After I left Pennsylvania in the early ’80s, I knew I’d lose touch with my family and my young nephews if I didn’t connect. Since I adored my nephews, I wasn’t about to let that happen, so what better way to connect than with cookies?
One of my favorites is a cookie whose recipe I’ve never changed. For me, to not touch anything in a recipe is a huge acknowledgement to the original baker that her or his recipe simply cannot be improved. That recipe is Gramma Ev’s Sugar Cookie recipe. Part of the reason I love these cookies is that my mother never made plain sugar cookies — ever, so I was thrilled when I found someone who did.
I got the recipe from one of my best friends, Dawn, who I met in college. We met at Clarion State University’s orientation, back when we both thought we wanted to be school teachers. She was the designer of our incredibly successful Halloween Pink Fig Costumes, which won us first place.
Dawn was tall, thin, blonde, beautiful, very athletic and swam like a fish. Normally, I would instantly hate someone like that, on principle alone. We couldn’t have been any more opposite physically, but when we met, I loved the fact that she was so down to earth and real, not one of those fussy, fragile girls. This came back to haunt me when she thought it would be fun to turn me upside down whenever she felt like it, even at my wedding reception.
Dawn is still tall, thin, blonde, annoyingly beautiful and athletic, (she actually swam around the island of Key West) plus, she’s now a successful Key West artist, who creates some of the coolest botanical prints you’ll ever see. They’re perfect for a beach house, a boat or a mountain cabin. Here’s her website just in case you feel the urge to decorate:
Dawn’s Gramma Ev was adorable. She was in her 60’s when I met her. She was the spunky type who owned a leopard print hat and smoked cigarettes, which was slightly racy at the time. Gramma used to send us boxes of her sugar cookies at Christmas during our college years. We kept them in the freezer and swore we’d offer some to friends when they visited. They’d visit, we’d “forget” to share, then after they left, we’d say, “Hmmmm, wonder how many Anne would have eaten?” We’d factor in appetite, come up with a number and that’s how many we’d devour.
We made Gramma Ev’s cookies for St. Patrick’s Day in the form of shamrocks, or on Halloween in the form of pumpkins, ghosts or bats. They’re very versatile and easy to make. In fact, I just created a new shape, the graduation cap, which I devised with a square cookie cutter, half a marshmallow and strings of licorice.
For one of my nephew’s communions, I created tiny cookies, shaped like communion hosts that could work as practice for the big day. I got the idea from the nuns in grade school who gave us Necco Wafers to practice with. This dough is perfect for Christmas baking also.
The good news is cookie communication worked. I still love my nephews and they seem to tolerate me fairly well, so it was worth every minute I stood baking and wrapping and mailing.
Just know that once you make them, you will be asked to make them again and again. So, here’s the recipe, which you can pass along if you don’t feel like making them yourself. Gramma Ev would be thrilled.
Gramma Ev’s Sugar Cookies
1 cup Sugar
3 c. flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup soft butter
1 slightly beaten egg
3 Tbsp. evaporated milk
Mix dry ingredients thoroughly then cut in 1 cup soft butter. In another small bowl mix the slightly beaten egg, 3 tablespoons of evaporated milk, and 1 tsp. vanilla
Add liquid mixture to flour and butter mixture and mix with hands to form soft dough. Dough may be chilled. Roll out on a floured surface to 1/8 inch thickness and cut out shapes with cookie cutter. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet at 400 degrees for 5 or 6 minutes. If you like a more crisp cookie, you can bake them longer, but keep an eye on them, they can burn quickly after six minutes. Ice when cooled.
2 Tbsp. butter
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 Tbsp. half and half
Dash of salt
Melt the butter and add the powdered sugar. Add the vanilla and the half and half and salt to taste. Ice cooled cookies with icing.