A Christmas cookie primer

The traditions surrounding the coming of Christmas, rich in history, religion and culture, have produced a world-wide cuisine that runs the gamut from breakfast to dinner and all snack times in between.

 Sweets, of course, are seasonal mainstays. Cakes of all shapes and sizes and cookies have long held pride of place in the festivities.

 Many of the recipes feature ingredients – cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, almonds and dried fruits – that were introduced to Europe in the Middle Ages.

 And, Christmas cookies – as we know them today – trace their roots to those Medieval European recipes.

As this year marks the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Dutch to New York and its environs, it’s worth mentioning that they were among the first entering the “Niew” world to introduce cookie cutters, decorative molds and festive decorations to America.

 Food historians make a case for German lebkuchen (gingerbread) as the first cake/cookie traditionally associated with Christmas as McCall’s magazine noted in a 1994 article on America’s Best Holiday Cookies.

 A flood of inexpensive  imported kitchen wares from Germany between 1871 and 1906 when our import laws changed, set the stage for the galaxy of Christmas cookies that remain heralds of the season.

 With the price right, these tin cutters paved the way for the bells, trees, camels, Santa Clauses and reindeer we look forward to each December.

 Here, compiled from http://www.Foodtimeline.org/Christmasfood.htjml, a wonderful Internet site, is a glimpse at how Christmas cookies evolved over the centuries into the sweet treats we devour today with such gusto today.

 [1796] “Christmas Cookey

 To three pound of flour, sprinkle a tea cup of fine powdered coriander seed, rub in one pound of butter, and one and a half pound sugar, dissolve one tea spoonful of pearlash [a rising agent] in a tea cup of milk, kneed all together well, roll three quarters of an inch thick, and cut or stamp into shape and slice you please, bake slowly fifteen or twenty minutes; tho’ hard and dry at first, if put in an earthen pot, and dry cellar, or damp room, they will be finer, softer and better when six months old.” —American Cookery, Amelia Simmons, 2nd edition [Albany:1796] (p. 46) [NOTE: this book is considered by most food historians to be the first American cook book.]

 [1845]  “Christmas Cookies”

 Take one pound and a half of flour, three quarters of a pound of sugar, half a pound of butter, half a cup of milk, and two spoonfuls of caraway seeds; melt the butter before you put it in. It is rather difficult to knead, but it can be done. Roll it out and cut it in hearts and diamonds, and bake it on buttered tins.” —New England Economical Housekeeper and Family Receipt Book, Mrs. E. A. Howland [E.P. Walton:Montpelier] 1845 (p. 29)

 [1924] “Bohemian Christmas Cookies

 Yolks of 2 hard-cooked eggs, 1/3 cup butter or butter substitutes, 1/3 cup sugar, yolk of 1 egg, 1 tablespoon milk, flour to stiffen for rolling, 3 tablespoons finely chopped blanched almonds. Put the hard-cooked yolks of eggs through a ricer or sieve and cream with the butter or butter substitute. Add the sugar, cream, again, then stir in the uncooked egg-yolk, the milk, and sifted flour. The dough should be stiff enough to roll. Cut into small round shapes with cooky-cutters, brush these with beatn egg-white and sprinkle with finely chopped almonds. Bake in a slow oven (300 degrees F.).” —New Butterick Cook Book, Flora Rose [Butterick:New York]

[1963] “Merry Christmas Cookies”

 1/3 cup shortening 1/3 cup sugar 1 egg 2/3 cup hone 1 tsp. lemon flavoring 2 3/4 cups Gold Medal Flour 1 tsp. soda 1 tsp. salt Mix shortening, sugar, egg, honey, and flavoring thoroughly. Measure flour by dipping method or by sifting. Stir together flour, soda, salt; blen in. Chill dough. Heat oven to 375 degrees F. (quick mod.). Roll dough out 1/4″ thick. Cut into desired shapes (right). Place 1″ apart on lightly greased baking sheet. bake 8 to 10 min., or until no imprint remains when touched lightly. When cool, ice and decorate if desired. makes about 5 doz. 2 1/2″ cookies.”


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