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Mix Trootfully Wedding Cookies

June 17, 2014

On June 21st, my brother, Bernie and and sister-in-law, Donna will celebrate their 45th Anniversary. I find that impressive because even if I got married right now; the best I could hope for would be maybe 40 years and that’s only if I live to be 98 and marry an infant.

My brother Bob and his wife Patty just celebrated their 40th last year with a great surprise party. My marriage fizzled out before I even got to silver, but I haven’t given up on weddings yet because:

A. I’m still a hopeless romantic who believes marriage can be great if both people really want to work at it.

B. They’re a great excuse to bake cookies and maybe finally learn to do a proper Electric Slide or  Tarantella.

C. I love telling this wedding cookie baking story about my mom, which involves potential bodily injury, table-shaking laughter, and a great recipe. 

An adoring mother with Kings #1 and #2. (It's Christmas Eve in this shot too -- hence the beers.)

An adoring mother with Kings #1 and #2. (It’s Christmas Eve in this shot — hence the beers.)

Since Bernie was the first surviving son in our Italian family, his wedding was right up there with a papal inauguration. In Italian families, nothing is too good for the sons. The oldest boy is essentially, the King.  If there’s more than one boy, they become King # 1, King # 2. etc.

If you’ve never been to an Italian wedding reception, cookies are of paramount importance. This is where Italian women get to strut their baking stuff. Even seemingly great wedding receptions can get thumbs down for lack of cookies or bad selection. The unwritten rule is: There should be a minimum of twelve cookie varieties to choose from with each cookie being very labor intensive. There should be a minimum of six dozen of each variety.

Coobook cover

One of our cookie bibles for Bernie’s/Heaven’s wedding.

That’s why baking cookies for Bernie’s wedding took an entire month and a half in the spring of 1969. My mother was not to be outdone by my Aunt Johanna, who went into full blown baker mode before her daughter’s wedding. I remember longingly eyeing the thousands of cookies being stored in a cool area of my aunt’s basement before that marriage and plotting which ones I’d eat first at the reception.

My mother and I started baking on May first, so we’d have “enough” cookies for my brother’s June twenty-first wedding. A little backstory here: Bernie was born shortly after my mom’s first son passed away, and my dad was sent to war, so she lavished “Lilla Bernard” with every ounce of attention she could. She always said, “Wenna I see Bernie, I see heaven a.”

Notice stove, fridge and freezer on far left.  Also, one dining table was not enough. My brothers are cooking here on a past Christmas Eve.

Notice stove, fridge and (freezer on far left) in my parent’s basement. Also, one dining table was apparently not enough. My brothers are cooking here on a past Christmas Eve.

Obviously Heaven was going to need a mother lode of cookies for his wedding. So, my mother and I stood in the basement, staring at the stack of cookbooks she kept, but never used, hoping for inspiration. By the time May rolled around in Pennsylvania, it was just too hot to bake upstairs, and in the ’60s air conditioning was only for rich people, so mom had another completely outfitted kitchen downstairs.  Not that we had an obsession with food or anything.

Almond Tea Cookies - Original Recipe

The much loved recipe that was our starting point.

We looked at photos to determine the best looking cookies. This was our least sophisticated, yet most successful cookie selection method.  We decided on Almond Tea Cookies.  (No picture…we were going out on a limb, but mom thought they sounded good.) We altered the original recipe, making the icing almond flavored instead of tea and put a cherry on top instead of an almond. (This is a repeat of a previous recipe, but I’m also including my Russian Teacake recipe because they are perfect for a wedding.   The original recipe is to the left, out of respect for poor Eva Beasely; its author, who hopefully, is beyond caring.)

I was about thirteen at the time and a pretty accomplished baker for a kid, so we divided the duties.  I looked at the recipe and got out the ingredients.  Mom read the instructions and I mixed everything together.  We were doing okay — the first four ingredients were in and mixed together when I said, “Okay Ma, what’s next?”  Without skipping a beat, she said, “Adda sifted a flour anna chopped almonds. Mix a trootfully.”

I looked up, a little puzzled and said, “What?”

Again, a little impatient and more forcefully she repeated “Adda sifted a flour anna chopped almonds. Mix a trootfully!”

Trootfully, trootfully, I’m thinking…. what can she possibly be reading?

I asked one more time, “Are you sure it’s truthfully – Ma, how can you mix truthfully?”

“Gaddamit, a Frenzy, I don’d a know, but it a says a right a here, mixxa trootfully!” she said, pounding her heavy fist on the cookbook, sending up an angry dust cloud of flour.  So I put the bowl down, calmly walked over and looked at the cookbook. Ready to be vindicated, she looked up at me expectantly, through flour-smeared glasses sliding down her nose. Her face was flushed and she was clearly angry that I didn’t believe her and had to read it myself.

Mom looking innocent

Mom looking innocent.

This was a potentially dangerous time.   She could either start yelling in Italian and smack me, or burst into laughter — you never knew — sort of like pulling a pin from a hand grenade that someone says is a dud.   I looked at the book and finally understood what she was trying to say.

“Ma, that’s not truthfully, that’s thoroughly. Mix thoroughly,” I said.  Sensing a little smile coming to her face, I knew I had her and asked, “Ma, how would you mix truthfully?

Finally, her brow unfurrowed, her eyes opened wide and she said, “OOOHHHHH!” The pivotal moment…she finally got it. We could never buy my mother funny Hallmark cards because she never got the humor because of the language barrier. We always ended up having to explain the joke, so, anytime she got it with no explanation was a huge victory.

She buried her face in her hands and started a silent shaking laugh. Next, she leaned back, her face became very red, and she started laughing out loud. In seconds, the whole table nested against her ample stomach started shaking furiously back and forth like it was possessed, and she was helpless to stop it.  I heard her gasp, “Oh Frenzy, you keella me,” then go into another spasm of laughter with the table dancing along with her.

The only dark side to this story is that after we slaved away baking for a month and a half, most of the cookies were stolen that night before they ever got to the tables. (I take this as the supreme compliment.  If someone is willing to commit larceny for your baking, you must be pretty good!) However, since the cookies were baked and all the Italian women at the wedding knew it, our good name was saved and we did not get thumbs down, but man what a disappointment.

Almond cookies (better) cropped

Almond Cookies in all their yummy glory.

On the bright side, all the cookies clearly turned out great, hopefully the thieves gained 20 pounds, and 45 years later these little almond cookies are still Donna’s favorites. Mom would be so proud. I’m also giving you my recipe for Russian Teacakes because they are another of my wedding favorites.

Almond Cookies

(We decided to leave out the chopped almonds)

1 cup butter

1 cup sugar

2 egg yolks

2 cups flour

1 tsp. almond extract

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks and almond extract. Blend well, then add flour. Mix thoroughly. Form into 1 inch balls, place on ungreased baking sheet and flatten balls to 1/4 inch thick. Bake at 325 for 15 minutes. Frost  and top with cherry slice when cooled.

 Almond Frosting: 

1 TBSP butter

1 cup powdered sugar

1 TBSP whipping cream plus 1  tsp. milk

1 /2 tsp. almond flavoring

Dash of salt

Melt butter, stir in powdered sugar, cream, milk, almond flavoring and salt. Stir until completely smooth. Frost cookies with icing and place a 1/4 sliver of maraschino cherry on top.

Russian Teacakes – one of my wedding favorites!

1 cup soft butter

1/2 cup confectioners sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

2 1/4 c. flour

1/4 tsp. salt

3/4 c. finely chopped pecans (I think they’re better than walnuts.)

Additional confectioner’s sugar for rolling

Mix butter, sugar, and vanilla thoroughly.  Blend flour and salt and stir into mixture.  Mix in nuts and chill.  Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Roll chilled dough into 1 inch balls and place them on an ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake for 8 to 10 minutes and while warm, roll in additional confectioners sugar.  Cool, then roll in confectioners sugar again  Makes 4 dozen.

  • Reply
    June 17, 2014 at 6:14 pm

    We dedicated readers of your blog need to band together and get you a book deal, Fran- you are such a talented writer! Better yet, let’s shoot for a book/movie deal with an option for 20% profits on the back end. You’ll be rich!

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      June 17, 2014 at 9:41 pm

      I love that idea and you Monica! I have much more to come!

  • Reply
    Cheri Tunno
    June 17, 2014 at 5:55 pm

    I loved this blog! Still waiting for the book! Love you, franzie!

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      June 17, 2014 at 9:39 pm

      Grazie Cheri! You were my inspiration to ever get it written in the first place!

  • Reply
    Patty Tunno
    June 17, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    Fran, you’ve done it again…while reading this I felt like I was in the kitchen baking cookies with you two. Wish I were! 😉

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      June 17, 2014 at 1:59 pm

      I wish you were too! Thanks for reading and responding! You are wonderful!

  • Reply
    Jane Jacobs
    June 17, 2014 at 9:12 am

    Absolutely wonderful. Again!!!!

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      June 17, 2014 at 9:34 am

      Thank you Jane!!! I’ll make them for you some day soon!

  • Reply
    Donna Tunno
    June 17, 2014 at 9:10 am

    On June 21, 1969 (45 years ago), Mother Mary and Frenzy’s outstanding cookies made it through one round of servings. A black cloud hit both sides of my head when I asked the wait staff to put out more cookies, and they were GONE! Might be the first and only wedding cookie burglary in history!

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      June 17, 2014 at 9:35 am

      That makes me feel both good and bad at the same time. What a slogan, “Cookies good enough to steal!”

  • Reply
    June 17, 2014 at 8:57 am

    I trootfully enjoyed this post, Fran. Splendid writing. Your heart is all over it.

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      June 17, 2014 at 8:58 am

      Grazie Don. Tanga you vevry much.

  • Reply
    Fran Tunno
    June 17, 2014 at 8:46 am

    Yes, I remember that most of the cookies were stolen. Maybe I’ll revise and add that right now.

  • Reply
    Nicol Zanzarella
    June 17, 2014 at 7:35 am

    Oh Fran, I seriously LOVE “waking up” to your stories! And this time you had me in a silent, shaking laugh with a few tears falling too (my favorite kind of laugh because it’s one of the deepest from inside!). Although, when I tell people that the secret to my marinara sauce is crushing the tomatoes with my hands (very clean ones of course), I like to think that is like ‘mixing trootfully”

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      June 17, 2014 at 8:58 am

      I know you Nicol and I can’t imagine you mixing any other way but truthfully!

  • Reply
    Donna Tunno
    June 17, 2014 at 7:34 am

    OMG! MY “ample stomach is shaking furiously back and forth like it’s possessed” … only this time it’s shaking under a computer keyboard, not a baking table! In the words of Heaven’s mother, I too say, “Oh Frenzy, you keella me!” There’s a dark side to this story about the cookies. Do you remember what happened that June 21st?

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      June 17, 2014 at 8:57 am

      Ok Donna, I just revised the story and added the dark side. Take a look.

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