Burton on the Bay

 Vol. 9, No. 50
December 13 - 19, 2001 
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Me Want Cookie!

Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents.
— Louisa May Alcott: Little Women, 1868

Maybe so for most who observe the birthday of Jesus with holiday festivities, but for this writer going into his 76th Christmas, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without …

And to complete that sentence, we’ll turn to one of TV’s longest standing celebrities:

Me want cookie! (First spoken by Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster in 1969.)

Keep all the neckties sweaters, power drills and such. I’ve enough of them to last a lifetime. Like Cookie Monster, me want cookie.

Cookie of My Dreams
Not just any cookie. Unlike the Cookie Monster, me want a specific cookie this Christmastime, and none other will do. It’s not of chocolate, coconut or vanilla. It’s not too sugary or too sweet. It’s not coated with sprinkles, and there’s no red or green food coloring in it.

It’s not new, nor is it elaborate. It’s not difficult to make, though to create a batch can require a bit of time. But it’s worth it: worth it if you prefer, like me, a good, old-fashioned cookie, which is something we don’t see much of any more, Christmas or otherwise.

I haven’t a clue where the recipe originated; possibly this cookie wasn’t unusual back in the old days when nearly all cookies were made at home in the oven of a wood-burning stove. But I do know that as long as I can remember, I’ve munched on some at Christmas.

Seeing that I was only 10 days old at Christmas of ’26, presumably I missed out on them, but surely there were some in my stocking in ’27 — and baked by Clara Mahala Burton, my grandmother, in the old black Glenwood wood stove that dominated the kitchen in the New England homeplace.

Until Grandma was incapacitated by a stroke in the mid-’50s, she always saw that at Christmastime I had some of her holiday cookies. I even received a batch — a bit old though not too stale — for the holiday in 1945 when I was in a Navy Hospital in Hawaii.

The other hospitalized sailors and marines — also the doctors and nurses — in the ward delighted in them as much as I did, so much so that they were stored securely beneath my pillow.

When prepared by Grandma, they weren’t the kind of cookie that one would expect to find at a military facility, in a college dormitory or among adults, but the proof of the pudding was in the taste, not the appearance.

I Take Mine with a Smile
It’s not that there was anything wrong with the appearance, but the special cookies Grandma made had smiley faces on them — long before the smiley face became popular in the ’70s. Grandma cooked up another version with a hole in the center of the top layer into which a half a walnut or pecan was inserted, and as much as I like nuts, I preferred the smiley face variety with a half a raisin in each eye hole. It was the cookie I first remembered and adored.

Aunt Marjorie, better known to followers of this column as MiMi, pretty much took over Christmas cookie baking when Grandma became ill, but she referred to Grandma’s handwritten recipe, and she always stayed with the smiley face. Probably because she, too, had been introduced when a youngster to the double-deckers with that happy face made by Grandma on the old Kalamazoo wood-stove that preceded the Glenwood.

My sisters Ruth and Lorna shared my appreciation for the ginger cookies, so much different and better than the traditional gingersnap, and also took to baking them. At times, wife Lois has also turned out some batches.

Thus, I can’t recall a Christmas spent without smiley-faced ginger cookies to bring back boyhood memories of Christmases past. And, I might add, I pass them out as would Scrooge; guests and family members are no exceptions. I covet these cookies.

When I munch into one of them, I think of the old days when Grandma went to the city at Christmastime to do her shopping. On the list were the ingredients, and to please Grandpa Burton, a Christmas goose, which was stuffed with an old-fashioned country dressing spiced up with Bell’s Poultry seasoning. After all, Grandpa set aside special hardwood for a hot, even oven for baking the cookies. And the goose.

In Grandma’s time, the shortening was lard; Lorna and Ruth — and probably MiMi, who still bakes them (some are coming my way via mail as I write) — use less fatty shortenings, sometimes mixed with margarine. They taste pretty much the same; I think it’s the molasses that makes them unique.

Daughter Heather is about to make her first batch, if her first baby doesn’t mess up her schedule, so this year I’ll have some from her as well as from MiMi, Lorna and Ruth, maybe even Lois.

I’m so delighted, I want everyone to have a merry, merry Christmas. What better way than to pass on to readers the original recipe. If you indulge, I’d be curious as to your opinion.

Grandma Burton’s Ginger Cookies

  • 3/4 cup shortening
  • 1 cup molasses
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 2 t ginger
  • 1 egg
  • Raisins, walnuts or pecans

Cream shortening and sugar; add molasses and egg, then flour sifted with soda and ginger.

Roll very thin. Cut with cookie or donut cutter with removable center. For cookies that are to be on the top, cut a hole in the center to accommodate a walnut or pecan; for smiley faces, use large thimble or small vanilla bottle cap to cut eyes. Use pointed tip of paring knife to lightly mark nose and mouth.

Bake about 10 minutes in 350-degree oven.


  • 1 pound confectionery sugar
  • 1/4 pound butter or margarine, softened.
  • Dash of ginger
  • Vanilla
  • if too stiff add a dash of milk; (Aunt MiMi prefers water)

Cream and put between cookie layers.

Add half a raisin for each eye; nuts if you prefer the center-cut variety. Enjoy.

Copyright 2001
Bay Weekly