Yesterday I wrote about a few of the traditions in my family, but the Connell family Christmas Cookies were too big of an event to fit on the same post. Now that my laundry pile is much reduced I’m back to tell you more than you ever wanted to know about our Christmas Cookie making tradition!
The event begins a day or two ahead of the gathering of people when Grandpa and Granny (sometimes with assistance by others) use the old hand grinder to grind up almonds and lemon peel and mix them up into the dough. Just the making of the dough is a bit epic, and we haven’t hardly started yet!
Next we gather as many family members (and sometimes brave friends) as possible into the farm house in Pewaukee where we will shape and bake the cookies.
Once gathered the cooking making begins with the rolling. That’s grandpas job and has been for as long as I can remember. Sometimes he has helpers, sometimes he smashes the dough into his helpers face to make “nose prints,” sometimes it’s hard to be Grandpas helper.
Then a cutter must come and trim edges.
They are followed by the butterer…
…who is followed by the sugerer.
Once sugared they are cut into squares, or if Ivy is helping something with about four sides, not necessary straight nor uniform in size.
Then they are finally picked up and baked.
After baking they are cooled on racks before getting put away into the tins. This has been my Dads job for many years. This year there was much harassing about how he is almost as good at it as the 90 year old lady (my great grandma) who’s job he inherited.
Which brings us to the next part of the tradition.
The cookies are too thin, too thick, not buttered enough, too little sugar or not enough. “Your making postage stamps again!” is often heard to be yelled at a cutter. Oddly enough, Granny in the baking position gets very little flack on her work, I’m thinking this isn’t a coincidence.
And all this fun, it’s been going on for years.
I asked Grandpa this year just how long we have been making Christmas cookies.
He said: “Since 1848.”
He was kidding.
Just a tip, never trust Gramps, they don’t call him “The Big Fink” for nothin’.
Then Granny told how they were not always made this way. My Great Grandma used to cut them out with a round cutter and dip them in butter and then in sugar. Granny thought that was ridiculous therefore we don’t do it that way any more. After we got that story behind us (it’s a yearly event) we attempted to figure out just how long we have been making the Christmas cookies. It turns out 1848 isn’t too far off. The recipe is entitled “Lena Puchners Christmas Cookies”, it calls for 5 cents of potash, (we’ve updated that to baking soda in our new fangled ways and the cookies seem no worse for the wear) and in the top corner is written “Hayton.” This means -stop reading now if you want to save yourself from the family history- that the Connell family (my Moms, Dads family) had brought the recipe to Pewaukee with them from Hayton Wisconsin where they used to live before my Great Grandfather (James A Connell – Grandpa’s Dad) bought the farm in 1913. My Great Great Grandfather (Richard Connell) had died when James was only 16 and so when he came to Pewaukee at the age of 28 he brought his mother (Betsy Amelia, who is sometimes called Betsy and usually called Amelia which always manages to confuse me) and her Christmas Cookie recipe along with him. Shortly after they were joined by Jessie (my Great Grandmother) the maker of the round cookies.
What does all this mean?
It means that while we have no idea who Lena Puchner was, or how long before the move Amelia may have made the cookies, we do know that Lena’s got some pretty darn good cookies and my family has been making them for at least a hundred years.
Now that’s a tradition.