Teri’s Grandma’s Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Grandpa and Grandma Rang’s farm was two miles from their church at Phipps, Wisconsin.  Trinity Lutheran Church was a modest white clapboard church built in 1905 on land donated by a parishioner.  Another family donated five acres across from the church for a cemetery.  The church was demolished many years ago, and trees grow where I once recited Bible verses, but the cemetery is still maintained, and we visit it regularly to put flowers on the graves of my parents.

My first memories of church services and other activities all involve that little church.  My mother and father were active members, which meant that we kids were also part of that church family.  It was there that I learned that one should fill the front pews out of respect for the minister, that you didn’t need fancy clothes but you should wash and wear clean pants and shirts and that you kept quiet and paid attention during the service.  Mom made sure that I was dressed in a clean white shirt and wore a clip-on tie every Sunday.

I remember potlucks with lots of food and time to play with the other kids while our fathers met on church business with the minister and our mothers visited with each other.  By the time I was five or six I was one of the kids who had walk-on roles in the Christmas play.  While the older kids were dressed as angels, Mary or Joseph or the three Wise Men and recited scripture, we little kids pretended to be shepherds or, worse, sheep. 

It must have been a Christmas service that persuaded Grandpa and Grandma Rang to take their family to church on a snowy December night in 1922.  My father told me the story many years ago.  In the summer, the family rode to church in their Overland touring car, but in winter they traveled by horse and sleigh.  On that occasion, however, the snow was so deep that the horse could not pull the sleigh.

“It just acted like a plow,” said my father.  “Pa told us we would have to walk.  So that’s what we did.  And we weren’t the only ones.”

“Pa broke trail, and George and Margaret who were bigger helped tramp down the snow.  I helped Stub get through it and Ma made sure no one got lost.    It took us a while, but we made it in time for the service.  The minister’s wife had hot cider for everyone afterwards in the parsonage next door to the church.

“It was easier walking home, because we had made a pretty good trail.  Harold (my father’s younger brother) was born about two months later.  Ma and Harold did just fine.”

Today I think often of this story when church is canceled because of a winter snow or ice storm warning.  “People don’t want to have an accident driving in bad weather,” says Jerri.  I don’t reply, but the temptation is there:  “Couldn’t they just walk?”

Though Dad did not mention them, I would be nearly certain that the minister’s wife would have put out a plate of cookies to fortify the parishioners for their walks home.  One Sunday when Connie Schultz and her daughter Teri were hosting the coffee and treats after the service, they had made an old-fashioned raisin oatmeal cookie that I’m sure would have been familiar to the minister’s wife and my father.  

Teri told me that they are one of the first cookies she remembers making with her grandma Rachael Schultz.  They aren’t overly sweet but are delightfully moist.  Connie explained that boiling the raisins was probably the reason why the cookies stayed so moist.  Whatever the explanation, the recipe for these cookies deserves a place in your recipe box.

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup butter

1 cup raisins

2 large eggs

Pinch of salt

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

1 tsp. cinnamon 

1 tsp. vanilla

2 cups old fashioned oatmeal

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1 cup chopped walnuts

PROCEDURE:

Start by bringing the eggs and a cup of butter to room temperature by setting them out an hour or so before starting the cookies.

Put a cup of raisins into a small saucepan and cover them with water.  Bring the pan to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer the raisins for ten minutes.  Remove the pan from the heat and let the raisins cool a bit.

While the raisins are cooling, cream together the sugar and butter in a large mixing bowl.  Add the eggs, spices, and five tablespoons of the raisin liquid to the creamed sugar.  Sift half of the flour and soda into the liquid ingredients, then stir in the oatmeal followed by the rest of the flour.  Drain the raisins and blend them and the walnuts into the batter.  You will have a moist batter.

Drop batter by rounded teaspoonfuls onto greased cookie sheets and bake at 350º for ten to twelve minutes until the cookies begin to brown on the edges.  Cool them on wax paper and store the cookies in an airtight container.

NOTES:  In case you are wondering, a pinch of salt is about a sixteenth of a teaspoon, roughly the amount you can pick up with your thumb and first two fingers.  If you are using unsalted butter, use a quarter of a teaspoon of salt.

If the batter looks a little too moist, you can stir in a tablespoon or two of flour at this point.

Apple Bierocks

Jerri and I were introduced to bierocks by Jerri’s Aunt Hilda many years ago, when she was living in a retirement community in North Newton, Kansas. When I suggested that we go for a drive, Aunt Hilda said that she would like to stop at Gillispie Meats.

Following Aunt Hilda’s directions, Jerri, her aunt and I were soon at a small meat market on a tree-lined street in Newton, Kansas. Having lived most of my life in Wisconsin, I was familiar with small butcher shops and grocery stores with expert meat crafters who produced fine sausages, hams and bacon, but this was the first one I had encountered in Kansas.

“I want to buy some bierocks for supper,” Hilda said, “and Gillispie’s makes the best ones in Newton. Maybe in Kansas.”

I had never heard of them, and neither had Jerri. “What are bierocks?” I asked.

“They’re buns filled with meat and cabbage,” she told us. “Mennonite women brought the recipe to Kansas along with Turkey Red Wheat when Grant was President. Our family didn’t make them, so that’s why you don’t know what they are,” she told Jerri.

Aunt Hilda was a great cook and loved good food, so we took her advice and bought a half dozen bierocks. They were wonderful. I learned later that Catholic, Lutheran and Baptist women from southeast Russia also brought bierock recipes to Kansas when the great Mennonite migration occurred, so it might be more accurate to say that bierocks are a German/Russian delicacy enjoyed by Mennonites, Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists and anyone else who likes good food.

Traditional bierocks are yeast rolls stuffed with a savory mixture of meat and cabbage or sauerkraut. They are smaller than pasties, but you can always eat two. This got me thinking about how to use up some apples left over from the harvest from a friend’s tree.

What if I used a sweet dough and made bierocks filled with apples? The answer? A delicious variation on a wonderful recipe.

Here is how you can make your very own apple bierocks. They are easier to make than you might think.

FILLING INGREDIENTS:

4 cups chopped apples
1 tsp. lemon juice
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar
3 T cornstarch
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. salt
1 3/4 cups water
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 T butter

PROCEDURE:

Peel and core four or five apples and cut them into quarters. Slice each quarter into half-inch slices and chop them into quarter-inch pieces. You should have about four cups of chopped apples in a mixing bowl. Stir a teaspoon of lemon juice into the apples.

Blend the sugars, cornstarch, spices and salt together in a small bowl.

Bring the water to a boil over moderate heat in a two-quart saucepan. Whisk the sugar mixture into the water and whisk until you have a smooth sauce. Stir in the apples, bring the mixture back to a boil, then reduce the heat and cook the apples for seven to eight minutes, stirring every minute or so. Test a piece of apple for tenderness. Done right, it will have a slight crunchiness.

Remove the pan from the heat, let it cool a minute and stir in the butter and vanilla.

Cover the pan and set the filling aside to cool. You can make it a day ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator until you are ready to make the bierocks.

DOUGH INGREDIENTS:

1 cup water
4 tsp. yeast
1 cup milk
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup granulated sugar plus 1/4 tsp. divided
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 large eggs
About 7 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 T butter

PROCEDURE:

Bring a cup of water to lukewarm and stir in a quarter teaspoon of sugar and the yeast. Set the mixture aside while the yeast proofs. Put the shortening, the half cup of sugar and the salt into a large mixing bowl.

Heat the milk until it is steaming and pour it over the shortening, sugar and salt. When the milk has cooled to lukewarm, beat the eggs in with a fork. Using a wooden spoon, stir in two cups of flour, a cup at a time, then add the yeast and beat well to make a smooth batter. Stir in the lemon juice and nutmeg, then continue stirring in flour a cup at a time until you have a soft dough. Stir in more flour a quarter cup at a time until you have a workable dough that pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

Turn the dough onto a floured work surface and knead it for three to five minutes until you have a satiny smooth dough. Be careful not to knead too long, or you will incorporate too much flour into the dough. Form the dough into a ball.

Grease the mixing bowl with shortening or non-stick spray and turn the ball of dough in the bowl until it is lightly covered with grease. Cover the bowl with a damp towel, set it in a warm place and allow the dough to rise until it has doubled in size.

Deflate the risen dough and turn it out on a floured surface. Knead it gently for a few seconds, then divide it in half. Return half to the bowl and cover it with the towel. Shape the other half into a log about two inches in diameter and cut it into nine equal pieces.

Roll the pieces into balls and let them rest while you preheat the oven to 350º and line a baking sheet with parchment paper dusted lightly with flour. Melt the butter in a small dish. Blend a half teaspoon of cinnamon into a couple tablespoons of granulated sugar to garnish the bierocks before you put them into the oven.

Form the bierocks by flattening the balls on the floured surface and pressing the dough into a circle. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough into circles seven inches in diameter. Put about a quarter cup of filling in the center of the circle. Bring two sides of the circle high over the filling. Pinch them together, then do the same with the other two sides. Pat the seams together and put the bierock seam side down on the baking sheet.

Brush the tops of the bierocks with melted butter and sprinkle them with cinnamon sugar. Bake them on a center shelf in the preheated oven for twenty-two to twenty-four minutes until they are golden brown. Let them cool at least ten minutes before serving, as the filling is very hot when the bierocks come from the oven. Follow the same steps for the rest of the dough.