A Loving Tribute to a Fabulous Woman and a Prolific Baker
When Hermine, the mom of one of my dearest friends in the world, baked, she was not just baking cookies, she was baking memories.
October 2009, my dear friend’s mother, Hermine, 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, 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.
Hermine wasn't just baking cookies, she was baking memories.
We ate her cookies 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 is great cookie lore surrounding Hermine's cookies.
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 decided we had to get on the list. 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. She admitted our rugelach not only equalled hers but perhaps surpassed it! This pronouncement was like getting a gold medal at the Cookie Olympics!
And learning from Hermine, our rugelach baking has indeed been a journey of baking memories as well.
Keeping Old Memories Alive While Creating New Ones
After Hermine's death, our group of friends decided her cookie baking must live on. We began a tradition called the Annual Hermine Memorial Cookie Exchange. We each bake a couple of her recipes and then gather to create the cookie boxes that Hermine used to do on her own!
My husband and I 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.
Since then, we have gathered each and every year (except when the pandemic made it unsafe) and continue to treasure our time together and the legacy of Hermine and her baking memories.
Some of Hermine's Cookie Recipes
If only Hermine were still alive to know I wrote a book about baking! And I included her butter-based hamantaschen recipe in it!
Buy my cookbook now!