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.

Mom’s Crumb-Topped Coffee Cake

I had stopped in early one morning to say hello to my mother on the way to the cabin. As we drank coffee and ate warm chocolate chip cookies, I asked her how it happened that she always had something fresh for me when I stopped in. I was expecting her to tell me that she had a motherly instinct that told her when her firstborn was going to show up on the doorstep. Instead she said, “When I get up, I just hate to think that I won’t have something fresh baked if someone stops in.” She treated everyone like me? And I thought that I was special!

So she got up nearly every morning, considered whether the bread or cake she had baked the day before would do for guests that day. If the answer was no, she stirred up a batch of cookies or made a pan of brownies to serve visitors. She baked more in the winter, and hardly a day went by when you could not get a fresh cinnamon roll, sticky bun or a big piece of warm coffee cake when you stopped at her home.

And people did stop. I knew a few of the ones who had been family friends when I was growing up, but many were ones she met through her work as an election clerk or at one of her part time jobs or ladies she got to know through a mutual interest in knitting and crocheting. I heard their names, though. “Sometimes I wish I had a little more time to myself,” she would say, “Yesterday, Lucille stopped in, then Gladys, and just when I was going to watch my TV program, here comes Avis. I was about worn out, and I don’t know if Gloria (or whatever the character’s name was) got caught by Leo or not.”

But she kept inviting people over, kept baking and and cooking and loving her busy life in the country, her days filled with friends until those last few months in the nursing home.

Here is one of her recipes for a simple yeast coffee cake. When my sister Patsy sent me the recipe, it was simply a list of ingredients. Like many housewives of her generation, Mom knew how to put recipes together. She just needed to know what went into them. Having watched her make a lot of coffee cakes, I had a fair idea of how to proceed, but Jerri advised me from the beginning, and she was the expert who showed me how to test the cake for doneness.

The most difficult step in this recipe is waiting for the milk and shortening to cool enough so you can add the other ingredients without killing the yeast. You have to let the dough rise for an hour or so, but you can use that time to relax or straighten up the house.  Once you have made this coffee cake a couple of times, you’ll be wondering who to invite over next.

INGREDIENTS:

For the cake:
2 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
1/4 cup lukewarm water
3/4 cup lukewarm milk
1/4 cup soft shortening
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 egg
3 to 4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup raisins

For the topping:
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup flour
2 tsp cinnamon
6 T. butter
1 cup chopped walnuts

PROCEDURE:

Dissolve the yeast in a quarter cup of warm water and allow it to proof.

Heat the milk to steaming and pour it into a large mixing bowl. Melt the shortening in the milk and allow the mixture to cool to lukewarm. Beat the egg until lemon yellow in a small bowl. Stir the sugar, salt, egg and one cup of flour into the milk and shortening. Then stir in the yeast and beat in another two cups of flour. You should have a very soft dough, almost a batter, when you stir in the raisins. If necessary, add more flour to make a soft dough that you can just barely stir with a spoon.

Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and allow the dough to rise. Make the topping while the dough is rising. Mix together the sugar, flour and cinnamon. Cut the butter into the dry ingredients with a fork or pastry blender until you have a texture like coarse meal. Then stir in the chopped walnuts.

Grease a 9 by 13 inch baking pan with shortening or butter.

When the dough has doubled in bulk, stir it down and spread it evenly in the pan. Cover the dough with the topping and allow it to rise until doubled in bulk.

Preheat the oven to 375º and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Test for doneness by gently pushing down on the top of the cake near the center. If it springs back, the cake is done.

NOTES: This coffee cake is best when eaten warm a few minutes after you take it out of the oven. You can also warm it for a few seconds at medium power in your microwave. By “soft shortening” I am pretty sure Mom meant vegetable shortening which she stored in a kitchen cabinet as opposed to lard, which would be hard coming out of the refrigerator.