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.  My wife explains, “People don’t want to have an accident driving in bad weather.” 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.

Grandma Met’s Icebox Cookies

One day, when she was eleven or twelve years old, Jerri’s sister-in-law Phyllis came home from school hungry for a snack. When she opened the icebox, she found eight rolls of her mother’s icebox cookie dough arranged temptingly on the top shelf.

Phyllis told us what happened. “I loved that cookie dough, so I took out a roll, unwrapped it and cut a little slice. It tasted so good that I cut another slice and then another. Pretty soon I had eaten half the roll. Once I had done that, I knew that Mom would see what I had done, so I just ate the whole roll and hoped that she wouldn’t notice. Mom never said anything, but I felt guilty about what I had done right up until she was in the nursing home. One day I decided to confess.”

They were sitting in her mother’s room when Phyllis found the courage to admit to that cookie caper so many years ago. “Mom,” she said, “do you remember a time when I ate a whole roll of your icebox cookie dough?”

Wilmetta, who was called “Met” by her family, still had a good memory. First she smiled, then she began laughing. “And I thought I had lost my mind and made only seven rolls, that day,” she exclaimed. “I always made eight rolls. You were in junior high and were already a little devil.”

Phyllis said she immediately felt better after confessing her transgression.

Like Jerri, Phyllis still likes unbaked cookie dough, but I prefer my cookies baked. If you want to risk eating raw cookie dough, go ahead, but be sure to bake some for people like me.

Unlike most icebox cookie recipes this one uses brown sugar to make a flavorful crunchy cookie.

INGREDIENTS:

4 cups light brown sugar
1 cup salted butter
4 large eggs
6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cream of tartar
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans

PROCEDURE:

Bring the butter and eggs to room temperature and chop the pecans.

Put the sugar into a large mixing bowl. Add the slightly softened butter to the sugar, and use a wooden spoon to combine the butter with the sugar. Beat the eggs one at a time into the sugar until you have a smooth, creamy mixture.

Sift the flour, baking soda and cream of tartar into a medium mixing bowl, then add the sifted flour to the sugar and egg mixture about a cup at a time. Stir each addition well into the moist ingredients.

Before adding the final cup of flour, fold in the pecans. Then stir in the remaining flour about a quarter cup at a time. Make sure that all the dry ingredients have been completely combined with the sugar and egg mixture. Mixing in the last cup of flour requires plenty of muscle, but the dough should be very stiff. Use a spatula to shape the dough in the mixing bowl into a dome-shaped mound.

Tear and set aside eight pieces of wax paper about ten inches long.

Use a long kitchen knife to divide the dough like a pie into eight equal pieces. Lightly flour a working surface and shape each piece of dough into a roll about an inch and a half in diameter and seven to eight inches long. Finish each roll by rolling it into a sheet of wax paper and twisting the ends to keep the dough from drying out.

Chill the rolls in the refrigerator overnight or for at least twelve hours.

When the dough is thoroughly chilled, preheat the oven to 350º.

Use a serrated knife to cut thin slices of dough, place them an inch apart on lightly greased baking sheets and bake until the edges of the cookies begin to brown, about ten minutes. Do not bake them too long.

NOTES: If you use unsalted butter, add a quarter teaspoon of salt along with the soda and cream of tartar when you sift the flour.

You can add a teaspoon or two of water to the dough if you can’t get the last bit of flour mixed into the dough.

I have experimented a little with slices of different thicknesses. One-eighth-inch slices make very crisp cookies that remind me of crackers. Three-sixteenth-inch slices are, I think, a better choice. My preference is to make quarter-inch or even slightly thicker cookies that stay slightly chewy if you bag them before they have dried out.

You can keep chilled rolls of dough in the refrigerator for three or four days or freeze them for a couple of months.  Just let a roll thaw out on the kitchen counter for an hour or two until you can slice it.   That way you can offer guests fresh baked cookies anytime with just a few hours notice.  Maybe that is another reason why my mother liked icebox cookies.

.