Baking

Candy Cane Cookies

three red and white candy cane cookies on a pine tree shapped plate framed by holiday greens

I cannot remember the year I first made these almond flavored cookies but I do remember the kitchen. The front of the house, second floor apartment on 2nd Street, above the chiropractor’s (my landlord’s) office, and across the street from the Brodhead Public Library.  That gives me a three-year window of Decembers from 1976-1978.  The recipe was part of a multi-year Betty Crocker recipe club subscription (think book-of-month club only recipes) where the tangerine orange recipe box and the first 24 recipe cards were the free gift for subscribing and a thematic packet with 24 additional cards arrived each month for the next two years.

These candy cane cookies are my must-bake Christmas treat.  If I make nothing else, it will be these.  The result is a shaped cookie without the extra steps of frosting and decorating cutouts or requiring the technical skill of applying the perfect pressure necessitated for Spritz cookies.  Although I do own a Sawa 2000 Deluxe Swedish cookie press complete with 24 nozzles, circa 1985.

As we gingerly plan for another Covid Christmas, Mom and I have agreed less is acceptable.  She baked only two batches of family traditional sweets – Pecan Crisps (a double batch, of course) and Holiday Fruits – instead of the usual six varieties; to be served with her purchase of Rosettes, Pizzelles, and Sandbakkles courtesy of the St. James ethnic bakers.  With what is in her cookie jars plus my Candy Canes and a vanilla cheese cake on a chocolate wafer crust topped with cranberry glaze for Christmas Day, our holiday cookie platter should be merry and bright.

Baking

Cranberry Baking

seven oatmeal cookies on a blue speckled plate
Oatmeal Craisin Cookies with Pecans

My afternoon bake was oatmeal cookies with sweetened craisins just purchased last week direct from the source at W.D. Zawistowski Cranberries.  This cranberry marsh is located on the corner of County E and Victory Heights Circle in Sawyer County Wisconsin.  Set back from the road, on the edge of the marsh, the small white concrete block building serves as a berry receiving and sorting center at harvest time, as well as a rudimentary farmer-to-customer sales counter. And, it is just a mile from Mom’s Lac Courte Oreilles cabin.

Cranberries grow on short evergreen shrubs and thrive in acidic marshy soil in the northern climes of our hemisphere – with Wisconsin leading harvest numbers (Go Badgers!).  At harvest time, the bogs are intentionally flooded so the lighter-than-water bright red fruit will float to the top and can be scooped or raked for collection.  This unique harvesting method, often seen in TV ads promoting cranberry juice, leads to the common misconception that cranberries grow in water.

If your only experience with cranberries is mass market sauce plopped from a can at Thanksgiving you are missing a culinary treat.  This versatile fruit provides a tasty addition to any course from appetizer to dessert.  And, while I have never planned a menu featuring cranberries in every dish, it could easily be accomplished.  I was lucky to make my craisin purchase as this year’s fresh cranberries were sold out after last week’s Stone Lake Cranberry Fest.

Baking

Clara’s Cashew Cookies

The recipe card reads Cashew Cookies but I always add the extra nomenclature in honor of the gracious hostess and great baker who, years ago, sent me on the road with a fresh batch of these sweet treats.  I don’t usually make them.  My cookie baking tends towards the quick, crunchy kind without the extra step of frosting.  Plus, this frosting calls for browned butter requiring extra vigilance since butter can go from nutty caramel to burnt in just those few seconds when you look away from the stove.

And, of course, there is a story with this recipe — In 1978, I had been invited to teach a summer storytelling class at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse.  At the time, I was working as a school librarian and going to Library School at UW-Madison.  The chance to teach at the academic level, even if only for a week, would have been a great additional to my resume.  However, I was seriously considering declining the offer simply due to the math.  Even though I would be totally responsible for developing the curriculum, teaching unsupervised and managing all the required paperwork I would only receive an un-degreed TA (teaching assistant) stipend.  By the time I covered a week’s expenses – motel, meals, gas and maybe a glass of wine or two – I would be paying the university for the experience.  Then a friend connected me with a retired parish housekeeper who loved to host short term guests.  It was like a private B&B as Clara baked fresh pastries each morning and when I left at the end of the week she gave me a “care package” for the long (90 mile) journey from LaCrosse to Eau Claire.

And yes, those with a discerning eye will note it is a pistachio and not a cashew atop each cookie as I claim a baker’s prerogative to modify the recipe so these are made with chopped pistachios.