My nana’s love language was food.
It was evident in the beautiful and detailed cakes that she lovingly made for her loved ones, including mine for my quinceañera. It was apparent in the many Italian feasts we shared around the table as a family with laughs and love. It was unmistakable in the platters of cookies she’d deliver to friends and family around the Christmas season. Nana felt at home in the kitchen, and that is one place she has left a legacy.
Nana always made sure that we were well fed, but the last quarter of the year brings my fondest memories of Nana and her legacy in the kitchen. It may have been cold, but inside our kitchen, and our hearts, we were always warm as could be.
The first times that I helped Nana out in the kitchen were helping her make shortbread cookies with a recipe that was over 100 years old. This was her great-grandmother’s recipe and she wanted to make sure that her legacy lived on.
Helping to mix the dough in her magical mixer, to mold the cookies, and to cover them in powdered sugar were some of my tasks as Nana’s smallest assistant. No matter how messy things got or how many times I messed something up, Nana never cared. She told me that messes can be cleaned up and mistakes can be reversed but nothing could replace having her “Mouse” in the kitchen with her. She wanted to make sure that she left her legacy in the kitchen.
Nana has been gone more than a decade, and I’ve taken it upon myself (along with my mom) to make sure that her legacy lives on, both in and out of the kitchen. I take the worn brown notebook that Nana kept her recipes in and try to give them some justice. Each October brings warm apple dumplings and my family won’t let a November go by without cheese pie after our turkey. The past couple of years have been difficult for my family with unexpected tragedies around Christmas, but Nana’s Pecan Butter Fingers have been the only cookie made, even in the smallest of batches.
There’s something comforting about using the same recipe she used and reminiscing about the handwriting you took for granted on birthday cards and shopping lists. Gathering around her trusty Kitchenaid mixer with my own child truly brings things full circle for me. It’s amazing to see the glimmer in a child’s eyes when they eat something you’ve created together, along with a little heavenly intervention.
Our goal should never be to live forever, but to create something that will far outlive you. My nana did just that. She created a legacy in the kitchen.
Mothering with patience is not my specialty – except when I’m in the kitchen with my son. Small messes and lengthened processes don’t seem to bother me as much. A little flour here or an extra minute measuring there mean so little in the grand scheme of things. I’m spending quality time with my child just like my nana did with me.
We’re making more than cookies; we’re making memories. I’m following in Nana’s footsteps and making sure her legacy lives on.
Christmas Shortcake & Cookies
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups flour
1 cup butter
A few helpful hints to decipher Nana’s recipe:
- For each batch, I like to use 2 cups of chopped pecans. You can use walnuts or almonds, but pecans are our favorite. You can also omit the nuts if needed.
- Use a cookie scoop to portion out the dough. Roll each ball in your hands into an oval, or “finger” shape and place on an ungreased cookie sheet with a little room between each cookie.
- “Until brown” translated from Nana is approximately 12 minutes at 350°, pending the size of your “fingers.” Start keeping an eye on them after 10 minutes. They’ll be done when they’re golden brown and/or firm to the touch.
- Once baked, cool the cookies on a rack and then coat in powdered sugar. We’ve found it’s best to store them in a Pyrex in between layers of wax paper – if they last that long!
- One batch makes about 36 cookies, but as you can see, Nana made a lot more each year.
- You can also press the dough (with or without nuts) into a 9″ round cake pan and top with sugar crystals before baking. I know her recipe says 1 hour, but keep an eye on it after 45 minutes to avoid burnt shortcake.
From our kitchen to yours – best wishes for a memory-filled and delicious holiday season!