me (among many others) her family's orange-drop and sour cream chocolate cookie recipes, and I can never make enough of my sister-in-law Charlotte's lemon-filled butter cookies. But my own holiday cookie favorite is one my father's sister passed on to me long ago. No one is left now of her generation, but each year, when I savor that first, still-warm bite of Christmas crescent, she, and all of them, live again.

My Greek Grandfather's Christmas Crescents

The recipe for this Old World butter cookie was passed on to me in 1977 by my aunt, Minerva McFeaters. Her father, Athan Demetrius, a native of Constantinople who arrived in America in 1893, first taught her to make it in the 1920s.

1 cup soft, but not melted, butter (no substitution)
1/2 cup powdered sugar

2/3 cup ground or finely chopped pecans (we used pecan meal we found at Giant Eagle)
2 tablespoons whiskey or brandy or cream sherry or 1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour, sifted before measuring
18 to 20 whole cloves
Powdered sugar for coating the crescents

Distribute the nutmeats evenly through the sugar.

Cream the butter into the sugar-nut mixture by hand until smooth.

Blend in flour, alternating with the flavoring (whiskey, etc.) until a ball of dough forms.

Shape the dough, on a floured surface, with floured hands, into a log 18 to 20 inches long and one inch thick. Cut the log into one-inch segments.

Shape each segment into crescents or half-moons, 1/2-inch thick.

Press a clove into the center of each crescent before placing on a lightly greased cookie sheet.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 12 minutes, or until the bottoms are golden.

Being careful not to break the delicate cookies, lift each one onto a large square of waxed paper (my aunt used tissue paper) covered with powdered sugar and, while still warm, sift more powdered sugar over them.

Cool thoroughly before moving to an airtight tin.

Makes 18 to 20 crescent-shaped cookies.

Note: The cloves, representing spices the Magi brought to the Christ Child, are edible after baking, but remove them for the safety of very small children.

Stock family private holiday recipes collection, 1977.

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