The Story of a Cookie

posted on: November 11, 2010

The story of the pecan butter balls is an American story replete with the richness from immigration mixed in our American stew. My grandmother gave me this recipe and I remember standing on a stool so I could reach the bowl of dough and grab pieces to roll into balls.  Next to me stood my aunt who was grinding pecans with a hand cranked machine. I suspect this recipe is one of my great grandfather’s, a baker trained in Dusseldorf,Germany, who immigrated to this country in the 1800’s.  He eventually opened a bakery where these cookies, ice cream, and meat turnovers for men on lunch breaks or between shifts in Pittsburgh steel mills were created. So the pecan butter balls have survived more than a century of cross oceanic immigration, world wars, terrible economic downturns (the panic in 1910 closed down my great-grandfather’s bakery), political upheavals, and the deaths of all my ancestors.  In my family, they’ve been baked for Christmas and Chanukah and Kwanza.

Unabashedly, I’ll admit it’s my favorite cookie which is why it’s private family voyage was altered last year when it became the first recipe in my novel, The Christmas Cookie Club. Then Zingerman’s and I decided to collaborate on the Christmas cookie collection, and it was included.  Imagine my delight at the Zingerman’s Bakehouse seeing a machine pump out the balls that I had rolled by hand so long ago.  Now, I could further shape them, and then dust them with confectioner’s sugar.  And there they were, my family’s cookies, nestled in a box with pictures I had painted of them on the top!

Once the novel hit the stands and the recipe published, bookstore owners and food editors started baking it, photographing it, featuring it in articles and book store promos. And so it spread across the country.

Of course, I sent a box of Zingerman’s cookies to my brother.  He called me after he ate one exclaiming how the taste transported him to his childhood, our grandmother’s kitchen, the bountiful lights, bright decorations, and rich love that so represented her and our family.

So cookies can be tastes of the past that we bring into the present and future.

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