Saturday, December 27, 2008

ON THE SIXTH DAY OF CHANUKAH

Now that you’ve tried Italian, Sicilian, Finnish, European, and Chinese cookie recipes, it’s time for a regional American one.

THE STORY BEHIND MY AMISH RAISIN COOKIES

For some strange reason, perhaps because it was a short drive from NYC where we lived, or perhaps it was because the farm-fresh food was so unusually good, my family frequently took vacations to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

The area was known as Pennsylvania Dutch Country (PDC) because it was home to the oldest and largest Amish and Mennonite populations in the United States.

Unlike NYC, PDC was rural. We would spend our days slowly driving along scenic roads behind horse-drawn buggies (the Amish do not own or operate cars).

From time to time, we would stop at farms where you could buy everything from homemade ice cream, fresh pies, and bags of cookies to patchwork quilts, stone-milled oatmeal and hand-forged tools. My two favorites were raisin cookies and shoe-fly pie.

Each night we would eat dinner at a family style restaurant. Some were wrap-around farmhouse sun porches that had been converted into an eating area. Others were large commercial endeavors. The food was always simple but it tasted amazing because everything was grown within a few miles and made from scratch.

My father would always come home with a new Amish cookbook and I would always search for a recipe for the Amish raisin cookies. I never found one.

Then, in the same December 13, 2006 Food Section that supplied me with the Fourth Night of Chanukah’s Pecan Crescents, there was a recipe for Amish raisin cookies. It also came from came the personal files of cookbook author Elinor Klivan.

According to the Washington Post, “You might pass over these plain-looking rounds on a festive holiday platter, but they have a subtle spice flavor and an especially tender, almost biscuit-like texture -- studded with soft raisins -- that makes them unique. The unbaked cookies should have a rough, rather than smooth, texture so they form bumpy mounds.”

I made a batch and the minute I bit into one, I felt like Marcel Proust tasting a madeleine. I was a kid again, sitting in the middle of a cornfield munching on a raisin cookie. Since Proust’s recollections are infinitely more literary than mine, click here and read the power of a humble cookie.

AMISH RAISIN COOKIES

1 cup seedless raisins
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 large egg, plus 1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place the raisins in a medium saucepan cover with water. Bring the water to a gentle boil and cook for 5 minutes. Drain the raisins and set aside to cool.

Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder and all spices and set aside.

In a large bowl, using a mixer beat the butter, sugar and eggs. Add the vanilla, then stir in raisins. Add the flour mixture, mixing just until incorporated. Add the pecans. Drop tablespoon-size pieces of dough onto prepared baking sheets. The cookies will look like rough mounds. Bake for 9-11 minutes until the bottoms are light brown. Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes about 36 cookies that taste exactly as they should!

AND THE PRIZE IS…

A RECIPE SCRAPBOOK by British food writer, Caroline Brewster.

Fans of The Jolly Postman, a series of children’s books featuring letters and postcards that can be pulled out to read, may find the Scrapbook's concept vaguely familiar but no less interesting.

Aerograms and postcards are tucked into cut-away pockets and provide fascinating travel notes and cultural tidbits.

The scrapbook contains 80 recipes from around the world, but there’s also plenty of room for you to stash your own recipe clippings and notes.

On January 1st, I'll pick one lucky winner from everyone who has left a comment from now until midnight on the December 31st. Good Luck!
Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed that there are only five candles in tonight's Maccabbee menorah. Moments before I took the photo, there were 6, as there should be. Look carefully and you'll find the missing candle that fell out!

6 comments:

FrenchGardenHouse said...

Happy Holidays, Barbara! xo Lidy

NeereAnDear said...

So... You have done it once again...brought me down memory lane.... I too frequented the
Amish farms while growing up... Though we lived in VA... My dad was from Brooklyn... My mom also from New York... so our summers were spent visiting relatives... who are still scattered all OVER the state...

One of the many places my mother truly loved was Amish Country ... And she had cookbooks... a few of which I still have from there..

I remember her making raisin cookies but I believe she added oatmeal to the mix... I will have to try these too

Thank you for another fabulous post ... childhood memories... delicious recipe...

I see the candle on the tablecloth to the left... and love your giveaway gift...

HUGS JO

Melissa said...

Barbara,

Happy Chanukah to you. I am Jewish and my husband is Episcopalian, so we have a menorah and a Christmas tree in our home every year.

Thank you for such a wonderful post.

Melissa
Sunbonnet Cottage

Sarah Laurence said...

Barbara, how much fun to connect with another writer/blogger! I laughed over your fallen candle. We had some menorah issues this year. Our local supermarket sold out of Hanukkah candles (can you believe that in Maine?) My husband found some at drugstore, but they were too small. I shimmed them with foil, but they were then too tippy for the kids to light safely. Somehow we’ll make it through the 8 nights without calamity. A recipe a night is a yummy way to mark the nights. Happy Hanukkah!

Betty Jo said...

My sister-in-law who lived near Amish Country used to make the most delicious raisin cookie. I think this just may be the one. She passed away several years ago. I miss her and her wonderful cookies. Thanks so much for sharing the recipe. xoxo

Welcome said...

I always find such interesting things and topics on your blog.

Happy Chanukah! - I think it ended today though. Have a fabulous New Year!

Peggy