A Loving Tribute to a Fabulous Woman and Prolific Baker
Laughter, family, friends and home-baked goods. Does a human being really need anything more to live a joyful life?
Last October, my dear friend’s mother - my most favorite cookie baker of all time - left this world far too soon. When she died, we lost so much. We lost her vibrant personality, quick wit, bottomless generosity, staunch feminism, and her annual boxes of cookies and so, so much more. But we also gained so much from the time that she was alive. And one of the greatest gifts she gave us all was the memories we have created when gathered around any dining table eating her cookies and sharing each other’s lives. We ate them at the annual summer gathering, each Hannukah, at Yom Kippur break fast, the Jewish New Year, our babies’ namings, every child’s birthday party and the list goes on. Whenever she attended a gathering and asked what she could bring, the answer from all of us was always the same – COOKIES!
The Coveted Cookie List
There are great stories around these cookies – the stuff great cookie lore is made of. Hermine was raised in the Jewish faith but loved the baking traditions and cookie exchanges at Christmas time. Each year she baked dozens and dozens of cookies around the holidays — so many that she could freeze dozens and still make up boxes of cookies to give to close friends and relatives. But in her household, friends were plentiful and friends were family too. So the cookie box list was long. Getting on that list was almost like getting into a private club — great when you’re on the inside but lonely on the outside. Despite our long relationship, we always seemed to be eating out of other people’s boxes at their homes and gatherings.
So after both of our kids were born and they were still small and adorable, my husband could take this feeling of exclusion no longer. He devised an underhanded scheme and sent our fabulously cute children over to “grandma” Hermine and had them ask how we could get on the cookie list. Hermine was a sucker for cute kids and especially ones that called her grandma Hermine so the devious and totally manipulative plan worked. Mumbling something like “extortion” under her breath, she said we were in!
A Gold Medal at the Cookie Olympics!
But there’s more — now that we were on the list, we needed to prove our worthiness. So we baked. And not just a simple cookie. No, we perfected a rugelach – a wonderful cream cheese butter dough rolled into crescent-like forms filled with nuts and chocolate. Not an easy baked good to master. When we felt that it was good enough, we summoned up our courage and brought it to the annual Hannukah gathering so Hermine could taste it and compare it to hers. As the sweat beaded up on our brows and we could just see our names being erased from the coveted cookie list, the cookie queen made her ruling known — we were in fact worthy to remain as she admitted our rugelach not only equalled hers but perhaps surpassed it! This pronouncement was like getting a gold medal at the Cookie Olympics!
Keeping Old Memories Alive While Creating New Ones
After Hermine’s death last year, our group of friends decided her cookie baking must live on. We each took a couple of her recipes and baked the wonderful gems, starting a tradition we called the First Annual Hermine Memorial Cookie Exchange. We brought our rugelach recipe and were so proud for it to be part of the first annual cookie exchange. We ate lots of cookies, drank champagne, laughed, talked, danced with Hermine’s grandkids, sang songs around the piano and remembered all evening that sharing food creates the most wonderful memories and keeps memories alive.
Over the next few weeks I will be baking dozens of two of her wonderful cookie recipes and our whole family will be making our rugelach in large quantity so we can freeze some for our daughter’s Bat Mitzvah in February.
Look for more posts this month with some of her wonderful cookie recipes and lots of photos too. And please leave a comment below to share one of your favorite cookie-baking memories or special recipe of your own.