It is time for a Monkey Christmas memory, so try to read this one in your best Truman Capote voice, and get your hat and get the buggy, cause it’s fruitcake weather.
Well, no actually, it is not fruitcake weather and my name is not Buddy, but it is time for a treat far better, when the snow begins to fall in early December it is time to bake Snickerdoodles.
These oddly named little cookies have been a part of my family’s Christmas tradition since I was in kindergarten, when my mother taught us to make these cinnamon-sugar delights, but before I tell that story, lets get a little background on the lowly Snickerdoodle.
A quick look into Wikipedia, that bastion of all things baseless yet reasonably plausible, reveals:
The Joy of Cooking claims that snickerdoodles are probably German in origin, and that the name is a corruption of the German word for “snail dumpling”, Schneckennudeln. Similarly, one author states that “the word ‘snicker’ may have come from a Dutch word ‘snekrad’, or the German word ‘Schnecke’, both describing a snail-like shape.” However, another author believes the name came from a New England tradition of fanciful, whimsical cookie names, and yet another cites a series of tall tales around a hero named Snickerdoodle from the early 1900s.
The late seventies were a trying time in our household, my father was a real estate developer and the country was in the grips of a big crash in the housing market, so we had some pretty lean years there (Sound familiar?). When I remember those times though, I don’t remember having to do without things or being sad. I remember spending time with my mother, helping make gifts, decorating the tree and making our own ornaments. In retrospect, I now understand that Mom was trying to keep us occupied at home and saving money by having us make things we would have normally bought and I am sure she and Dad had some sleepless nights worrying about how we were going to make it. The funny thing is, looking back most of my most cherished childhood Christmas memories come from those years when things were tight. When we made gifts rather than buying them and spent lots of time together doing “free” or nearly free things together. One of my favorite memories of that time in our lives is the first time we made Snickerdoodles.
I remember vividly the cold night in the kitchen of our tiny condo on the south side of Nashville, sitting on the counter while Mom explained to me why we put the different ingredients in, as she mixed them together. And then, when she got out the baking sheet and it was my time to help, by rolling the dough into little balls and then rolling them in sugar and cinnamon. Actually, that is my most vivid memory, I was supposed to roll the dough into balls the size of a walnut before dipping them, but I did not know what a walnut was or how big they should be. I remember Mom digging in the freezer and pulling out a “Red Diamond” walnut, and explaining to me where walnuts came from before handing it over. From that moment on, each time I would form the dough up, I would compare it to my walnut to make sure it was just the right size. Ever since that night, so many years ago, whenever I see a walnut I think of Mom and the Snickerdoodles and those lean Christmases filled with so many rich memories. This week, I will make Snickerdoodles with my nephew for the first time and I cannot wait to present him with his walnut so he too can bake a perfectly proportioned Snickerdoodle.
Mother Monkey’s Snickerdoodles
1 cup shortening
1 1/2cup sugar
Cream shortening and sugar then add eggs and beat till fluffy. Then sift together and stir into wet mixture:
2 1/2 cup sifted flour
2 tsp baking powder
Chill dough 30 minutes. The roll dough into balls the size of a walnut. Roll dough balls in a mixture of :
2 Tbsp sugar and 2 tsp cinnamon
Place about 2 inches apart on greased baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Bake lightly browned-but still soft. These cookies puff up at first then flatten out.
Yield: 5 dozen
When I went to the grocery this week to pick up a single walnut to use as a Snickerdoodle pattern, I found it was more challenging than one might expect. A single walnut does not weigh enough to tip the scale, so the clerk was unable to sell me something that cost $0.00, but was also unwilling to give it to me. When faced with this dilemna I determined that having a walnut on hand was important, so I shop-lifted a walnut. How’s that for a Christmas warm-your-heart moment. Not quite Jean Valjean, but my nephew deserves a walnut, so I am determined he will have one.
Anyway, I had this great idea to take a picture of a walnut in a festive Christmas setting, but it turned out to be more difficult than my attention span would allow for. So, I spent a little while in my kitchen with my shop-lifted walnut, an old lighted tree topper and the camera and here is what I came up with. Feel free to vote for your favorite. One of these was originally going to be the main picture for this article, until I discovered the old picture of myself as a wee monkey looking out into the snow.
No matter what you celebrate at this holiday season, take the time to remember the things that went before, and especially take the time to pass some of these memories on to the next generation. In many ways, we are who we were, so grab that son or daughter, niece, nephew or friend and share a little of yourself and your family’s tradition, no matter how quirky or corny. Years from now, when they no longer have you to turn to they will stop and smile when they remember the great gifts you left them in the tiny rituals of the holidays.