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Stuffed House, Filled Cookies

My grandmother was one of thirteen children. Her sister, the eldest of the thirteen, had seventeen of her own. Needless to say, my mother’s side of the family is staggeringly huge. This resulted in Thanksgivings, Christmases, and Easters that were more akin to a theatre production than a family dinner. I can’t say how many ever attended. Of course, it was never all at one time, but my best guess would be close to forty relatives on any given holiday.

Christmas Eve, in particular, conjures the most memories for me. Held in the home built by my great-grandfather in 1909, then shared by my grandmother and her sister—both divorced, they raised their children there together—the cramped two-room ground floor of the house swelled at its fittings, holding umpteen brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, spouses, kids of varying ages, and presents for all, that spewed at least ten feet out from under a large freshly-cut Christmas tree.

My grandmother and great-aunts would work for weeks making candy and cookies for the festivities. Dinner was all homemade, from scalloped potatoes and farm-raised ham, to dinner rolls tinted with red and green food coloring, to my grandmother’s date-filled cookies, a crumbly, beautiful blend of vanilla sugar cookie and creamy, luscious date filling, that I can still taste to this day if I close my eyes and remember hard enough—although it’s probably been twenty years since I had them last.

Grandma Jane’s Date-Filled Cookies

Filling:

Combine 2 cups of chopped dates, 3/4 cup sugar, and 3/4 cup of water. Cook over low heat until thickened, about 5-7 minutes, then cool.

Dough:

  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Cream together the shortening and sugars, then add the vanilla and eggs one at a time, and mix well. Combine the dry ingredients then sift into the wet mixture. Mix well with a wooden spoon, then chill for about an hour.

Roll out the chilled dough about 1/8” thick and cut with a round cookie cutter. Fill a greased baking sheet with cut cookies, spaced about 1/2” apart, then top each cookie with a teaspoon of the cooled date filling. Top the cookies with another, press the edges together with your fingers, then pierce the top of each cookie with a fork to vent.

Bake at 400 degrees for 10-12 minutes. Makes about 30 cookies.

Three more great-aunts made their annual contributions as well. My Aunt Hildi was a tiny lady who ate like a bird. It was always a joke when she walked in with her dish—for forty people, mind you—a cheesy-broccoli rice casserole in a petite six-inch baking dish not more than two-inches deep. I’m not kidding. Apparently, everyone was supposed to take only a spoonful. Aunt Louie brought fruit leather that she spent the summer and fall making, and then drying in the back window of her Pontiac. This we called “junk”, I can’t imagine why, but I’ve never had fruit leather since that tasted as much like it was picked directly from the tree. Their other sister, Peggy, who fancied herself more cultured than the rest, had a thing for making fruit wines. One can only imagine what those were like. Thankfully, I was always too young to partake.

The assembly line for dinner began at the stove, meandered around the kitchen perimeter, and then throughout the house. Everyone then held hands before we started and said a quiet prayer in thanks of family, food, and home. House rules were that no present was opened before dinner was done. That said, as children who are inherently without patience, we were relocated to the back of the line, because if we finished eating first, the snooping of presents would commence. After what seemed like an eternity after dinner we would have dessert, a layered napoleon of pie crust with chocolate and vanilla pudding, topped with icing and powdered sugar. And then, only then, did we get presents. I remember my Aunt Hildi always disappeared after dessert, not long before a petite, skinny Santa with a silky white beard and thick, bifocal glasses appeared. It’s too bad she always missed seeing us open our gifts, but at least she was there to enjoy a memorable Christmas Eve feast.

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