Here is a sweet piece that I submitted to an anthology that wasn’t published and I want you, my sweet, dear readers to enjoy!
She stood at the kitchen table, wearing a homemade and embroidered apron tied around the waist of her short stature. Her beautiful dark hair, with a touch of deep auburn, was fashioned in a bouffant, a throwback style that she brought with her into the current era. Her skin always looked soft and supple with only the slightest hint of wrinkles. She truly enjoyed, what seemed like endless hours of mixing, baking, and decorating dozens of different types of cookies from recipes handed down generation to generation. Months before, she had begun acquiring all her supplies, a little at a time, ensuring she would have exactly what she needed once it was time to start baking. Her sweet and compassionate heart was filled with joy as she thought about the many people she would deliver these delectable treats too. It was the holiday season, her favorite time of year.
My momma, an accomplished baker, carried on the tradition of baking holiday cookies, which she had learned from her mom. Every year, as soon as the Thanksgiving leftovers were put away and the dishes washed and dried, holiday baking would begin in our home.
My momma would start with making cucidati, an Italian fig cookie. These were the most time consuming and labor intensive. Using a food grinder that locked onto the end of the kitchen table with a sturdy clamp, she would feed moist, dried figs into the grinder until a paste emerged. Once the dough was prepared, she would roll it out and cut it into squares and rectangles, which were filled with the fig paste and shaped like horseshoes or short, pudgy logs. To seal the cookies, she pressed both edges with a fork creating an imprint of tiny lines matching the tines of the fork, adding another element of decoration to the cookies. She had a knack for making frosting, not too thick and not too runny, from powdered sugar with the slightest amount of milk, arranged into several little bowls. Adding food coloring, she would create a different color frosting in each bowl—red, green, blue, yellow, pink and sometimes purple, my favorite! Once the cookies were cooled, she would dip the top side of a small batch of cookies into the same color of frosting and place them on a cooling rack, until batch by batch, each had their own color of frosting. Before the frosting could set she would add tiny sprinkles that came in all the colors of a rainbow, adding the final touch of joy.
The cucidatis sat, like obedient school children in line, allowing the frosting to dry, and Momma would start on another batter for the many other cookies and treats she would bake over the next several weeks. These included; dead man bones, a traditional Sicilian cookie, that should have aptly been name Sicilian rock cookies because it felt like a tooth could be chipped attempting to bite into them. Her Biscotti were twice baked and slightly softer than most store bought. They were perfect for dipping in a cup of coffee and I can still smell the aroma of the pure almond extract she used, as if I were baking a batch myself. There were ribbon cookies that, once deep fried, resembled the up and down shape of a roller coaster. These were smothered in honey and topped with powdered sugar. The ribbons were less obedient than the cucidatis; if they stood too close, they were constantly touching each other and getting their sticky, honey goodness everywhere! Momma’s English toffee was a soft, buttery, chocolate delight topped with chopped walnuts. Her toffee never turned out like some of the harder, crunchier types, and every year she accused the candy thermometer of being on the fritz again. We didn’t mind and no toffee was ever left behind! Our family’s least favorite were the several loaves of fruitcake, which she made with the same love and care as the other treats she baked. Each slice was a merry sight with green and red Maraschino cherries peeking through.
Of all the cookies Momma made, my favorite were her meatball cookies. An Italian spice cookie shaped like a meatball. Inside were milk chocolate chips, walnuts, the perfect combination of spices, one cup of coffee to round out the flavors, and on occasion she would add raisins. These spherical gems, like the cucidatis, would get a top coat of frosting with cheery sprinkles and obediently sit on the drying rack.
When the cookies and other treats were ready to be hidden, err, stored, Momma would take golden tins that were slightly taller than the decorated tins that are home to flavored popcorn during the holiday season. Each type of delicious treat got its own storage tin and Momma would carefully and lovingly fill the tins to the brim. It was an adventure each year for my momma to find new hiding places to store her creations, ensuring my dad and brothers didn’t sneak them day by day. They were never satisfied with the sample plate she made for us!
Soon the big delivery time arrived. Momma would take two or three of each incredibly delicious treat and arranged them just so on plastic holiday plates, decorated with Poinsettia’s, jolly old St. Nick, or holiday trees covered with colorful lights. Each plate was pleasing to the eye with some frosted, sprinkled cookies here and there, but no two colors next to each other, surrounded by the rest of her homemade goodness. Topped with some plastic wrap, each plate received a holiday gift tag from our family. Momma made between twenty-five and thirty plates every year and hand delivered each one during the week before Christmas, savoring the visit with family and friends as much as the joy of giving.
I don’t bake like Momma did, but every holiday season I remember the wonderful family traditions and memories she created. In my mind I see her at the kitchen table, and in anticipation, I am waiting for a plate of her treats.