At least, that’s what they were called when I saw them in a magazine recently. We just called them the jelly cookies.
You know, the ones made of two layers of butter cookies with some kind of red jelly between the two layers and the top layer having a hole in the middle so you can see the pretty red color and the white confectioners sugar on top that looks like snow.
Yep, my favorite around the holidays. I just don’t know why I can’t have them the rest of the year.
And although many love them, I really can’t stand the taste of gingerbread cookies — nor the look. They are always in the shape of gingerbread men and I have to make a choice of either biting their head, their arms or their legs off. I am really bad at making those kinds of decisions — so I become very disoriented — and the simple act of trying to eat a cookie is upsetting. So, I don’t even bother.
Oh, I just remembered Mrs. Herbert.
I don’t know how she did it, but every Christmas, Mrs. Herbert — a friend of my grandma who lived around the corner — would literally bake 20 different kinds and flavors and shapes of cookies — but just for Christmas. She would always bring over a gigantic plate, piled high, every year. I truly looked forward to, almost salivated at the thought, anticipated the arrival of these yearly and overwhelmingly treasured concoctions of chocolate and coconut and cake and cream and nuts and confectioners sugar.
How on earth she managed to come up with so many varieties out of basically the same ingredients, I’ll never be able to understand.
And then there are those almond crescents cookies my mom also used to make every year. They are handy, bite-sized and just scream the holidays. I remember watching my mom work laboriously over each and every batch. Each year being the same. The arduous mixing of the ingredients. The first batch a little burnt. The second a tad underdone. The third, you guessed it, just about perfect. But the fun part was trying each batch as they came out of the oven to adjust baking times or whatever else needed adjusting. Baking cookies at Christmas time became a yearly event — not just another item on the Christmas to-do list.
It was fun. Great fun! And I looked forward to it every year.
Mom’s gotten to the point now, however, where she barely puts out the holiday advent wreathe. I’m not even sure she still does that. And, if she does, often she has forgotten the first advent and has to double up the second weekend.
For those not in tune with the German tradition of the advent “kranz,” it’s usually a circular holder for four candles with a center made of pine needles with or without a bigger candle or some pine needles or such. The fourth Sunday before Christmas, folks light one candle. The third Sunday before, two candles are lit. The second, three. And the Sunday before, or in this year’s case, on Christmas, all four candles are lit.
Anyway, the point is that my mom doesn’t usually do even this much holiday decorating any longer, and she certainly doesn’t bake any holiday cookies.
I was so fond of all these traditions, the more I think about them, the more dearly I miss them.
It just doesn’t feel like a proper Christmas without them. You know what I mean? Think about some of your favorite traditions, foods, events that have gone by the wayside. Don’t you wish you could still enjoy them? I sure do.
But, although not a cookie, my biggest and most fondest memory, as well as regret, is not being able to enjoy my mom’s special holiday apple cake.
Well, special I’m not sure means, at first glance, what it means to me. There are no special secret ingredients. It never won a baking contest. But, then again, I don’t think she ever entered it in any baking contest either. I’m sure it would have won.
It actually now dawns on me that I once won a baking contest for a buttercream cake — but only second prize. I can’t remember what recipe or dish. I blocked that memory out completely. I just can’t go there.
But, I digress.
My mom’s apple cake.
I really, really, really love the taste of my mom’s apple cake. And, it’s not a complicated recipe. Just cut up apples, plain dough, mixed together and baked. Simple enough, but it was this exact simplicity and perfect blend and balance and combination of dough and fruit “compote” of sorts that reached nirvana for me.
It was worth all the painstaking, arduous work of peeling the apples so no peel remained, cutting them up in tiny, tiny little pieces and then mixing them — all by hand — into the heavier dough needed to sustain the juices of the apples.
I still remember how my arms hurt after all that cutting and all that mixing. But the pain was amply rewarded by the first taste of that semi-hard crust, the softer dough, mixed with apple juices, and then the sweet and savory apples meandering their way throughout.
I miss it.
I really miss it.
It’s way too much for my mom to take on, even though my cousins all used to make special requests for my mom to bring it to the family Christmas get-together.
But, this also is a by-gone memory.
It’s not that I myself don’t have the recipe. It’s not that I couldn’t make this same recipe myself. And, it’s not that I really need to make another cake with all the sweets around this time of year.
What I forgot to tell you is that it really wasn’t the cake or the cookies or the advent kranz. It is the memory. It was the time spent. It was the glow to my heart when I think of these — and other — special holiday memories.
That’s what I miss.
That’s what breaks my heart.
That’s what makes my heart joyful.