Growing up, cookie baking at Christmas time in our house was a big deal. Mom had her cookies she would make and Dad had his. They both would make their big batch on a Saturday before Christmas. Dad would take the two of us girls down to the church use the gas stoves and spread out. Dad needed help making the balls of dough to keep up the production line of these one-at-a-time-made cookies. I think he also took us so that Mom would have peace at home while she worked. I only have come to this conclusion because I too am a mother who looks for time alone to do tricky baking. Dad made Lukken Wafers - a Belgian waffle cookie. I am not sure what the back story is on these cookies, but I know we are not Belgian. Dad did tell me once, but I think I was too young to grasp the importance of the story. I loved these cookies. They were light, crispy and had this flavor I could never put my finger on. I enjoyed these excursions to the church in Ionia, Michigan where we would be all alone with Dad. He would play the Saturday opera on the radio. We would get to play in the church hall. When we got home, Mom would have hers done and we would have tins of yummy cookies. I did not always like my mom’s cookies. I did once I got older, but I always loved the Lukken wafers.
We moved to Milwaukee and grew up. The times we spent at church were not as special. We did not have the place to ourselves, and the dynamics of life changed. Dad’s alcoholism grew worse and the baking time was just not as much fun anymore. Dad would go into treatment eventually and these cookies stopped being made altogether. These cookies had a secret ingredient – some kind of whiskey or brandy.
In 2007, after I had had my boys, Dad and I researched cookie recipes to be made for Christmas. I found a box of his mother’s cookie recipe and we sent emails back and forth with our discoveries. I found a gumdrop cookie recipe that he remembered from his childhood. I asked him to make the Lukken wafers. That year we had tins and tins of cookies. It was just a bit insane. I did not know it at the time, but that would be the last year we would all celebrate Christmas together. In the years that followed I had wanted to make these Lukken Waffers. It seemed silly to have this unusual iron and not make them. The trouble was I had no recipe. I looked everywhere for it year after year. I knew it was written in his long-hand on thin stationary paper, but where could it have been. I looked for years. I even took to the internet to find a recipe. I tried to make them with that recipe, but it lacked something.
This year I tried looking again. I went through all of Mom’s recipes. I thought even that maybe he had hidden the recipe somewhere in his office files. Nothing. Then I thought that Dad might have written it on the computer to save for future use. I messaged my sister to see if she could boot up his old Mac and see if she could find it. Again I took to the cookbook shelves. Then I saw for the first time in about eight years a pile of papers under the New York Times Cookbook, a book a use every year to make my ginger bread cookies. I pulled out this pile and there it was in and among the sheets his hand written recipe with his notes-a priceless find indeed. The secret ingredient was cognac, not whiskey. At about the same time, my sister found his recipe on his computer. I have made the dough this year and it smells right. Tomorrow my younger and possibly my older boy will help me make the balls for the cookies.
We don’t know when we will leave this earth and what knowledge we will take with us. Just this last week we took my Mac to the Geek Squad and the smart man there told me an old computer saying, “If something exists one place it does not exist.” Yes, I purchased a device to back up my information. The first thing I did when I found this recipe was to scan it into my computer and send it off to my sister. Now, this recipe exists in more than one place. When my mother-in-law died, I lost a few family recipes. She did not always feel secure enough in her English to have me cook with her. That makes me very sad. Having a rich family tradition to hand down is so important to me and the foods we make that we make from one generation to the next connect us in a shared experience. So cook with your children. Show you sons and daughters in law how things are made (especially if they want to learn). Make sure the information resides in more than one place. Once we pass from this earth, if we have not shared the information or made it easy to access, our information dies with us.
#familyrecipes, #grief #greenburial,#preservingfamilymemories,