Sunday, March 23, 2008

Family Heirlooms

Today is Easter in all of Christendom. It is also the first major holiday in over fifteen years that I've not spent with family or friends but rather spent alone. I got up early this morning, put on warm clothes, and walked down to the Sound to watch the sun come up. After a brisk jog back to the house, I fixed myself coffee, some toast from Friday's sourdough cinnamon bread, and set about doing some spring cleaning that included switching out the winter weight bed clothes to the spring weight.

I sleep on an antique bedstead that is part of a bedroom suite that has been in my family for over a century.

It belonged to my great grandparents on my father's side and was purchased as a wedding gift for them. It was the first manufactured furniture my great grandmother had ever owned and while it wasn't an expensive set; family lore says it was purchased from the Montgomery Ward Company Catalog and came to Northern Michigan via a Great Lakes schooner from Chicago in 1903, it is a lovely set of furniture that includes the bedstead, a tall boy chest of drawers, a triple mirror dressing table with a cane bench, and a night stand.

During the winter, I like to keep flannel sheets on the bed along with a heavy down comforter. During the spring, summer, and fall, I switch to pressed cotton sheets and a white chenille bedspread. But all year long, I keep a quilt made for me when I was a little girl by my great grandmother, the same woman the bed was purchased for as a wedding present.

My great grandmother made me two quilts before she died when I was about seven. The first quilt was a crib quilt that is a riot of rectangles from different fabrics she had collected over the years and backed by a lovely pink piece of cloth scattered with roses.

She embroidered my name, month of birth and her name on the corner of the backing to commemorate my birth.

The other quilt she made for me when I graduated to a "big girl" bed. It is a lovely blue and white checked quilt with a pink backing of bluebells and roses.

It is this quilt that I keep on my bed all year long. It is warm during the winter and cool during the spring and fall and the perfect weight during the summer to throw over myself when the air conditioning is on. Even LB likes to curl up and sleep on it given the chance.

This Easter afternoon, lying on the freshly made-up bed was the perfect place to curl up to take a nap and be surrounded by one's family in spirit if one couldn't be with them in person.

I only have one recipe from my great grandmother and it is for her chocolate icebox cookies. It is the only food memory I have of her. She would make these year round. She kept rolls of them in the freezer and she would take a roll out, let it slightly thaw on the zinc counter in her back kitchen and then bake them for the grandkids when we came in from running down by the river and chasing each other through the corn field.

I haven't made them years but maybe later this week, when things have settled down a bit at work, I'll have to make a batch to put in the freezer for when company comes.

Chocolate Icebox Cookies

Makes about 28 cookies

1/2 cup shortening
2/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups AP flour
6 Tbsp cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

Sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt and set aside. Cream the shortening and sugar together and then add the egg and vanilla and beat until fluffy. Stir flour mixture into the sugar and shortening mixture until smooth. Divide dough into two balls and chill for 10 minutes. Form two logs about 2" in diameter with slightly chilled dough and wrap in wax paper, sealing the ends with freezer tape.

If baking them that day, place in refrigerator for 2 - 4 hours until completely firm. Otherwise the cookie rolls will keep in the freezer for up to 3 months.

To bake the cookies, pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. While oven is pre-heating, remove a roll from the fridge or freezer and let come to room temperature. Slice cookies to about 1/2 inch thick and bake on prepared cookie sheet for 8- 10 minutes. Let cookies rest on cookie sheet for 1 - 3 minutes until set and then cool on racks. You can dust them with powdered sugar after they have cooled if you wish.