A Christmas Cooky Memory
December 18, 2013 6:54 AM   Subscribe

Quick: What does this book mean to you? Does that image make you crave Snickerdoodles? Or Hermits? Chocolate Crinkles? SO MANY COOKIES.

"Betty Crocker's Cooky Book" remains among the most cherished of American cookbooks. Though the 1963 work was popular seller, it went out of print for a time, and General Mills received more requests for its republication than any other of its books. It was reissued in 2002, much to the delight of those who, as children, had loved the pictures almost as much as the cookies.

Images from the Cooky Book:
Candy Cane Cookies
A plate full of goodness
A plate? How about plates, plural?
Retro art from 1963
Advice on candy cane cookie construction (scroll down)
And, of course, the image many of us spent time poring over... the gingerbread house (Bonus! Miko's awesome architectural advice, should you wish to attempt this holiday feat)
If you'll excuse me, I'm off to buy some Nilla Wafers for the roof and chocolate cream wafer sticks for the walls...
posted by MonkeyToes (45 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
I keep clicking on all those cookies but nothing is happening.
posted by jbickers at 6:56 AM on December 18, 2013 [14 favorites]

Oh wow. My mom has one of those, and it's about in as good a shape as the one in that first picture.

I convinced my mom to let me make those candy cane cookies one year. I think I was 7. They were so ugly. SO UGLY. Don't even remember how they tasted (I'm sure they tasted fine), but god they were ugly.
posted by phunniemee at 7:04 AM on December 18, 2013

My Sister-in-Law is a cookie making fiend, and she mails a hefty box to me every Christmas. She sends it to my workplace, where the calories can be safely converted to social capital rather than filling by body with transient glory and lasting regret. Anyway, she and my brother came to visit once, and we had to stop by my workplace to pick something up. I walked into the office and everyone was "hey, aren't you on vacation?" And I was "Yeah, but I had to get this, so Brother and SiL drove down with..." And before the sentence was done, the office stampeded into the lobby to meet her, giving my brother the most cursory of "hellos" on the way by. I thought they might raise her on their shoulders and sing, but cooler heads prevailed and they merely gushed. My SiL, who I suspect of being unaware of how wonderful she is, was rather floored.

So, you know, Xmas cookies for the win.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:04 AM on December 18, 2013 [24 favorites]

I loved those candy cane cookies so hard as a kid, and I'm pretty sure my mom still uses that cookbook round the holidays.
posted by likeatoaster at 7:06 AM on December 18, 2013

This book is open on my kitchen counter from the end of November until Christmas, when my wife goes into non-stop cookie baking mode. Trays and trays of peppermint bark, sugar cookies, some sort of maple walnut things, and various others come out of the oven every single night and my son and I are lucky if we get a few scraps. They're for gifts, you see.

Those of you who attended the Nashua meetup last year benefited from this book as I brought a container of cookies with me.

Before I even met my wife I had heard about her famous Fudge Meltaways, which come from this book. Each bar contains about a billion calories and they were legendary among the hiking club we both belonged to. It was said that a single one of these cookies would provide enough fuel to climb the highest mountain in the coldest of temperatures.

My mom had the same book but I don't think she ever made anything from it. She could bake a mean cake but never once managed a batch of cookies without burning them. As a kid I would open it up to the ginger bread house and dream of one day building my own.

A couple of years ago my son and wife made the ginger bread house, or a similar one. That same year my nephew gave me a box of fireworks for Christmas, because he is awesome. After Christmas, when the gingerbread house had gone stale, we decided to dispose of it with some of the fire crackers. Good times. Good times.
posted by bondcliff at 7:10 AM on December 18, 2013 [10 favorites]

This is the book my mom always used, and was one of the first ones I got a copy of when I moved out on my own. Candy Cane cookies get made every year.
posted by fimbulvetr at 7:14 AM on December 18, 2013

The madeleine effect - "Why is the smell and taste of some foods so evocative of the past? I spent a day eating childhood favourites to find out"
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:15 AM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Meh. For me, Christmas cookies were always chocolate chip, pecan balls and pizzelles (usually made with my mom's electric pizzelle maker, but for just a few she'd fire up my grandma's old pizzelle iron with a big "R" on it). And there was Never-Fail-Fudge, which was always a hit. The pecan balls were gone quickly, the fudge would be given away, and the pizzelles would last because there were giant stacks of them. Ah, Christmas.
posted by graymouser at 7:15 AM on December 18, 2013

I just made a bunch of Chocolate Crinkles from that exact recipe for a work thing this week. The thing is, I didn't know about this cookbook. The recipe I used was "my mother's" recipe, which she has been making every Christmas for the past 30-or-so years. I'd never made them all by myself, and it really is a bit of a slog to make them, but the feelings of nostalgia and pride and love that I had when they started coming out of the oven was almost enough to knock me on my ass.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:16 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

This was my first cookbook. I still have it. The illustrations are awesome!
posted by Sophie1 at 7:17 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm convinced it was reprinted because my uncle bought up every single used copy he could find to give to my grandmother's grandchildren for Christmas the previous year.
posted by amarynth at 7:19 AM on December 18, 2013

This was my first cookbook.

Mine too! I'm not sure where it is - I sort of "graduated" to fancier-ass cookbooks when I got into college. Like, this is my go-to book for cookies.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:20 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nthing! Meatloaf a la mode( I'd always have to explain it was mashed potatoes when people would say yuck) and the chocolate chip cookies were my go to dishes.

I also had The Kids Kitchen Takeover.
posted by brujita at 7:50 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Let me tell you about my cookie cutters.

My Uncle B and Aunt M (really my father's much older uncle and aunt, and rather terrifying in demeanor and voice) gave us the same gift each year: a homemade cookie cutter shaped out of an old tin can and a tin or box of cookies made from their own collection of cutters. Uncle B made the cutters and Aunt M made the cookies, every year until I turned seven and we moved away.

Their cookies are among my earliest memories, and certainly my very first memories of Christmas. They were rolled vellum-thin, baked 'til they were just tinged with brown at the edges, and decorated with sparse perfection, a dragée here and a sprinkle of colored sugar there, just enough to lend some details to their shapes. The first one I remember is a whole train of sugar cookies – a locomotive, a string of different cars, and a caboose. I think (but I can't rely on such an early memory) that there might have been a puff of smoke riding jauntily atop the train.

Over the years, my family accumulated quite a collection of perfectly turned, finely detailed cookie cutters from this unlikely and intimidating source. My mother passed many of them on to me when I moved out.

One Christmas about ten years ago, I pulled out my cookie cutters and baked and shaped and frosted cookies. And then, overcome with memory, I washed my hands and sat down at the kitchen table, awash in the faintly sweet scent of sugar and butter, and I wrote a letter to my Uncle B. It was my first letter to him since Aunt M had died a few years ago, and the second letter I'd ever sent him, excepting my childish scrawl on the thank-you letters we'd send for those cookie gifts.

I wrote about using his cookie cutters that day, how these cutters had always symbolized Christmas to me, and of my fond and formative memories of their cookies. I thanked him both for the long-ago cookies and for the cutters, and I let him know they had been long and well loved.

I never heard back from him, not surprisingly. My family isn't close-knit, and I was one of a swarm of great-nieces and great-nephews. He probably had little idea who I was, probably couldn't pick me out of a group as a child or an adult.

In fact, I found out this was more-or-less true a few years later; he could only identify me by my remarkable resemblance to my mother. At the reception after a family funeral, Uncle B walked up to me and my sister, looked at my face, and announced imperiously "You must be one of [my mother's name]'s daughters!" I told him he was right, and I told him my name and my sister's.

His stern craggy face washed over with softness. "You're the one who bakes cookies," he said with wonder, and this man – who'd rarely smiled at me and never hugged me or even shaken my hand – pulled up a chair and sat down knee-to-knee with me, his hand reaching out gently over and over but never quite touching me, and talked. And talked. And talked. All his hardness washed away; he was full of memories himself, and he found me to share them with. When it was time to leave, he hugged me. And then he did it again.

And now when I feel an impulse to write a letter like that, to take a few minutes of my day to express thanks for a small kindness or a beautiful memory, I do. I do.
posted by Elsa at 8:04 AM on December 18, 2013 [438 favorites]

I don't have this cookbook, but I was looking for a good Christmas cookie recipe, and now I have to go to the store for cream of tartar, because I totally need to make snickerdoodles. NOM. (The downside of being unemployed: plenty of time to bake, and no coworkers to give my baking to...)
posted by suelac at 8:05 AM on December 18, 2013

Also, spelling it "cooky" is immeasurably more adorable.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:21 AM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Elsa, that kind of note is ALWAYS worth the time to write! My compliments to you on your good sense & compassion for writing it, and congratulations for the lovely "reward" you received.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:43 AM on December 18, 2013

Also, spelling it "cooky" is immeasurably more adorable.

Except I keep reading it as Betty Crocker's Cocky Book, and I think "that Crocker's pretty overconfident, isn't she?" Then I remember that she has a huge industrial kitchen and an army of food scientists, so she can afford to be a little cocky. Then I notice that I read it wrong.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:47 AM on December 18, 2013 [8 favorites]

This book.
We had this book.
Most of our cookies were from family recipes, written on fading cardstock; springerle, pizzele, pfefferneuse, anischeiben, jan hagel, etc.
But this book! This was the book we kids chose from when we wanted to make cookies. The chocolate crinkles were MY recipe.
Thank you.
posted by Seamus at 8:52 AM on December 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

My wife learned how to bake using this book. It disappeared from her famliy's house sometime in her early 20's. I think one of the best gifts she ever got was when I realized they still publish the original book, so I bought another one for her. Whenever we move, she makes damn sure that it comes with us.

I love that they haven't tried to update the book. A fair number of the recipes use archaic terms for some items, so it can occasionally take a trip to the computer to figure out what they are looking for.
posted by Badgermann at 9:05 AM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

My mother's other Christmas cookie recipes, for what it's worth:

Anise Cookies

I'm not sure those are the exact recipes she uses, but they are close enough. It's a great trio when combined with the Chocolate Crinkles.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:18 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh man, Betty Crocker cream wafers are such a fragile PITA to make, but so good. My mom keeps a beat up old metal salt shaker top whose sole purpose is to cut out the wafer shapes since it creates the perfect ratio of crispy wafer to frosting.
posted by Esteemed Offendi at 9:28 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

My Mother had apartment mates who worked for Betty Crocker in the 1950s. (Or maybe it was General Foods — I get them confused.) I love to think of them working as "Lady Scientists", wearing lab coats over Donna Reed house dresses, and putting on goggles as they determine the best temperature at which to cream butter in their ultra-clean metallic kitchens.

I hope that doesn't sound dismissive. We had lots of cook books similar to this one around. Though we didn't have that Cooky Book. Instead there was a vast network of aunts and cousins and neighbors who read magazines and went to church socials and sent and received recipes that they thought were good. After my Mom died I went through her recipe box looking for a lemon bar that a neighbor had really liked. I didn't find that particular recipe, but it was so fascinating to see all the history recorded there.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:41 AM on December 18, 2013

Oh. Oh, my.

Young hanov3r and his family (mom, dad, and three sisters) made the trek every year from southern Maryland to upstate New York to visit mom's parents for Christmas[1] during the 70s and 80s. I remember many things about those trips - how they almost always had snow, which was far from guaranteed in the DC area; the excitement as certain landmarks made it clear we were almost there; Grandpa's New England-bred stoicism in the face of my ADHD-influenced inability to be still AND quiet (you could have one, but not the other) - but mostly I remember Grandma's cookies.

Grandma passed years ago, and I have spent a lot of those years trying to find a recipe for one of the cookies she made every year. They were little mounds of chewy chocolate goodness, no crispiness on the outside at all, with a little red or green poured fondant on the top. Mom didn't have the recipe, no one else in the family knew...

... and there they are, page 8 of the Cooky book, "Chocolate Drop Cookies", clear as a bell.

And my copy of the Book will be arriving on Friday.

[1] And, if you think a Jewish family driving 8 hours to celebrate Christmas is weird, you would not be the first one to think that
posted by hanov3r at 9:47 AM on December 18, 2013 [6 favorites]

My grandma had that book! She never gave it to us, though, so we had to make do with the recipes from this one.
posted by droplet at 9:59 AM on December 18, 2013

OK, speaking of recipes lost to the ages, my grandmother made a Hungarian stuffed cabbage that was AWESOME. Somehow, the recipe never made it to any of us. If anyone has old recipes for Hungarian stuffed cabbage (I'm sure there was rice, tomato sauce but clearish broth, beef - no pork, because, Jews), I'd really appreciate it. We've come close to the recipe but we've never quite got it right.
posted by Sophie1 at 10:01 AM on December 18, 2013

Sophie1, what you are describing were called "halupses" in my (Jewish) family. And at a potluck with some other students at grad school I discovered they were called "halubkes" among Ukrainians and "chalupkes" by Poles. I don't have a recipe, and I'm sure Hungarians had different spices than my Kiev-Jewish bubby used, but at least you can start googling and find stuff like this and this.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:16 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

We recently moved into a new house that has large granite countertops in the kitchen. This has inspired in my wife and my girls a new desire to bake bake bake. Santa is bringing my wife a stand mixer and the girls will be getting colored sugars and cookie cutters. Cooky party at Casa ColdChef!
posted by ColdChef at 10:17 AM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Also: The best Christmas cookies I ever had were made by the aunt of an ex-girlfriend. I used to go down to New Orleans with her every year and this aunt would make everyone in the family a small tin can of these oblong buttery almond cookies that were slightly crisp around the edges, crunchy, that snapped with each bite. They were simple and fantastic. The first year I went down there, I went crazy about them and my girlfriend gave me her entire tin (the cookies were always a disappointment to her--all the other family members gave lavish junk).

The next year, I RAVED to the aunt about her great cookies and the following year, I got my OWN TIN! Larger than anyone else's. They were amazing and I kept them all to myself.

The only regret I have in breaking up with this girl is that I never got the recipe for those cookies.

In fact, years later, after I was engaged to someone else and I thought our bad breakup was far behind us, I called this ex-girlfriend around the holidays and asked her if she would possibly get the recipe for me. "The recipe is for family," she tersely replied and I never mentioned it again.
posted by ColdChef at 10:23 AM on December 18, 2013 [6 favorites]

Oh god my Mom used to make masses of xmas cookies. She loved baking cookies and every year starting right after Thanksgiving, she spent a couple of weeks baking about 10 or 15 different types. She would send huge tupperware containers full of them to all 7 kids plus other selected friends. She ran restaurants and bakeries that were famous for deserts but they never did cookies. I inherited all her cookbooks when she died, I have like 2 huge boxes full and many of them are cookies only. They're full of little margin notes. I'm considering donating them to the local University library that has a collection of cookbooks dating back hundreds of years. Anyway..

One xmas about 20 years ago, my little sister asked if she could borrow my Mom's Neiman-Marcus card, so she could to to Chicago over Thanksgiving and buy a nice gift for her boyfriend, a pricey bottle of wine or something. She said OK but keep it under a hundred or so.

Apparently my sister went completely insane once she got ahold of the NM card. When she got back, she told my Mom she saved her from the tedium of baking xmas cookies this year, and then unloaded box after box of Neiman-Marcus cookies from her van. I think all told, it was like $3500 of cookies.

The first I heard of this was when I came over and found the dining room table (seats 12) covered with row after row of the most elaborately decorated tiny cookies. I immediately went over and ate a couple, om nom nom delicious and beautiful. Then my Mom came over and said hey wait a minute, do you realize that little 2 inch cookie you ate was like $2.50? Then she told me what my sister did. She was infuriated.

So everyone got a small amount of insanely expensive Neiman-Marcus cookies that year. But that wasn't the worst of it. My sister proudly proclaimed how she had bought a dozen boxes of chocolate chip cookies made with the infamous Neiman-Marcus $250 recipe. Of course this is a total hoax, but apparently NM is not averse to making money from gullible fools like my sister. I recall each tin of cookies cost something like $40.

My mom gave out a couple of tins of these $250 recipe cookies as early gifts to people like her hairdresser. He was an enormous guy and looked like he had packed away more than his share of cookies in his day. I am sure she chatted with him about what my sister had done. And a couple of days later, he called her and said, hey I know how expensive those cookies were, but you ought to check them out, have you tried them? Maybe they're spoiled or something, because they were absolutely inedible.

She hadn't tasted those cookies, they were all still in big, sealed gift tins. But she decided to open one and asked me to eat one and check it out, and they were absolutely horrible. Stale around the edges, and as heavy as eating lard, with a faint taste of rancid oil. I ate half a cookie (they were about 4 inches in diameter and an inch thick) and that's all I could eat. Then a half hour later, I felt sick. Really sick. Not food poisoning sick, sick like I ate something indigestible. It took me a couple of days before I felt normal enough to eat regular food again. After I recovered, I told my Mom, that was quite enough cookies for me for the whole season. Give my share of Neiman-Marcus cookies to someone else, I don't want to look at another cookie for a full year. Maybe for years.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:27 AM on December 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

Yeah, back around 1994 I made the "Neiman Marcus" cookies out of curiosity. Also there were no resources out there to debunk this stuff with, so for awhile I thought it was real. The results were not all that great. I recall them being really heavy and maybe slightly overcooked. I think I ate 1 or 2 and threw them out. I wonder if that's a genuine recipe, or the author of it was snickering and typing up a fake recipe.
posted by crapmatic at 10:59 AM on December 18, 2013

If anyone has old recipes for Hungarian stuffed cabbage

I do, but the recipe itself is 01) in hungarian and 02) in my storage unit. I need to go by there anyway sometime over the next 2 weeks so I will have a look for it. Presumably someone around here can translate.
posted by elizardbits at 11:06 AM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

After Christmas, when the gingerbread house had gone stale, we decided to dispose of it with some of the fire crackers.

Bear and I have recently discussed how much we both want to make a gingerbread house, just for the hell of it. And then we realized we'd have no idea what to do with it once we've made it.

But now I can't WAIT to do it next year. I am pretty sure the birds that live near our house are going to like this idea too.
posted by bearwife at 11:22 AM on December 18, 2013

And then we realized we'd have no idea what to do with it once we've made it.

Traditionally you use them to trap plump children for future devouring.
posted by elizardbits at 11:31 AM on December 18, 2013 [10 favorites]

Traditionally you use them to trap plump children for future devouring

Good thought (and maybe we could feed the skinnier ones up until their fingers feel sufficently fat to consume them?) but we weren't planning to build that big.
posted by bearwife at 11:55 AM on December 18, 2013

Thanks to Metafilter, this image makes me think of snickerdoodles.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:42 PM on December 18, 2013

My mother and I have made the candy cane cookies from this very book nearly every Christmas for the past 25 years, starting when I was five. Chocolate crinkles have also been known to make an appearance. This book had a hand in raising me.
posted by AbbyNormal at 5:09 PM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Good thought (and maybe we could feed the skinnier ones up until their fingers feel sufficently fat to consume them?) but we weren't planning to build that big.

This is where a henchelf with a shrinking ray comes in handy....

Or, you know, so I've heard.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:40 PM on December 18, 2013

Heretic here. In my family, it was Irma Rombauer's spice drop cookies (don't use ordinary gumdrops, they're just not as nice).

Joy of Cooking is fine and all, but Cookbook for Boys and Girls FTW!
posted by Lexica at 9:55 PM on December 18, 2013

Some outside perspective here: In Norway (and I think the other Nordic countries as well) Christmas cookies is rather a big deal. Traditionally you have to make seven kinds for Christmas. Which seven are dictated by local customs, and occasionally the source of heated debates. Most of them are only made around Christmas, and all over I don't think we as a people are big on cookies. Here is a list with pictures and recipes, for your Google Translate pleasure.

I think maybe gingerbread cookies is the quintessential Christmas cookie, and here they get their flavour from ginger, pepper, cinnamon and clove. A whiff of the smell of gingerbread cookies instantly transports me back to my childhood. And as an adult I still think they are delicious.
posted by Harald74 at 1:21 AM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

I made gingerbread houses yesterday (frosting cement recipe, p. 151, ftw) and the kids decorated them. The houses do not resemble the one in the Cooky Book. Um, at all. But that photo needs more giant marauding cat anyhow.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:08 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Am I the only one who wishes Elsa would link to some pics of her cookie cutters?
posted by Daddy-O at 2:15 AM on December 20, 2013 [4 favorites]

Monkeytoes --- are those zip-ties holding down the roof?!? Beautiful!
posted by easily confused at 6:06 AM on December 23, 2013

How the HELL did I miss this thread. I still have my copy, minus the front cover. This is the best cookbook ever. I also still have the Kids' cookbook, which is awesome. Happy Melismata
posted by Melismata at 8:32 AM on December 23, 2013

Green licorice strings this time -- zip ties next year!

Did you see How To Build An Indestructible Gingerbread House?
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:54 PM on December 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

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