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.
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
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.