Sunday, December 13, 2009


Some of my earliest memories are of being perched on a stool at my grandma's kitchen counter, hanging onto her every word as she taught me how to wield a rolling pin, create flaky melt-in-your-mouth biscuits or golden brown, perfectly baked cookies. Much of what I know about baking was learned at my grandma's side but baking wasn't the only thing I learned in her kitchen. Sprinkled so lightly among the various techniques that I was hardly aware of them, were gentle lessons that have guided my life over the past 50+ years. From that wise and kind woman I learned to find joy in creating something with my own hands and mind, to take pride in my accomplishments but not be boastful about them, to share willingly and joyfully with others, to have compassion for those lacking the skills or resources with which I was blessed, to treat others with the same kindness and respect that I wish to receive from them and to honor those who have gone before me by sharing my love, my time, my knowledge and a few gentle life lessons with the young people in my life.

Grandma has been with the angels for many years now but, to this day, I can still feel her gentle hand on my shoulder, guiding me in the right direction. A few years ago I was visiting with some cousins that I hadn't seen in almost 30 years. One of them said to me, "You're so much like Grandma it's almost like having her with us again." I can think of no greater compliment.


1 cup solid Crisco shortening
2 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. lemon extract
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
dash of salt
Cream shortening. Add 1-1/2 cups sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Add eggs and flavorings; beat well. Combine flour, baking powder and salt. Stir into creamed mixture. Drop by heaping teaspoonfuls 2-3 inches apart onto greased cookie sheets. Dip a fork into flour then lightly press on each cookie to flatten. Sprinkle cookie with remaining sugar. Bake at 375° F. for 9 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove to wire racks to cool.
YIELD: 9 dozen

** For a festive appearance, sprinkle cookies with colored sugar before baking.

Who taught you how to bake? Share your memories with us and you might win a Baking Cookbook. Share a recipe and you'll have two chances to win. One random commenter (US addresses only) will be chosen from all comments received by Midnight (PST) December 14, 2009.

~ PJ


  1. Both my mom and Gm are great cooks (and I mean lick-your-plate-even-in-public good). My dad is a baker. So I guess eating has always been a very serious matter in our house. I'm crazy about baking myself, constantly trying new recipes. Thanks for sharing yours, I'll have to do it soon ;-)

    I found a yummy and very "christmassy" cookies recipe on The Gourmet website. Here is the link to the recipe with a GORGEOUS picture :

  2. Thanks for the link, Emmanuelle. Those sound (and look) fabulous! I have a white chocolate-cranberry cookie that I make every Christmas. I'll share the recipe when I get back from walking the dogs.


    1 cup Butter Flavor Crisco (butter can be substituted for a crisper cookie)
    1 cup brown sugar
    2 eggs
    2 cups oats
    2 cups flour
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    1-1/2 cups sweetened dried cranberries
    1 cup white chocolate chunks (or chips)

    Preheat oven to 375°F.

    Using an electric mixer, beat Crisco and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add eggs; mix well.

    Combine oats, flour, salt and baking soda. Add to the previous mixture in several additions, mixing well after each.

    Stir in dried cranberries and white chocolate chunks.

    Drop by rounded teaspoon onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 10 - 12 minutes or until golden brown.

    YIELD: 30 cookies

  4. PJ, what a lovely post. I have fond memories of my Gram as well. She was an awesome cook and would never measure, yet everything she made was wonderful. I remember following a recipe of hers once and had to call and ask her what a glub of oil meant. She said, "You know, when the oil comes out of the bottle, it makes a sound like glub." So, two glubs of oil went into my mixture!
    I'll look up some fave recipes and get back to you with one.
    I really learned to cook from my mom who is another fabulous cook. I learned the basics as well as fun and fancy recipes from her. Mom always had homemade bread or cookies in the oven when we got home from school.

  5. Emmanuelle, how lucky you are to have a French baker in the family! When I was 16, I spent three weeks in Evian and some of my fondest memories are of a lovely little pâtisserie down the street from the school where we stayed. The staff was friendly and very patient with my American high school French and the baked goods were divine! :)

  6. Morning, Deb! It sounds like you've stored up a lot of precious memories too. I had to laugh at your gram's "glub"! That's how my late husband cooked. He made fabulous dishes but I don't think I ever saw him measure an ingredient. It was all done by taste, texture and appearance.

  7. PJ, I've been once in Evian and loved it. I know what you mean about the fod... My dad worked for years in one of the most reputed bakery in Paris. I remember how he used to pick me up at school everyday (he worked from very early in the morning till 2 pm) with a perfect buttery pain au chocolat... one of my fondest memory ;-)

  8. Gram's Casserole
    (She concocted this one.)

    1 lb. ground beef, raw
    2 cans of chix or celery soup
    1 c rice (I use minute rice)
    1/2 c chopped celery
    1 3/4 c water or milk
    Dash of salt

    Mix all ingredients in a large casserole dish, cover, and bake for
    1 1/2 hours at 350*. Sprinkle with bread crumbs or french fried onions or crushed potato chips. Bake another 10 minutes.

    Optional: Use 1 can cheese soup and 1 can chix/celery soup instead of the two chix/celery. (Broccoli-cheese is good, too.)

    I have dessert recipes, too, but will just share this family casserole fave.

  9. Thanks, Deb! That sounds perfect for cold, rainy days...just like the one we're having today.

  10. PJ, What a wonderful story! How very lucky you were to have had a Grandmother like that. And knowing you- you truly are a blessing to those of us in your life. (Even if we aren't close enough to always partake in your baking marvels. :-) )

  11. My mom was a fabulous baker, and she really went all out at Christmas time. She would spend weeks making cookies, and load up the freezer with decorative tins. She made at least 10 or 12 different kinds - I can't even remember them all. But I think my all-time fav still remains good old Toll-house chocolate chip.

  12. Wonderful post, PJ! I too have fond memories of being in the kitchen with my Grandma. We lived in different states, so whenever Grandma and Grandpa would come to visit, Grandma would always make homemade noodles. I have very fond memories of watching her roll the dough just right, fold it several times over, and then cut the dough diagonally to create wide noodles. The dough was so good that I would eat some of it while Grandma cut the noodles!

  13. PJ, you've made me miss my Grandma so much right now. She was a school teacher so she taught me how to write and gave me my love of books. She's the one who intro'd me to romance. She also taught me how to make...


    One can of crushed pineapple, drained
    One stick of butter
    1 cup of brown sugar
    1 box of yellow cake mix

    Prepare cake mix as directed on the box, set aside.

    On top of the stove burner, melt half a stick of butter in a round cake pans (don't use a 9x13 as it will be hard to get out of the pan). Use the other half of the stick of butter in the 2nd round pan.

    When butter is melted, split the brown sugar (1/2 cup ea) between the two pans, and mix with butter until the sugar begins to caramelize. Ensure that the mixture is spread evenly across the pan. Layer half a can of pineapple on top of the caramelized brown sugar/butter mixture. Follow it with half the cake batter.

    Bake at 350F until done (you can follow the cake box baking directions).

    When the cakes are done, let cool a bit until just warm. Set a plate on top of the cake pan, and flip so the cake falls onto the plate. Serve warm. DELICIOUS!!

    I miss my Grandma as much as my parents, maybe more. She was my first and best teacher in so many things. There was only ONE thing I didn't like doing with Grandma. It was peeling potatoes. I never could get the peel to come off thin enough for her, at least not until I learned the carrot peeler would work. Grandma could use a knife to cut the peel off a potato so thin it was like an onion layer.

    Now I'm craving pineapple upside down cake, and there are already FAR too many Christmas cookies in the house!!! *sigh*

  14. Hi Annie! How wonderful to see your smiling face here this morning!

  15. Hi Vanessa! I'm with you on the Toll House cookies. They're probably my all-time favorite too.

  16. Buffie, I would have loved being a visitor to your grandmother's kitchen. Chewy, homemade noodles are a weakness of mine. :)

  17. Hi Monica! Grandmas are very special people, aren't they? Mine passed away when I was in college. That's been 30+ years and I still miss her so much.

    I love Pineapple Upside Down cake. Can't wait to try out your easy-peasy recipe!

  18. Another favorite Christmas cookie...


    1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
    1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
    2 cups all-purpose flour
    1 cup chopped pecans
    2/3 cup butter or margarine, melted
    1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
    1 cup milk chocolate morsels

    Using an electric mixer, beat 1/2 cup butter at medium speed until creamy. Add 1 cup brown sugar, beating well. Gradually add flour; mix well. Press mixture into an ungreased 13x9x2-inch baking pan. Sprinkle with pecans; set aside.

    Combine 2/3 cup butter and 1/2 cup brown sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Boil mixture 30 seconds, continuing to stir constantly. Remove from heat and pour hot mixture over prepared crust.

    Bake at 350°F. for 18 minutes or until bubbly. Remove from oven; immediately sprinkle with chocolate morsels. Let stand 3 minutes; cut through chocolate with a knife to create a marbled effect. Let cool. Cut into bars.

    YIELD: 48 bars

  19. I guess it would have to be my mom.
    She did bake a lot at Christmas.
    I also took two years of cooking and cake decorating classes in High School years ago.
    When I was 15-17 years old I used to come home and bake and decorate a couple of cakes a week just for practice

  20. The person who taught me how to cook was my Aunt Beverly. For as long as i could remember she was the central cook in our family. My first birthday cake was baked by her and subsequently all of my cakes were as well till i was ten. You couldn't walk into her house without the cookie jar being filled with fresh home made cookies, brownies, or some other delicious treat laying around.

    The first dish she ever taught me to make was Macaroni and Cheese. Not a technical dish mind you, but it was a great accomplishment for my 11 year old self. From there i learned how to make spaghetti, cakes, brownies, and cupcakes. I was finally ready for the big leagues when i was finishing up high school. It was then i learned how to make soup, stews, and casseroles. I finally made my first dessert when i was in college. It was apple pie with a dash of cinnamon. I soon started making a lot of "apple pies" afterwards.

    The one recipe i never got to learn from her was how to make her home made chocolate chip cookies. My aunt passed away from colon cancer last January and so i never got the chance to learn. I do remember everything she taught me. This Christmas i'm going to be making my first apple pie since she died as a special tribute to her. ^^

  21. I love the blog, PJ. I must try the oatmeal cranberry cookies.

    I too have dear memories of my grandmother and her kitchen. My mother was a good cook, but her mother was spectacular. It was my grandmother who first taught me to cook and bake. The first thing I learned was to make cornbread--in a cast iron skillet, of course, an appropriate dish for a Southern girl.

    Mama (our name for our grandmother) was famous in her church and community for her cakes and pies, but she didn't bake cookies. The closest she came to a cookie was her tea cakes. I still use her recipe today, and tea cakes are favorites with my nephews and the grands.

    1 cup shortening
    1 & 3/4 cups sugar
    2 eggs
    1/2 cup milk
    1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
    3 cups self-rising flour

    Cream together shortening and sugar. Beat in eggs. Add milk and vanilla; beat well. Stir in flour; mix well.

    Roll thin on floured board. Cut with cookie cutter. Mama used a biscuit cutter. Bake at 350 until golden brown (10-15 minutes).

    Note: I have substituted other extracts to get a different flavor, even added nuts. I also sprinkle them with colored sugar or ice them sometimes, but the original recipe is still the family favorite. Without icing, they are lightly sweet, a cross between a cookie and a cake, and great with milk, coffee, or tea (hot or iced) for breakfast.

  22. You were lucky to have a grandma like that. My mother was the one who taught me to bake and I taught my daughter. A favorite recipe in our family are butterscotch brownies and they are ridiculously simple. Here is the link: I just love the smell in the house when my daughter and I are baking this time of year.

  23. Nice blog, PJ! I loved spending time with my Grandma when she was cooking. Unfortunately, she didn't go by written recipes for most things, so my sister and I wing it and try to duplicate her recipes. :)

  24. Wonderful blog, PJ. I have fond memories of my Grandma and my Mamaw, both of which were excellent cooks. My fondest memories of my Grandma was her making her famous biscuits (and I say famous because everyone who lived around her and my Gandpa loved them). She used to let my brother and I play with the leftover dough. My Mamaw cooked everything well, from her roast (which my mom now cooks the same way) to her fried chicken to her mashed potatoes that were perfect!

  25. Lovely post, PJ. My Grandma was a superb country cook and always had plenty to feed any chance visitor.
    She was famous for her applecake (a sort of apple pie/slice with sweet pastry and lemon icing) and also for her date scones - which my brother told me were really squashed fly scones. He'd prove it by showing me the little legs (dates being fibrous) LOL

  26. Gigi, my mom was great at cake decorating but that's a talent I've never been able to master. Do you still do much cake making?

  27. Jedisakora, what a lovely tribute to your Aunt Beverly. It sounds like she was a very special lady.

  28. Janga, thanks for sharing the recipe for your Mama's tea cakes. I can't wait to try making them!

  29. Maureen, thank you so much for the butterscotch brownie recipe. I love anything with butterscotch in it. I'll look forward to making these!

  30. Thanks, Gannon! Have you and your sister been able to figure out any of your grandmother's recipes? My paternal grandmother was famous for her cakes. She made an applesauce cake that was out of this world and the best fudge I've ever tasted. My uncle saved her fudge recipe and has shared it with me but her applesauce cake recipe was lost after she died and I've never been able to duplicate it. It sure was good.

  31. Andrea, there's an art to making a really good biscuit from scratch. Did you learn how to make them from her?

    My niece is the premier biscuit maker in our family. It's a good thing she lives in another state or I wouldn't be able to fit into anything in my closet! lol

  32. Anne, your grandma's apple cake and date scones sound divine! I love anything with apples or dates in it.

    LOL @ your brother telling you they were squashed fly scones. That sounds exactly like what one of my younger brothers would have done!