Something that I don’t think we do enough in our current day and age is take a moment to reflect on where we’ve come from. I mean really think about it. Stretch the memory so far back that you are conjuring times gone by in which you were not alive, or even close to it. So far back that the flesh and blood that would eventually become you is divided among so many, many people that you start to realize your ancestry is limitless. It’s not a crisp lineage of great-great-great-great-greats; it’s more of a nebulous conglomeration. Thousands of people have lived and died and passed down genes that would eventually get to you. Sort of blows your mind doesn’t it?
Besides an activity in brain-amazement, I think reflecting for a moment on where we’ve come from serves a larger purpose: we realize that we too are just a single atom in an extremely grand scheme of things. Not to say our lives mean nothing. Quite the opposite. Our lives mean everything. We are everyone and everything that ever was, wrapped up in the 7 billion bodies currently residing on this planet. The joy and tears and food and migrations that made up the lives of those who came before us are what make us up now. All of this to say: I’m in awe of ancestors, of kin, of family (biological and otherwise) because they make us who we are.
My grandma has been alive for 80 years. She was born into the Great Depression, a broken time for America. From almost the time she could walk and talk her little body helped to re-build the American Dream as a migrant farm worker with her mother and three siblings. At 16 she married my grandfather, a son of Italian immigrants who built their three-story home with their own two hands and stuck it out in a foreign land because they believed in that American Dream my grandmother was helping to re-build. It was the same dream my grandfather became a part of when, so full of the desperate rebelliousness of youth, he lied his way into the Air Force as a teen, too young to enlist legally.
These people absolutely fascinate me. Their lives, so full of hopes and dreams for the future. So full of celebrations, of times of grief, of mundane daily activities. And in the case of my grandmother, so full of cooking, cleaning, child-rearing, housekeeping — and most of all baking. And that’s what brings us to today, to this blog. The genes that got passed down through the millenia and landed inside me were nurtured as a young girl by my grandma, who was a baker more out of necessity than desire, but who had always appreciated the sweet outcome of hours spent in the kitchen with sugar and flour and a hot oven. This week I’m in Ohio visiting my grandmother and relatives here. In addition to baking one of my favorite childhood cookie recipes, I have been delving into the past with my grandmother: looking at old photos of people whose names sometimes even she doesn’t recall, asking questions about her childhood, about her mother and father, about what it was like to get married at 16. These stories never get old – even when she tells them over and over again, as elderly people have a tendency to do : ) They are the stories of a grandmother, a mother, a wife, a friend. They are the stories of a life that was sometimes painful and often far from easy. But most importantly of all, they are the stories of a life thoroughly lived.
Aunt Maggie’s Recipe
1 cup shortening (I’d really like to try this recipe with butter or vegan margarine. Shortening sometimes weirds me out. At least it’s all-vegetable. Supposedly)
1 cup brown sugar (light or dark)
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs (I’d like to experiment with vegan egg replacer but I think it would work)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cup flour, sifted
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 cups oats (quick-cooking or old fashioned both work fine)
In a large bowl, thoroughly cream shortening and sugars. Beat the eggs and add to the bowl, along with the vanilla. Mix well. Add flour, salt, and baking soda and mix. Add oats and mix until evenly combined. Divide in half and form into two rolls, about 2 inches around (saran wrap works well to wrap the rolls, but you could just place them on a plate or cookie tray as well). Place in icebox (or freezer, if you’ve upgraded since the 40s). Let chill for at least an hour.
Heat oven to 350. Slice the dough 1/4 inch thick and bake cookies on an ungreased cookie or baking sheet for 10 minutes (8 or 9 minutes if you like them soft). They will not look thoroughly cooked when you take them out, but fear not – they will continue to cook outside the oven. Let cool on baking sheet for about 5 minutes then transfer to a cooling rack. Delicious warm, even better the next day.