Bake for the Memories

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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?

Bake for the Memories

Some of Hermine's fabulous cookies, baked by friends and family

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!

Bake for the Memories

A sneak peak at our "award" winning rugelach

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.

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23 Responses to Bake for the Memories

  1. Susan Woolf December 3, 2010 at 11:29 am #

    What a fantastic post and tribute to a wonderful woman. What a great way to live on forever as new generations learn to bake as she did.

    Looking forward to getting together to bake and ideally sharing cookie recipes.

    • omgyummy December 7, 2010 at 1:27 pm #

      Sharing recipes and baking. Can’t think of much I’d rather do except eat the results. And it really does feel like she lives on in the stories, recipes, and cookies that we share.

  2. Richard Bernhardt December 3, 2010 at 2:07 pm #

    As a recipient and participant in the Hermine cookie ritual for most of my adult life, I must say the world lost a premier cookie genius and all around wonderful person. She did what any good cook does, puts love and attention into her cooking. Better yet, she inovled those she cared about in the process making the ritual a vital part of the season. It took me a milisecond to recognize the plat on OMG Yummy. Its like a part of something you live with and becomes part of your life. I miss Hermine terribly, but her tradition should live on not only with those who she loved; but for generations to come and many more who can make a tradition themselves from the tasty morsels. Hermine would be proud. – Richard

    • omgyummy December 7, 2010 at 1:15 pm #

      What a beautiful comment, Richard – maybe you want to write a guest post for me :-) I think Hermine would be proud but let’s leave the final determination for when the first batch comes out of the oven. But seriously, we all miss her so much but I believe it really helps to write about it, talk about it, and do things that remind us of her. At least for me, it makes it better, not more painful. She lives on through us, I think.

  3. sandy corman December 3, 2010 at 4:02 pm #

    Do you remember Grandma Reich’s rugalach? Truly the best in the whole world. Relatives would convene every Friday night at our house in Brooklyn for tea and Grandmas baking goodies which also included her fabulous coffee cake. However
    your rugalach would make her very proud of you. Cant wait to eat some.

    • omgyummy December 4, 2010 at 7:32 am #

      I don’t remember Grandma’s rugelach and boy do I wish you knew how to make them or had the recipe. Luckily, our rugelach really are awesome don’t you think? Wish I could turn back the clock and get all of Grandma’s recipes!

      • sandy corman December 4, 2010 at 10:37 am #

        I Wish I could turn back clock too,and written down her recipes. Not only for her baking of cakes and cookies but also her onion rolls and breads. I remember that everyone who ate her goodies begged her to open a bakery but she turned us down.

  4. Christy December 4, 2010 at 7:05 am #

    I saw this in a #cookieweek search on Twitter. What a wonderful tribute and I simply love the memorial cookie exchange idea. Have a wonderful holiday season!!

    • omgyummy December 4, 2010 at 7:24 am #

      Thanks Christy. She was a wonderful woman. Her legacy will live on through her cookies and so much more. This group of friends will all be doing a lot of baking over the next few weeks – it helps us remember her and makes us feel like we’re together even when physically, we are not. Keep on baking!

      • Betsy December 4, 2010 at 1:21 pm #

        What a nice nice post Beth. I’ve been gone too long to have been a recent cookie recipient, but your post made me think so much of Hermine and how her warmth and generosity live on in Sharon and in all who were lucky enough to know her. Made me feel happy and sad at the same time.

  5. Laurie Vidt December 4, 2010 at 10:39 pm #

    Beth this is beautiful. I was about 10 the first time I tasted Hermine’s cookies and I remember how wonderful they were. I miss her big hugs and her, “How are you Honey” She left a piece of her in all our hearts.
    She would love this tribute and the fact that some many can enjoy the cookies still today.
    I can not wait to see the recipes. Thanks so much, Laurie

    • omgyummy December 7, 2010 at 1:04 pm #

      I’m reinforcing my baking supplies to begin the cookie production soon! Although writing this post made me cry several times, it also made me happy to think of her and I love that it’s bringing us all together virtually. Looking forward to seeing you in person soon!

  6. Irene Saiger December 7, 2010 at 8:35 pm #

    I love this story. I too remember people by the meals we shared or the recipes we exchanged. Do you plan to share the rugelach recipe?

    Happy Chanukah,
    Irene

    • omgyummy December 8, 2010 at 11:52 am #

      I will be sharing the rugelach recipe soon but will email it to you in the meantime. I always love your stories in your blog Irene. Keep em coming.

  7. Kelly Rowe January 5, 2011 at 9:23 pm #

    Dear Beth,
    I really enjoyed your post about Hermine. I am a friend of Sharon, and I was really fond of Hermine. Tonight I baked the Heavenly Holiday Chews and froze them for Rubie’s Bar Mitsvah. I thought of her the whole time I was baking, and hoped she was up there somewhere looking watching. I had to laugh about your rugelah. I never had baking anxiety until I was making these cookies. I just knew they were too big, too dry, too round, too flat—but my daughter says they are good–so Hermine must have given me a boost!
    Hope to meet you when I come to SF!
    Kelly

  8. Phil November 17, 2012 at 1:47 pm #

    A beautiful story! A beautiful woman. I remember new flowers in the entryway every week.

    • Beth November 18, 2012 at 12:10 pm #

      Yes – there is much to miss about Hermine but I love that we each have a unique memory to share!I am so excited to have you as a reader and commenter Phil!

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