My kitchen is starting to smell like Christmas again!
The bananas sat too long, so banana bread is in the oven. The butter is softening for sugar cookie dough, since I have high hopes that we can get it rolled, cut and frosted this weekend, somewhere between church decorating, Christmas caroling and our children’s special singing services.
Of course, this all has me thinking about family baking traditions and recipes, SO I thought I’d repost last year’s tale of my grandma’s great baking DECEPTION!
December is here, it’s officially Advent, and in my house that means baking season.
My cookbooks are filled with favorite cookie recipes from my mom, grandmas, in-laws, and friends. If I only make the essentials, I’ve got a half a dozen types to whip together in the next four weeks.
It gets a little crazy, and more than a little messy as the kids all pitch in to ‘help,’ but I love the memories wrapped up in the process: Grandma’s handwriting on a recipe card, the cookbook Mom assembled, the flavors of my childhood.
In a small way, dusting off the old recipes makes it feel as if the people who passed them on are part of the holidays.
The annual baking spree takes some preparation, of course. We stock up on all of the essentials. Flour, sugar, cocoa, and eggs are non-negotiable.
When we come to the dairy aisle, my internal debate begins.
Do I spring for the ridiculous amounts of butter my recipes require, or substitute a little bit of thrifty margarine? As a child of dairy country (who was also raised to spend as little as possible) it is a challenging decision.
When I visited my parents in November, we started talking about butter vs. margarine and they reminisced about when the decision was even more challenging – during the years when margarine was CONTRABAND.
Naturally, I had to do a little research.
The tale went back to the advent of margarine as a butter substitute in the late 1800s. It was cheap, and oh-so-spreadable. However, the dairy farmers of the U.S. were not pleased with the competition, and fought tooth and claw against it in the political arena.
They succeeded, to a degree.
The dairy proponents passed laws making colored margarine illegal, hoping that the natural color of the spread would be unappealing.
The margarine companies countered by selling small packets of yellow dye with their product- just mix it in yourself at home!
Margarine was cheaper to purchase than butter, but tax laws against margarine helped to even the playing field.
Of course, you could avoid these if you could make it across the border into a different state- yes, I’ve run in to stories of margarine smuggling.
When butter became scarce during the Great Depression and the World Wars, margarine gained headway, but the butter proponents wouldn’t let little events like these discourage them.
Minnesota didn’t officially legalize colored margarine until 1963. Wisconsin was the longest holdout- they didn’t legalize it until 1967. (According to this article, it may still be illegal to serve margarine in Wisconsin restaurants without also offering butter.)
We have some of those same stubborn farmers in our ancestry, and dad shared the story of their reaction to the debate. Though the participants in our own little skirmish in the ‘margarine wars’ have been in heaven for many years, I’ll simply call them ‘The Farmer’ and ‘The Farmer’s Wife.’
The Farmer had made up his mind, and wasn’t the sort to change it easily.
Margarine- that imitation stuff- would never pass his lips.
The Farmer’s Wife disagreed. She was an excellent baker, but her passion for bread and cookies was matched by her gift for thrift.
How long the war of wills lasted, I don’t know. All that I know is that, on serving supper one night, the Farmer’s Wife made a quiet substitution.
Would he be able to tell the difference?
I wonder if she had any doubts- if she puttered around the kitchen, avoiding his eyes, or if she sat at the table to face him head on, determined to brazen it out.
Either way, The Farmer’s response says it all.
“That’s darn good butter!”
My first batch of cookies is finished baking! Today’s feature: Mom’s Baked Chocolate Covered Cherries. (I’ll share the recipe below, in case anyone is interested.)
As to my dairy aisle choice: I know this recipe calls for margarine… but I found a good deal on butter, and I like the real stuff. (You can take a girl out of dairy country… 🙂 )
Many thanks for visiting!
Baked Chocolate Covered Cherry Cookies
1/2 C margarine 1/2 tsp salt
1 C sugar 1/2 C baking cocoa
1 egg 1/4 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp vanilla 1/4 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 C flour 1/2 tsp salt
36-48 maraschino cherries, drained, juice reserved
Cream butter, sugar, egg and vanilla. Add dry ingredients, mix thoroughly. Shape into 1 inch balls. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheet. Push one cherry halfway into each cookie. When all cookies are shaped and cherries added, make the frosting.
1 C semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 C sweetened condensed milk
1-1 1/2 tsp cherry juice
1/4 tsp salt
Cook the chocolate chips and milk in a sauce pan over low heat until melted. Remove from heat and add salt and cherry juice. Immediately frost the cookies, using about 1/2 tsp frosting to spread over each cherry.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 8-10 minutes until puffy and set.
Store tightly covered.