I did a sort of baking interview with my Grandma last Wednesday, November 5th. And let me tell you, it was just fabulous. Well, she was fabulous, and continues to be, on nearly every occasion. My 88-year-old, teeny tiny Grandma, who broke her hip just about a year ago, was totally schooling me in the kitchen. I had a blast looking at recipes, learning her technique, eating cookies, and just hanging out.
We started the day with an old recipe of Grandma’s, which my Aunt Becky had specially requested: Seven-Layer Cookies. Now. These. Cookies. Seriously! They are by far the richest cookies I have ever eaten, as if you’d taken seven of the most decadent baking accompaniments and layered them one on top of the other before melting the whole thing into a delicious gooey mass. Which is exactly what they are.
More of a candy than a cookie, these are completely decadent, and rather difficult to stop eating. My husband likened them to “survival food,” as in as many calories as possible stuffed into a minuscule package. And I’ve gotta say, he’s probably right. Nonetheless, I give you, shamelessly, but with great warning:
Recipe by Vivian Leat
1 stick margarine, melted
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 can coconut (we used approximately 1 cup shredded, sweetened coconut instead)
6 oz chocolate chips (we used semi-sweet)
6 oz butterscotch chips (I think this would also be wonderful with a homemade butterscotch layer instead of the chips…please let me know if you try this!)
1 can Eagle brand sweetened condensed milk (Grandma referred to this exclusively as “Eagle brand,” which I found pretty adorbs)
3/4 cup chopped pecans
Layer all ingredients as listed on recipe. Bake in 8×8 square Pyrex at 350 for 30 minutes. Allow to cool to room temperature.*(Chill in the fridge for at least two hours before cutting with a sharp knife into small bars).
So, those are all the directions listed in Grandma’s original recipe, with my notes in parentheses. However, it had been quite a number of years since Grandma had made these, and we learned a few things this time through that I’ll share here:
First of all, we made a double batch of these, since we’d be splitting them. So Grandma pre-heated the oven to 350 degrees F, and while it was pre-heating, dropped a stick of margarine into each of the baking pans and popped them in the oven to melt. This is a nice short cut, and dirties fewer dishes. Win-win!
Second, the “Eagle brand” should be bubbling and golden at the edges of the pan when the cookies are ready to come out, which was exactly 30 minutes in Grandma’s oven.
*Third, it’s best to let the finished cookies cool to room temp, then allow them to set up in the fridge before attempting to cut them. Because this is basically melted candy and baking mix-ins, it stays quite gooey at room temperature, and is nearly impossible to cut into bars without being refrigerated (ask me how I know…). So, as the last direction to Grandma’s recipe, I’ve added the step of chilling before cutting them into bars with a sharp knife.
The final thing I noticed was that, because we were making a simultaneous double batch, we used a glass Pyrex baking dish for one batch, which is what the recipe recommends. But, we used a metal baking pan for the other batch, and I found that the graham cracker crust set up better, and turned out more crisp in the metal pan. I have left the original recommendation in place, but if I were making it again, and I had a choice, I’d use a metal pan. And I might even line it with parchment paper on the bottom and sides, but only if I had it in the house. The original recipe doesn’t call for greasing the pan either, and we didn’t do it this time, it might be worth the bother to butter the sides of the pan to make the cookies easier to remove.
The next cookies we made were the Neapolitan cookies, with this recipe, although we elected to omit the walnuts. They turned out beautifully, although at least in Grandma’s oven, they would have been better at eight minutes’ baking time, as by ten minutes, some of them had gotten a bit beyond golden on the bottom.
Grandma really enjoyed making these, and I enjoyed hearing about the time she had made them for visiting Thai missionaries, ‘way back around 1970. My grandpa was a Baptist minister, and Grandma was proud to be a minister’s wife, and to be able to host visitors so graciously in her beautiful home. Grandma is a born hostess if I ever met one, but at the same time she has the ability to relax and enjoy her company, which is something I really admire, and is the part of hospitality that makes her guests feel truly at ease. Unfortunately, I forgot to snap a photo of these little babies before we gobbled them all up, but they really do look just like Neapolitan ice cream. I bet they’d be amazing as the outsides of an ice cream sandwich!
Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
Recipe by Vivian Leat
2 eggs, well beaten
1 cup shortening
1/2 cup raisin water*
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
1 cup raisins
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/2 cups oatmeal (old fashioned or quick-cooking oats will both work fine)
2 cups flour
1/2 cup nuts (optional; we made these without, and I didn’t miss em)
*Simmer raisins in approximately one cup of water until plump (~10 minutes), and the “raisin water” will be the liquid left in the pot
Mix sugar, eggs, shortening, and vanilla. Dissolve baking soda in hot raisin water (we did this in a mug), and add to sugar mixture. Add raisins and combine before adding oats and flour. Drop dough by spoonfuls onto greased cookie sheet. Bake at 400 degrees F for about 12 minutes, until golden brown, and transfer to rack to cool.
We made a double batch of these cookies too. Grandma talked while we worked, and I snapped this photo of her mixing them up in one of the heirloom stainless steel bowls she adores, given to her by an elderly lady at the church where Grandpa preached many years ago. She talked about how Grandpa liked these cookies so much, and said she’d never seen another recipe that used the hot “raisin water” to get the baking soda to foam up, just so. She double-checked that she’d added all her ingredients, as she’d been doing all day, and had me check too. A useful tip for absent-minded bakers like myself. Similar to the, “measure twice, cut once” rule in carpentry.
As she dropped the cookie dough by heaping spoonfuls onto her brand-new cookie sheets, bought for this occasion, she mentioned that they always got bigger as she went along. The last two sheets were pulled from the oven, and lo and behold, it was true. She looked approvingly at the four-inch monster cookies and proclaimed, “That’s how Grandpa liked ‘em!”
As we wound down, and cleaned up from our day of baking and a tasty lunch of ham ‘n beans, I felt thankful to have had this day with her. I feel thankful now, and I feel a gladness in my heart, to have my grandma to learn from and to talk with. We talked about how we both have a sweet tooth, and about her diabetes, and the self-control she has to not eat sweets, even when they’re in the house. We touched on the topic of mindfulness, and mindful eating, since it sounds as though she’s been practicing it for years, even if not by the same name. Mindful eating, and mindfulness in general, are some things I’m working on for myself, and it gave me a sense of solidarity to hear Grandma’s tactics.
After all the baking dishes were done up, I sliced the lovely, home-grown green tomatoes I’d brought over (thanks Lydia and Jon!), and Grandma got out the saltine cracker crumbs, eggs, and milk. She whipped up a simple egg wash, made with two eggs and a splash of milk. She dunked the tomato slices in the egg wash, and then into the cracker crumb-filled pie pan to coat the tomatoes on both sides. Then they were plopped into a shallow fry in the skillet, and from there they made their way to our
hungry cookie-filled bellies. This is only the second time I’ve eaten fried green tomatoes, the first time being when Grandma made them for me over the summer. But I think I have the beginnings of an addiction. The rich, crunchy, golden cracker crust, paired with the hot, sour, fresh, juicy umami of the green tomatoes is just out of this world delicious.
(Jane takes photo of Grandma frying up some green tomatoes)
Grandma: “They’re gonna think all I do is cook!”
Jane: “But Grandma, you do!”
Here’s to you, Grandma. I love you!