When MyVeronaNJ.com put out the call for holiday cookie recipes, the first one we got was from Barbara Misrendino. It pointed us to a recipe for “Gingerbread Snowflakes” that had appeared in a 2002 issue of the (alas) now defunct Gourmet magazine.
“These are soft gingerbread cookies that can be decorated either with decorating icing or I’ve also used M&M’s,” Misrendino wrote us. “My family loves the taste of these cookies and can’t wait till they come out of the oven. I make them other times of the year using different cookie cutters.”
Just reading the recipe was appealing: It’s packed with ginger, cinnamon, cloves and alspice–and lots and lots of butter. Two sticks of butter to be exact, and more for the greasing the cookie sheet.
But as I read the recipe again, something seemed familiar. It wouldn’t have been unusual if I had baked it from Gourmet: I had a subscription from just after I graduated college to its demise. But that wasn’t it.
Then, when I started to stir the ingredients together on the stove, it hit me. I knew this smell and I knew where it came from. This was a Swedish cookie that my grandmother had made, and often. My maternal grandmother was German, not Swedish, but she married a Swede and lived in one of the more Swedish neighborhoods of Minneapolis. What Gourmet called “Gingerbread Snowflakes” are Pepparkakor, and I hadn’t had them in ages: My grandmother died more than 20 years ago.
The recipe (which we can only link to because it is copyrighted to Gourmet) calls for cutting the cookies out with snowflake-shaped cutters. So since Barbara said she makes them at other times of the year, as my grandmother did, I used a flower, a hand and a pig cookie cutter. Pig-shaped treats made of marzipan are a German Christmas tradition, so the cookies felt just right.
And as I ate one (OK, two or three), I thought of Margaret Rau Saf, an extraordinary baker and a frugal cook who knew how to make the best of whatever was at hand and feed a lot of people in the process. Thanks, Barbara, for letting me have another Christmas with my grandma.