Sunday, September 04, 2011

For the Cookie Lady- A Story about Baking and Love

This post is dedicated to Alan Levine and the memory of his mother, Alyce.

Dear Alan, the cookies i am baking are an amazing story of openness that spans four generations of my family. To honour that, the memory of your mother, and the sacred invisible web that binds the fabric of our lives together, i have reached out to my grandmother (92)  and my mother (72) to help me tell the story, because it begins before my memory does.

My grandparents, along with my mother and aunt, emmigrated from England to Canada after WWII.  After a couple of years in Montreal they decided to move to Ontario and in 1953 they settled in Willowdale with no family and no friends and facing very hard times. They were blessed to become neighbours with Grace Walker and her family. The cookie recipe came from Grace, who became known as Auntie Grace to all of us.

My Grandmother shares some memories and thoughts:

Auntie Grace (our first neighbour when we lived in Willowdale Ontario),was a wonderful baker of many luscious goodies, she told me she worked when living up Northern Ontario, in a bake shop, which is where she learned her wonderful skills re baking, many of which she shared with me, (and of course, June and Wendy, my daughters, eventually also my grandaughter Iyeshka).  One of these recipes was these delicious choc chip cookies. Our family love them, as did visiting friends and neighbours when they came to call, so often Auntie Grace's choc chip cookie recipe was requested.
One Xmas, Beric, my grandson baked the choc chip cookies for place markers on our Xmas dinner table. He made extra large ones too, almost as big as tea plates!!
Please accept my sincere sympathy in the loss of your Mother. The cookie story is a lovely memory for your family to share with others.

Blessings and good wishes, Rose Turner ..... Iyeshka`s maternal grandmother

And my mother remembers:

Auntie Grace was not our aunt but she was the closest to a grandmother that my sister and I ever had. She was an amazing friend to our parents during very hard times. We met when we moved next door as teenagers and we all gradually just became family. This continued until the end of her life.
She was a wonderful cook and was generous in sharing her recipes.  Cooking was a joy for her and we learned to feel the same about the many dishes she shared with us. We always headed for the cookie jar to see if any chocolate chip cookies just happened to be waiting for us. Our own children were always thrilled to smell "Auntie Grace's Cookies" as they  came out of the oven. They are a part of our family traditions now as they are made for our grandchildren.

Grace Walker and her family were the kind of neighbours that change lives. From preparing all the fancy sandwiches for my mother's trousseau tea, to hosting the exhausted family to Christmas dinner, to giving the first dining table (that followed to my childhood home and was the table where my brother's business was conceived and founded--now there's a bit of web history for you ;-) ).

We don't know where Auntie Grace got the recipe, but a little sure goes a long way, so there's a theory that it might be depression or wartime era.

And I don't know where the recipe is headed, but it is a deep part of women's culture and human culture to share food and the rituals around it. Recipes handed down form a bridge across which we can travel and visit those long departed. The memories they stir, the love remembered, shared and passed on again every time we pull out our stained copies and begin the familiar motions of preparing them. I'll see my grandmother's farmhouse kitchen and her old sunbeam mixer; my mother's hands holding a fork and pressing down the tops making the criss-cross pattern--and of course, Auntie Grace, her smiling face and white hair and her earrings--the big clip on kind with pearls and rhinestones.

I'm going to give these cookies away to my neighbours--both physical and of the heart. To Wray and Greg who wrapped me up in their care from the first day we moved in here 18 months ago. They have made such a huge difference to our lives--don't know quite how it would have all happened without them. To Craig and Fergus, whose quiet kindness and thoughtfulness and acceptance and joy in my children fill my heart. They inspire me with the lives they have lead and the people they are. To Ang, whose absolute and unfailing loyalty and friendship have pulled me through the darkest time of my life--not to mention the hours and hours of shear hard physical labour she contributed to helping make my place a home. To Lynne B and her partner Lynne A. for a true friendship of the heart, for wisdom, and prods and laughter, for being there to keep me alive in the darkest time. To Soos for her love and friendship and shared girlfriend-fun and hours on the phone. To linnet for her gentle wisdom and example. To Scott for new friendship that is challenging and deep and calls for me to grow in ways that I needed to.

And sending virtual cookies to Liz--the sister i never had, who is one of the only people who can totally keep me in line--hahaha. To Julie--heartflow for sure as we walk a mirrored path dearheart. To Arthur--for being a good man (and you know what that means to me) and a good friend. And to Robert and Diane--without your love and care and skill over the past three years none of this beautiful new life would have been possible. I love you both so much.

I'm going to have so much fun sending virtual cookies to dozens of people who are filling my mind and heart right now.

And to you who are reading. Have a virtual cookie--and feel the cookielove.

Thank you all. You enrich my life in profound and precious ways. And thank you Alan (and Giulia) for this opportunity to share care and love with friends and strangers.

The sharing of food is probably our most primal and ancient ritual. There is a sacredness to the breaking of bread together--and now to the baking of cookie-bread together. Love to all you cookielovers.

Auntie Grace's Chocolate Chip Cookies
1/4 lb butter
1/4 lb shortening
1 cup (scant) brown sugar

Cream together.
Dissolve 1 tsp of baking soda into 1/4 cup boiling water and add slowly.
Then add:
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
2 cups rolled oats
1 pkg chocolate chips (add by hand)

Drop by spoonfuls on greased tray (or non-stick). Flatten with a fork.
Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.
Cool on tray. Makes approx. 80.