Legendary treasure of Grandma Vi eludes all

Family Matters

December 05, 2004|By SUSAN REIMER | SUSAN REIMER,Sun Staff

My husband had no more turned from the grave of his mother than he said, "Now begins the search for the Holy Grail."

By that, he did not mean the search for the secret offshore bank accounts. He did not mean the box of faded letters that would reveal his family to be exiled royals. He did not even mean her will.

He meant her recipes. And particularly, her cookie recipes.

Everybody's mother makes great cookies, except, of course, my children's mother. At a recent office bake-off, mine were the first ones dismissed from the competition.

But Gary's mother not only made tremendous cookies. She made a ton of them. And I am not exaggerating.

She kept garbage cans for the sole purpose of storing her cookies from Thanksgiving to Christmas on her ice-cold front porch. They were decorative holiday garbage cans, but they were garbage cans nonetheless.

She would wrap the cans in enough plastic wrap to mummify Ramses and tie them with rope to keep out both four-legged and two-legged creatures. It was the two-legged ones who had made storing cookies in the freezer impossible.

And, by long-standing tradition, nobody got any cookies until Christmas Eve, when her magical trays would begin to appear.

Grandma Vi had collected enough holiday trays over the years to open her own cafeteria. An assortment of her cookies -- and she made more than a dozen kinds -- would appear on these trays, wrapped in another acre of plastic wrap.

And a tray of cookies went home with all who visited during the holidays, including my brother-in-law Bill, who never visited at any other time of year.

For those of us who stayed with Grandma over the holidays, the tray of cookies on the dining room table was as constantly filled as Mickey's cistern in The Sorcerer's Apprentice.

There were thumb prints and pfeffernuss and peanut butter cookies with Hershey's Kisses in the center. (Plus the plain peanut butter cookies she would make for the grandchild who does not eat chocolate.)

Her nut roll was a marvel, but nothing could compete with her Lady Locks. Each tiny, flaky corkscrew shape was stuffed with a creamy filling, and the whole cookie was no bigger than the tip of your little finger.

Even if we find the recipes, we figure we have seen the last of the Lady Fingers. Those things take real skill.

And that's what we were searching for in the days after Grandma Vi left us bereft and without the hope of cookies. The recipes.

We are sure they are scribbled on an index card somewhere. A card stained with the butter that infused her cookies. A herd of Western Pennsylvania cows would begin each Dec. 26 making the milk for all the butter that Grandma needed for next year.

But we have not found them.

We searched for her recipe for her barbecued butter beans, too, the favorite side dish at every meal, including my son's breakfast. It may be lost to the ages as well.

Every woman has a set of recipes for the foods she executes best, and most of us keep those recipes in our heads. I could write down the ingredients for my spaghetti sauce, but what is the point? I made it slightly differently every time.

And every mother tries, at some point, to teach her growing children how to make their favorite foods so they can comfort themselves, perhaps, when they are living far away.

Most of the time, the kids could not be less interested.

I must confess that my sister-in-law, Jill, and I never took the time we needed to learn to make Grandma Vi's cookies.

We had kids and jobs and tasks of our own. And I guess I never thought she would give up her secrets. Her cookies were the talk of the neighborhood, a singular marvel of abundance and perfection.

And I guess we thought she would always be around to make them.

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