It would be hard to think of Christmas without cookies or candy. What would Santa have to snack on along the way? How could we miss the memory-making fun of baking and decorating cookies with our children and grandchildren? Even dough snitching brothers and husbands stir up special kitchen memories.
I think of all those times my grandmother talked about all that stirring involved in making Aunt Bill's Brown Candy — then making it in my own kitchen. How delighted I have been to find my grandmother Della's recipe for Date Nut Logs in time to make them this year. I'm still working to perfect my mother-in-law's Divinity recipe but I have mastered mother's Pecan Studded Meringues.
Thanksgiving through the New Year stirs up plenty of family traditions but Christmas cookies and candies have a way of being “must make” to complete our holiday preparations.
They become a kitchen countdown for me and find top billing along with finding the perfect tree, hanging the wreath on the front door and making it to choir practice.
I try to have favorites of each member of the family. That's Aunt Bill's for my son Ed, Ginger Snaps for my son Stephen and Decorated sugar cookies for my daughter Rachael.
The husband likes milk chocolate fudge with pecans and I love those simple little green spritz pressed into Christmas tree shapes.
It just wouldn't be right without them. My sister-in-law Catherine makes elaborate homemade Chocolate-Covered Cherries (my brother's favorite since childhood).
With all of these yummy things making their way into our holiday plans, you would think it might not be necessary to have a cookie or candy exchange with friends.
I would miss the time to enjoy the experience. I've learned some things to make it easier to get together over the years: A family cookie decorating day, a friends baking and candy-making day, a gingerbread house decorating party and a whole family or friend baking weekend can be great fun.
Perhaps the guys can grill or make chili while the girls bake. I loved the times my parents got together with friends to make German Chocolate Cakes. The guys cracked and shelled pecans while the women made the cakes from scratch.
We'll run the recipe for Aunt Bill's Brown Candy next Wednesday. Meanwhile, here's a recipe my mother made often and always had a pile of them on hand at Christmastime. We sometimes referred to them as “Fooled You Divinity” as they looked much like little dollops of the candy. They were, of course, much lighter and practically burst in their sugary sweet crispness.
Meringue Kisses with Pecans
6 egg whites (about 3/4 cup)
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
1½ cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1½ cups fresh Oklahoma pecans, coarsely chopped if desired
• Beat egg whites until frothy. Sprinkle salt and cream of tartar over them. Continue beating until stiff but not dry.
• Gradually beat in the sugar, adding vanilla with the last of the sugar. Drop by teaspoons or press in pastry bag to form mounds on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.
• Bake in oven heated to 225 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Kisses should be very delicately brown and dry on the surface. Turn oven off and leave meringues in oven to “dry” and crisp up.
Cook's notes: These cookie kisses are best made like most candy on dry days and not when the humidity might be high in your kitchen from doing laundry or lots of dishes.