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.

Jerri’s Pumpkin Nut Cookies

Halloween trick or treating can be a lot of fun. Mothers and fathers know it, even though they may not be the ones greeting folks at their doors with shouts of “Trick or treat!!” Even a shy three-year old Tinkerbell or Dracula soon starts running up sidewalks and holding out a plastic pumpkin or paper bag to collect the loot and hurry back giggling to mom or dad ready to move on to the next house.

Jerri and I look forward to Halloween every year. We enjoy the little kids, though sometimes we have to lean down close to hear the whispered “Trick or treat” and we certainly get a kick out of seeing older children participating, especially when they are shepherding a litter of little ones. When Jerri was giving piano lessons, one of the special treats was seeing some of her students in costumes and smiles.

My first few years as a trick or treater involved visiting the neighbors when we lived in Hayward, but we moved into the country when I was seven, and neighbors were far apart. There were only three houses besides ours in the first mile of the town road in front of our house, but they were all in the first quarter mile, so we made them our first stop of the evening. Then Mom and Dad would drive us into town. They would visit with friends for an hour or so while my sisters and I walked the streets on the north side of Hayward.

By the time I entered high school, however, I was feeling a little odd about trick or treating. Teen anxiety, perhaps, but a more sophisticated friend than I suggested that we might have some fun collecting money for UNICEF. To be honest, I don’t think that I knew what UNICEF was when she mentioned it. Once I understood that we would be collecting money for the United Nations Children’s Fund, however, I was all for the project and helped recruit a team.

There were six of us, and we worked in pairs, a guy and a girl, each of us carrying a can with orange construction paper taped around it. My partner (whose name I have forgotten) and I were doing pretty well collecting nickels and dimes from homeowners happy to help children in need.

When we came to the Twin Gables bar at the end of Beal Avenue we saw quite a few cars in front, which prompted me to suggest that we try our luck for UNICEF inside. Since my parents were good friends of Fritz and Irma who owned the place, I knew them both and was confident that they would give us a chance to explain our reason for coming in.

Collecting for UNICEF in a bar was a brilliant idea. Irma started it off with a dollar bill and explained to the patrons what we were doing. My partner and I set up a squeeze play: She began at the south end of the bar and I took the north. We may have been lucky, but the first two people wiped their change from the bar and dropped it into our little orange cans, then proceeded to bully everyone else into doing the same.

As we walked behind the row of stools, the person who had just contributed encouraged his or her neighbor. The advice was blunt but good-natured. “Jake, Lois is wondering where you are. Just give ‘em the money and go home. You’ve had enough.” and “You missed a quarter, Phil, dump it in.” I think that we collected ten dollars from that one stop. That’s about $75 in today’s money.

When we rendezvoused with the other two teams, we told them what we had done. They had skipped the bars, which were downtown and away from the houses they had called on, so we split up and covered the Karibalis’, Anglers and Moccasin bars in just a few minutes with similar success. It was a fun night that we repeated for the next three years until I headed for the university at Madison. UNICEF did well.

Though we no longer walk the streets on Halloween, Jerri and I still look forward to greeting the trick or treaters who come to our door. We usually have a pretty good turnout. Perhaps they are attracted by the Jack O’ Lantern that I carve each year. While not as artistic as many in our neighborhood, I do think that trick or treaters appreciate the sight of a truly primitive carving. At least, they are often laughing when I open the door.

One extra benefit of carving a Jack O’ Lantern for Halloween is that you can turn it into pumpkin pies, breads and cookies. We used to do that. Today I just break our Jack O’ Lantern into pieces in front of my deer stand, but years ago I cleaned and peeled my work of art so Jerri could make mashed pumpkin.

She found this recipe when we were living in Kentucky and modified it to make cookies that were healthful as well as tasty. Hence the whole wheat flour, mashed pumpkin, raisins AND nuts. It’s a cookie that is almost a balanced diet by itself with dairy products (eggs), whole grains (whole wheat flour) fruits (raisins and pumpkin) and nuts. If, like many of us, you think pumpkins are really vegetables, you will feel even better about eating these cookies.

Since you simply stir stuff together to make a soft dough and drop globs of it on cookie sheets, these cookies are very easy to make. We use canned pumpkin today, but if you are cooking a couple of pumpkins for pies, save a cup of mashed pumpkin for a batch of pumpkin cookies to share with your family and friends this fall.

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup shortening
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup mashed pumpkin
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ginger
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped nuts

PROCEDURE:

Cream the shortening and sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the eggs and pumpkin and mix thoroughly until you have a smooth batter. Put the flours, salt and spices into a sifter and sift the dry ingredients into the batter by thirds, stirring well after each addition. Fold in the raisins and nuts.

Preheat the oven to 350º and grease the cookie sheets.

Drop rounded teaspoonfuls of batter onto the cookie sheets and bake the cookies for about fifteen to eighteen minutes until the edges begin to brown. You should end up with about four dozen cookies.

NOTE: Depending on the moisture content of the pumpkin and flour, you may need to add a small amount of water or flour to the batter. It should be stiff but not dry.