My loyal readers of the “rabbit patch diary” know full well my plight with baking cookies. I have had all sorts of disasters. They have turned out as hard as rocks, or just burnt enough to taste bad. Other times, they spread into mush. They have crumbled, cracked and shattered at the first bite. Often, these catastrophes happened when all you had to do was slice the dough from a refrigerator roll of a pre -made concoction. I just stopped the nonsense and bought cookies. Then I became a grandmother- called “Honeybee”, and that changed everything. I set out on a mission to bake cookies that would melt in your mouth . . the kind everyone else made.
Currently, I can make two varieties. One is the “Scottish Short Bread”. Jenny, has a neighbor from Scotland, that in her words “lives the way the crow flies” from Jennys’ house. She gifted Jenny with a batch of her short breads, last Christmas and Jenny talked about them all year. When I met the friendly Scottish lady, I asked her about the recipe. The next day, she sent a batch and I too thought, they were the best short bread I had ever eaten.
There are but three ingredients in these delicacies. This in itself is a wonder, if you consider the ingredients in the store bought varieties. I can give testimony, that the cookies keep well, for at least several days. I have a vintage ceramic cookie box, not air tight, and I ate the last one this morning for breakfast.
*Pre heat oven to 350 degrees.
1 cup butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
Cream butter and sugar together,then add flour. The dough may be a bit sticky, so I floured a surface to roll them on. I made mine every bit of a 1/4 inch thick and used a cookie cutter. I suspect you could simply cut them in squares, as well. I cooked mine on a lightly floured stone, but I am a novice and need all the help I can get. The recipe says to bake for 14-16 minutes. I took mine out a few minutes early, before they were a “golden brown”, for I was terrified I would burn them. At the first bit of golden I saw, I snatched them out-and they were fine.
I made heart shaped cookies, that were a good size and the recipe yielded about twenty cookies. It was hard to tell, as we sampled as each batch came out of the oven.
Cookies,like everything else, are better when shared, so take some to your neighbors, who live “In the way the crow flies”.
Some of my favorite hours have always been in the kitchen. As a small child, I spent a good deal of my childhood in fields and woods. If I wasn’t there, I was probably playing in a barn . . .If I was in the house, I was most likely in the kitchen.
The women in my family cooked. In those days, processed food was in its’ early stages. I never saw things like “instant potatoes”, cake mixes and “Hamburger Helper”. Of course, this meant someone was usually in the kitchen . . . peeling potatoes, often.
The yellow and chrome kitchen table, in my grandmamas’ house, was the best place I knew of to tell secrets or to solve a mystery. I also could count on someone being in the kitchen, in the circumstances of bee stings and skinned knees-or when I couldn’t button a dolls’ dress. “The heart of the home”-was always in the kitchen. Maybe my love affair with kitchens spawned from those days. . . when Mama, Grandmama, and Aunt Josie were making things like banana pudding or rolling out dough for chicken and pastry.
Why cookies, of all things, have remained such a plight for me, is beyond me, but for the love of a grandchild, I will not give up. I can at least say now, I can bake “tea cakes” . . .and Lyla loves them.
“Tea cakes” are a shortbread type of cookie, but more “cake like” in texture. They are often paired with iced tea, in the south, but they go very well with coffee, too. They are a simple concoction of a very few ingredients, unlike “store bought” cookies, that lists dozens of artificial substances, and do not lend the heavenly aroma to the kitchen, as the tea cakes do.
1 cup soft butter
1 1/2 cup of sugar ( I tend to spill just a little sugar more, in the bowl)
1 tsp vanilla ( I spill vanilla too)
1/4 cup of milk
3 cups self-rising flour
Cream butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla together. Add flour and milk, slowly. Form dough into 2 loaves, and chill in freezer for about 20 minutes. By hand, form the chilled dough into small balls. Bake at 375 degrees, on a lightly floured cookie sheet-(I use a pizza stone), for ten minutes. Do not brown the cookies. This will make about forty cookies. I have halved the recipe, successfully. The cookies keep well for several days.
You will not need to ring a dinner bell, when tea cakes are cooking.
Some people call them cheese “straws”, sometimes they are called cheese “biscuits” If you pipe them, they are straws, if you make them into little cookies, then they are biscuits. Whatever you call them, they are are a simple concoction and taste delightful.
Years ago, these biscuits were served at every bridal and baby shower, including my own. What sweet memories I have of small gatherings in church fellowship halls or in the dining rooms of neighbors, celebrating a new baby or the union of young fresh faced couples.
Neighborhood ladies made bowls of chicken salad and pimento cheese, to be served in little sandwiches. Someone made tiny cake squares. There were always nuts-usually peanuts or pecans, homemade mints, that were so creamy, in pastel colors and a bowl of punch. Often the same lady came to be known for a certain dish and provided that-but the legend in the Old Ford community, that I grew up in was Shirley Cherry. Miss Shirley could do it all and eventually catered the affairs altogether. She also branched out into weddings.
Keep in mind, that these occasions were a far cry more simple, than the current trends, when I was young. They were very personal gatherings with little variation from one another. Somehow, as grand as these events have become, I think something beautiful has been lost.
Pleas note, that this recipe for cheese biscuits should not be confused with the large fluffy biscuits, southeners are apt to eat for breakfast or with fried chicken for supper. This recipe yields small “cookie like” wafers.
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup rice krispies cereal (any rice cereal can be used)
1 stick butter, softened
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
a dash or so of crushed red pepper
Combine all ingredients, by hand and form into balls, to be flattened, with a moist fork. Bake at 325 degrees for 12-14 minutes.
Now, Miss Shirley did not put the rice cereal in hers, and they were good anyway. . .also they are always better when shared with a loved one . . .or when it snows.
This is no ordinary day at the rabbit patch, for snow blankets the territory. School was dismissed early, yesterday-and so all afternoon, I waited for snow. It has been more than five years, since I have seen more than a scant dusting. By around four o’clock, it was sleeting and I feared we would have to settle for an icy rain. Around nine, it started snowing at last. I was sorry not to be able to watch it fall as that is such a lovely sight, and so very rare in these parts, but I consoled myself that “Joy would come in the morning”. I was up by four am .
Snow was everywhere. There was wind and it caused the snow to swirl wildly. Such conditions are unheard of here . . and so I woke Christian. I could not stand thinking he would miss this event. Christian has stopped me from kneading bread to see the moon rise and so it did not seem the least bit odd, to wake him under the circumstances. We stayed up a while, and then went back to sleep until morning light.
Temperatures are supposed to remain just below freezing until Monday, so I am prepared to stay on the rabbit patch for a while. Of course, snow does not come without a cost, it seems. I will need to replace a pipe in the laundry room, as a chunk the size of a large egg, broke off, due to ice. Today, the hot water is frozen up and the washing machine works when it cares to.
Christopher Robin, does not share the enthusiasm for “the winter wonderland” that we do. His curiosity is satisfied by peering out the windows. Cash, on the other hand, dashed madly about and even rode a snow board! (left over from ski trips). Boxers are known as “eternal puppies” and Cash was living proof of that today.
It is my great pleasure to announce, that I made cookies this morning-soft cookies, that tasted good enough to warrant second servings. I made “tea cakes” , an old southern variety. They are like a shortbread cookie and for a while, the kitchen smelled, like quite a baker, lived here. I so hope, it was not “beginners’ luck”. It just seems shameful that a “Honeybee”, (or a grandmother) wouldn’t be a good cookie baker.
It was still snowing in Elizabeth City, when I talked to Jenny, in the late morning. They are likely to get some snow every winter, but not by the foot, as they had so far. Lyla was determined to build a snowman and so Will helped her out. I am trying to muster the courage to make snow lanterns, but the wind is something fierce and very uninviting.
I did collect snow for snow cream. It snowed very few years in my childhood, but when it did, we made snow cream. Snow cream is a simple concoction of snow, vanilla, cream and sugar. It is made according to ones’ taste and can be made by the bowl or in a batch. Powdery snow is the best kind and we were not short on supply of that, today. I suppose all sorts of variations would work . Honey could replace sugar-so could maple syrup and I am sure you could really add whatever your heart desired . . . but I made mine just like the kind I grew up with, today.
I always think of Frosts’ Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”, when t does snow, and I did so today. I understand “stopping to watch woods, fill up with snow”. It is as good a reason to stop, as I know of.
Fried cornbread is a staple in the south. It may be elsewhere too -and masquerading by some other name, for all I know. If you serve barbecue, you have to fry cornbread, too. It also pairs well with cabbage and collards. . .and ham. Many readers asked what fried cornbread was. The rabbit patch does it this way.
The recipe is quite simple, but cooking cornbread is not for the “faint of heart”. Do not even think about leaving the stove once you start-and you can not make this ahead of time, either. Cornbread does not keep. I I have yet to find any use for left over fried cornbread. Do not think this particular cornbread is ideal for stiffing a turkey. . . it is not. It does not crumble and is likely to toughen.
I do not know that cornbread is healthy, but I do know it has never killed anybody. It is a comfort food and sometimes that is the biggest benefit of a meal.
I will go ahead and state, I rarely measure anything-unless I am baking bread. . .so good luck. In a skillet pour vegetable oil so that it covers the bottom graciously. There should be enough oil so that some of it will rise above the batter. While the oil is heating, mix about a cup of corn meal-I like stone ground, but have even used self rising. Thin cornbread is very desirable and most likely to occur using stone ground. Some of you will be in a bind right now, as I hear this product is not found every where. I add a good bit of salt, as cornmeal is bland, and a generous amount of black pepper. You should be able to see the pepper when you have mixed these dry ingredients. Now you add hot water and stir as you do so. The consistensy should be more loose than cake batter and fluid enough to easily pour. Do not concern yourself with doubt about this-Whatever the appearance, the batter will fry. I usually add an egg now, so the concoction binds and does not shatter into pieces when cooked. The oil should be hot, to the point it about worries you, when you pour the batter. I make mine like the size of small pancakes. I look for bubbles to form, to know when to turn it, just as if it really were pancakes. This should be a quick process -and do not answer the phone, while you are cooking. Drain on paper towels and call everybody to the table.
My mama can bake cornbread that turns out about as crispy as the fried. I can not, though I aim to learn. Mamas’ turns out thin and full of flavor and gosh it is probably easier on the nerves. When I do I will let you know . . .you just have to find cornmeal. In October, when it is dark by supper, and the air is chilled . . corn bread is especially good.
I am still biding time in Elizabeth City, the original “Rabbit Patch”, so named because I am certain, there are more rabbits than people, here. The days pass along sweetly-some sort of beauty unfolding on every one of them. One needn’t have a keen eye nor a sixth sense to find a friendly face, an old fragrant rose or a laughing river. Such things are far from rare, in this town.
Most days, I take Lyla for a walk around the Riverside Village. Lyla remembers where every dog and cat live-and where the rabbits are likely to be. We usually stop at the banks of the river and when we do, a sense pf peace and quiet descends upon us. We watch the river roll by while light twinkles upon it. The river has been very blue, the last few days. It is hard to be concerned about much else, when you are watching a river tumble by.
I am glad for the river and the quiet moments we spend by it. It gives me the fortitude I need in the midst of the commotion , of this season in my life. The rabbit patch is officially up for sale, after all. The summer is waning and by the time the August moon rises, I will be back at work. I have not seen my sons nearly enough to suit me, this summer and I miss them terribly. An Endless Summer is clearly a myth. When my thoughts become jumbled with too many notions, I remind myself of what is constant and steadfast. This consoles me, and so “my heart is not troubled” nor melancholy-but instead joyful at the prospects, for only love is constant and I am not short on that.
Today is my maternal grandmothers’ birthday. I grew up in her presence, and I am not sorry for it. She has been passed over forty years, now. She died quite suddenly in the middle of a cruel night. I was ten years old, and I am just shy of sixty now, yet I remember clearly the details of that July. I loved her so very much, that my eyes still sting, when I remember her. I doubt she ever realised that her influence would remain so mighty. She was after all, a farmers’ wife who collected eggs, watered livestock and kept house. I don’t suppose, she ever considered herself as valuable as she really was-to all of us. How could she have known that those trips to the “Dime Store” would be etched in my memory, and still a delight, decades later? We made cakes if it rained, a long spell. I still do that today. I wonder if she realised that the set of “World Book Encyclopedias” we referred to often, spawned my life long love of learning. Grandmama made a difference in my life-and actually in Lylas’ too, and all the grandchildren, to follow. From “Edna Hodges Haddock”, I learned what grandmothers do. They tell stories and teach rhymes, while they are snapping beans. They save pocketbooks and shawls in a chest, for dress up . . and they sing “You Are My Sunshine” while you sit beside them in a swing on the front porch. They love your freckles and call you “sugar”.
So it is true, as it is written, that ” some things will cease, and some be stilled-and some pass away” but “love does remain” and maybe, that is what makes”it the greatest”.
Jo Dee is one of my dearest friends. She is dependable, trust-worthy and does not mind my flaws-She is also a good cook. Ever since, I bragged on her barbecue chicken, folks have asked for the recipe. I believe when you find something good, you ought to share it-and in that case, this chicken recipe should be shared. Everyone who has tried it, agrees that this is the best barbecue chicken, they know of. Thank goodness Jo Dee wrote her recipe down for a friend that we both love- so I can give the proper details on the preparation. Jo Dee used leg quarters.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Salt chicken on both sides and place in a casserole dish. With great generosity, sprinkle lemon pepper and crushed red pepper over the chicken. Jo Dee drizzles worcestershire sauce over each piece, next. Use about a 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup vinegar and pour over the chicken. Bake an hour, then turn chicken over and bake another hour.
The sauce will cook into the chicken and not “sit on it” as most sauces do. This chicken reminds me of the barbecue chicken from my childhood, when sauce did not come in a bottle. I remember eating my grandmothers’ barbecue chicken at a yellow chrome kitchen table in a small farmhouse . This recipe brings back those fond memories, in the sixties, when all I had to do was come when they called me, to eat a good meal. Jo Dee did not cover her chicken, so neither did I. It turned out moist and is fit for Sunday Dinner or anytime you are having company. Remember, that any dish, when shared with loved ones, is always better .