Over the years, I have come to rely less and less on cookbooks, using the internet for lots of my inspiration. Still, I cannot give up a huge collection of hand-written recipe cards that have overflowed from that little card file box I started out with to three, then four, then five, long file boxes purchased from a library when they stopped using card catalogs. There are also perhaps half a dozen or so cookbooks that I still occasionally reference, and almost all of these are decades old, their pages marked with all kinds of spills and the spines of many broken with pages falling out every time they are opened.
One of those most cherished is The Brick Church Cookbook, 1931 edition; my copy is the one that belonged to my great grandmother, including her handwritten additions in the back. I rarely use it for recipes, but just bringing this little brown spiral bound book reminds me of my mother when she would pull her copy down to make a cake, a batch of cookies, or homemade fudge or divinity.
There is one recipe, however, that I go back to repeatedly, even though I have adapted it greatly: "Short Cookies," an old-fashioned oatmeal raisin cookie that brings back all kinds of nostalgic memories. Even with the changes I've made, I hope this will take you back to the days of home-baked goodies too.
1 c raisins or dried cranberries
1 1/2 c brown sugar, packed
1/2 c butter, softened
1/2 c canola oil
2 large eggs
2 t vanilla
3 c flour
1 to 2 t cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
1/4 t ground ginger
2 t baking powder
1 c chopped walnuts (optional)
3 c quick (not instant) or rolled oats
1. Press the raisins or dried cranberries lightly in a 2 cup measuring cup. Pour water over, just enough to barely cover the raisins. Place in the microwave on high for about 1 to 2 minutes, until the water is steaming and almost boiling. Set aside to cool.
2. Combine the butter, oil, and brown sugar and cream until well blended. Stir in the eggs and vanilla and continue beating until light and fluffy.
3. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and spices, and gradually add to the sugar and butter mixture.
4. When well blended, stir in the nuts and raisins/cranberries, and mix thoroughly.
5. Add the oatmeal, a cup at a time, making sure the batter is evenly mixed.
6. These cookies are a "semi-drop" cookie. Using a spoon, scoop up about two tablespoons full of dough--about the size of a golf ball. Drop this onto a greased baking sheet and use your fingers to flatten and shape the dough to a cookie about 2 inches across. Allow a small amount of space between the cookies as they will expand a little in the oven.
7. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 14 minutes, until the center springs back when pressed lightly with your finger. Cool on racks before storing in an air tight container.
Makes about 4 to 5 dozen cookies*, depending on the size you make them. Smaller cookies may need only 8 to 10 minutes to bake.
* Or, if you are like me, when you get to that last small amount of dough, you just form it into one giant cookie and bake that all alone on the last pan. This could reduce the number of cookies by quite a few, but it is a nice "reward" for any child who may have been helping make the batch!
- Substitute a cup or so of bran flakes for a cup of the oatmeal.
- Use dates instead of the raisins or dried cranberries or use any mixture of these dried fruits.
- If preferred, skip step 1 and just add the raisins without soaking them. Reduce the amount of oatmeal to 2 1/2 cups.
- A totally different texture can result (especially good for those picky kids who aren't sure about raisins!) if you put the un-soaked raisins and oatmeal in a processor or blender and process until the raisins are thoroughly chopped and the oatmeal is finer. Don't try to process the raisins alone, as they tend to just turn into a massive clump that is really hard to blend evenly into the batter.
- If brown sugar is quite a bit more expensive than white sugar, you can substitute up to a cup of white sugar for that much brown sugar; the result will be a paler, less "caramel-flavored" cookie, but it will still be good.
- As with most cookies, up to a third of the flour can be replaced with whole wheat flour.
A Note on Using Oil in Cookies
The original recipe called for 1 1/2 cup "shortening" and only 2 cups oatmeal. The farm wives who were the main users of this Midwestern cookbook were likely to interpret this as butter, but I first made the recipe with margarine--remember when that was considered the most healthy choice? I quickly realized that the resulting cookies were very crisp but almost too greasy for our tastes. I soon began making the cookies with a cup of butter and kept upping the amount of oatmeal without loss of perceived quality on the part of my "taste-tester" family and friends.
A few years ago, I decided to try to move to oil for at least part of the fat in this favorite recipe. I still wanted the nice buttery flavor but thought that at least a small amount of change to a "healthier" fat might be worth a try. The recipe above will provide a cookie that is more cake-like than crisp, but the flavor (especially with the added spices included) still comes through as buttery and rich.