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.

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Grandma Weingarten’s Icebox Cookies

When I was a little kid growing up in Hayward before we moved out of town, we lived just a couple of blocks from Grandma and Grandpa Weingarten. Until I was grown up I didn’t know that their names were Frieda and Otto. They were just Grandma and
Grandpa. They weren’t actually my grandparents, but that’s how I thought of them.

Otto died when I was just a boy, but I still remember his “soup strainer” mustache. That might have been because my father told me he always tried to take communion from the common cup before Grandpa Weingarten with his big mustache. Grandma Weingarten spent her last years in a nursing home at Hayward, where Jerri and I visited her a few times. She always seemed like a grandmother to me.

One reason why she seemed grandmotherly is that she treated my mother like a daughter. Mostly, she listened to Mom’s problems as a young wife and gave what I assume turned out to be good advice, since she and my father lived to celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary. However, Grandma Weingarten was indirectly responsible for the first really big fight that my parents had. I was too young to remember it, but Mom told all of us kids the story many times, and Dad confirmed her account: “She was really mad,” he would say, and grin. After a few years, even Mom thought it was a little funny.

On a duck hunting expedition with his younger brother, my father shot a merganser. A merganser is a large duck that looks a little like an extremely large mallard. Their luck had been bad that day, and when the merganser appeared in front of him, Dad decided to play a practical joke on his young wife. My mother’s knowledge of wild game was very limited, though she was soon going to learn the difference between a tasty mallard and an inedible merganser.

Like any free range duck or chicken (and most humans), mallard ducks are omnivores. They eat almost anything that tastes good which includes seeds, vegetables and a variety of insects, crayfish, and even the occasional small frog. If you watch a mallard hen teaching her ducklings to forage, you will see that she puts great emphasis on lots of fresh green vegetables like clover and watercress.

Merganser ducks, on the other hand, eat mainly fish. Their diet includes a few green plants along with some insects, but mergansers are piscavores. They love fish, whether it be a lowly sucker or a tender trout. One would think that a bird eating trout dinners day after day would be delicious. According to my mother, one would be wrong.

As she told the story, Dad brought home a beautiful big duck on a late Sunday afternoon and asked her to clean and roast the huge mallard he had shot. Having grown up on a farm, Mom knew how to kill, gut, pluck and clean chickens and ducks, so she promised him a mallard dinner for Monday night’s supper.

After picking out “millions of pinfeathers,” she stuffed the duck with homemade sage dressing, rubbed it with butter and put it in the oven after lunch to have dinner ready for Dad when he got home.

In a half hour or so, she began noticing an unpleasant odor that reminded her of dead fish. The smell was beginning to make her feel a bit queasy. She said, “I thought that I was going to throw up, when Frieda knocked on the back door and came in.”

Grandma Weingarten reared back on her haunches, wrinkled her nose, and said, “Ach, what are you cooking?”

“I’m roasting a nice big mallard that Harry shot for supper tonight,” said Mom.

Without taking off her coat, Grandma Weingarten marched over to the stove, opened the oven and looked at the enormous carcass from which emanated the miasma. “That’s not a mallard,” she announced, “That’s a fish duck, and it will taste worse than it smells. Harry’s playing a trick on you.”

Mom said that she threw the duck out the back door by the steps so Dad would see it and know that he was going to encounter what we now call a “situation.” When she told the story of that evening, she always started off by saying that she had me in a snowsuit because she had opened all the windows and doors “to get rid of the stink,” that she had let the fire go out in the stove because she didn’t feel like cooking, and that she was maddest of all at all the pinfeathers she had had to pull out.

“I was so mad I was crying, and that made me even madder. And your dad came in the door smiling, and that made it worse. He’s lucky I didn’t kill him with a frying pan.”

Somehow they got through the crisis. I doubt that Dad built a fire and cooked anything, so he probably bribed Mom with a hamburger and a beer at the Twin Gables, which was just a couple of blocks from our house. In the course of the evening, Mom told Dad not to bother bringing any ducks home again. It was ten years before she roasted any wild ducks, and when that happened, they were dressed and cleaned bluebills from Gus, the old farmer who lived down the road from us in the country.

After educating my mother about how to tell a fish duck from a mallard, Grandma Weingarten continued to mentor her and other young women in the neighborhood and our church with a sympathetic ear, good advice and recipes. Here is her recipe for icebox cookies that I found in one of Mom’s recipe boxes.

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup white sugar
3/4 cup vegetable shortening
2 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar

PROCEDURE:

Cream the shortening with the sugar in a mixing bowl. Beat the eggs until they are lemon colored and stir them into the sugar mixture. Sift the flour, salt, soda and cream of tartar by half cupfuls into the sugar and egg mixture and stir until everything is well blended. You need a stiff dough, so add a tablespoon of flour or so if necessary.

Turn the dough out on to a sheet of wax paper dusted with flour and form a log about three inches in diameter. Try to square the ends of the log. Refrigerate it for at least eight hours until the dough becomes firm.

Preheat the oven to 350º. Cut the chilled dough into rounds a quarter to half an inch thick and bake on parchment paper or a lightly greased cookie sheet until they begin to brown on the edges, eleven to thirteen minutes. Space the rounds by an inch and a half.

NOTE: Grandma Weingarten’s recipe doesn’t say anything about toppings, but I sprinkle a little white sugar over the cookies before putting them in the oven.