Fat Molasses Cookies
(ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2007)
Memories and family recipes go together like candy canes and cocoa. I can't think about holiday baking without remembering childhood visits to Nana and Pappy's house in northeast Indiana. I always watched Nana tie her apron over her blue housedress and bake her famous fruit pies, but I especially loved her cookies. They were soft and thick—sugar and spiced molasses were my favorites. I'd boost myself onto the counter to snag a couple from the yellow cookie jar. My mom, Frances Sechler, still makes the spiced molasses cookies (now adding candied ginger to the recipe).
This holiday season, several of our staff members combined their family recipes and the reflections they inspire on the scrapbook pages shown here. We hope they inspire you to create your own books of food memories.
Patsy's Egg Casserole
On Christmas, I take a lesson from Patsy —a wonderful mother-in-law and a good cook with a lot of great, easy recipes. (I guess she needed them raising all eight of those kids!) I mix up her casserole on Christmas Eve and throw it in the fridge. It's ready to bake on Christmas morning.
Great-Grandma's Butter Dream Cookies
The recipe for these Butter Dream Cookies (or cherry cookies, as I call them) started with Great-Grandma Helen Huebner (that's her with Great-Grandpa Arthur). Her parents brought the recipe with them from Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, an area just south of Denmark, to Iowa. (Great-Grandma Reimer made them, too.) These cookies have been in Dad's family ever since, and Mom kept the tradition going after they got married and eventually moved to Indiana. My brother, Mark, and I were still little kids when we started helping Mom make them every Christmas.
Even though Mark and I are in our 20s now—and he's married and lives in Dallas—we still request them every Christmas. (Mom even sends them to Texas if Mark and Shari can't make it home.) I tried baking them at my Des Moines apartment, but they weren't as good as Mom's. Maybe I'll master cookie baking this year. If not, I know Mom will have a batch waiting.
Every Christmas, no matter what I do, I have the same problem. I try to make Grandma's recipe for fudge, and the taste and texture never turn out the way I remember them. The recipe seems simple enough: milk chocolate, chocolate chips, lots of sugar, some marshmallow creme. But this fudge was special. Grandma and Grandpa (on Mom's side: Ed and Lottie Legutko) kept it in round plastic bins in their cold attic, separated by layers of plastic wrap. Just the thought of it was enough to make me sneak away from my Christmas toys and creep up the stairs of Grandma and Grandpa's house in Lackawanna, New York. I could eat two —sometimes even three —pieces at a time. The recipe, which was little more than a list of ingredients, really, started with Babci (which we pronounced "Bushie," but everyone knew we meant Great-Grandma Tekla Szuba). Grandma and Grandpa cooked the fudge together, because the thicker the hot fudge gets, the harder it is to stir. Grandpa used arms strengthened by years in the steel mills to help with that. My attempts only lived up to my memories once: in 2003, the year Mom and I made it together.
Save items for future scrapbooking projects as you come across them: family photos, ribbon, old buttons and an original family recipe written by Grandma. For more ideas and supplies, sift through the options at a local scrapbooking supplier or crafts supply store. Several websites offer scrapbooking ideas as well; for starters, check out Scrapbooks Etc. magazine, our sister publication, at www.bhgscrapbooksetc.com.
Easy Fudge 
Agran Family Rugalach
When Grandma and Grandpa retired from L.A. to Orange County, she decided to stop cooking. I miss eating in Grandma Sel's kitchen—especially French toast puffed golden under the broiler—but we still make some of her best recipes. Rugalach tops the list.
Dad remembers Grandma rolling the dough into crescents for parties in the 1950s. I imagine her in A-line skirts, serving cookies by the orange tree in her California backyard. A chocoholic to the core, Sel never messed with fruit fillings. Cinnamon-chocolate was her signature flavor.
And it still is. When I'm at Mom and Dad's house in Cincinnati, Mom and I make rugalach for Hanukkah. It's a funny tradition, since Grandma's not even religious. But Hanukkah celebrates miracles, so as I think about her life —the daughter of Romanian immigrants living out the American Dream —it somehow makes sense. When we light the menorah, we say a simple prayer: "Blessings on our home, our family and our friends." Nothing fancy, but it always gives me shivers. Maybe because, like rugalach, it's a Grandma Sel original.
Our annual Wiley Wine Tasting, usually held on Christmas evening, has been a tradition since 1987.
We select a type of wine, and each person visiting my parents' home brings a bottle. Between family members and guests, about 12 adults sample 10 to 12 wines. Not everyone agrees which wine is best, but we almost always agree which is worst! Then, we enjoy a meal together and pour glasses of our favorites. We prefer red wines, so we often select an easy pasta dish, like this lasagna, for dinner; that way, Mom (a teetotaler who quaffs orange pop) doesn't have to work too hard.
PUTTING IT TOGETHER
The journaling that accompanies scrapbook pages becomes a form of family storytelling. Try one of our scrapbook projects, or assemble one scrapbook for everyone to page through at the next family event. Either way, expect the memories you jot down to generate conversations among your family members —maybe even inspire lighthearted debates! That's the fun part.
Gertie Beran was one of Grandma's best friends. When Grandma and Grandpa moved to Garden City, Iowa, after their wedding in the 1930s, Gertie and her husband, Frank, were the first to welcome them to that tiny, mostly Norwegian town. A proper, church-going lady, Gertie had a heavy Norwegian accent and was one of Garden City's best cooks. Kringla, a doughy cookie, happened to be a key staple of any good cook's repertoire in that community, and everybody had a different recipe for it. Grandma wasn't Norwegian, but she learned to bake kringla anyway using Gertie's recipe. Making this treat was a way to please her family and honor her friend. I found Gertie's kringla recipe among Grandma's important papers after she died. Now, it's important to me because of her.