28 December 2009


So this, our first attempt at springerle cookies, was inspired by a third grade school project. The eight-year-old had to bring in food that was important to her family and that came from a cultural group she was descendent from. Finding a food that was both turned out to be difficult for us, since there are lots of foods we grew up with that we love, but very few of them have any connection to our families’ ethnic histories. Springerle was the only thing we could think of that fit, since my husband is descended from Pennsylvania Germans and his mother made Springerle around Christmas time when he was growing up. If you want to see what more professionally made Springerle look like, try the Springerle Baker.

The recipe we’re using comes from my husband’s mother, as published in a family reunion cookbook, “A Measure of Memory.”

Springerle cookies are kind of unusual:
  • They’re flavored with anise (makes them have a vague licorice taste)
  • They’re molded cookies (they have a design impressed on them)
  • They’re supposed to “mellow” for two weeks before eating
This all makes the cookies kind of easy and kind of difficult all at the same time. They’re easy because each step takes only a few minutes and then you wait before performing the next step, but the sheer number of steps makes it seem hard. Here’re the ingredients:
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspeen salt
  • 1 tablespoons freshly grated lemon peel
  • confectioner’s sugar, for dusting pastry board
  • 4 tablespoons anise seeds, to sprinkle on pans
We actually zested the lemon the night before, juiced it, and froze both the lemon zest and the lemon juice in the freezer (the juice came in handy for totally different recipes later on).

Beat eggs in large mixer bowl at high speed until thick and lemon-colored, about 5 minutes. We have a Bosch standing mixer that we bought at a yard sale a few years ago. It’s nice to have a standing mixer for this recipe since everything needs to be beaten for so long. This is the eggs before beating:

Beat in sugar, ¼ cup at a time. Continue beating until the mixture is thick and pale, about 8 minutes. Here’s the mixture after all of this beating:

Add flour, baking powder, salt, and lemon peel. Work in with hands or wooden spoon. Gather dough in a ball, wrap, and refrigerate at least 2 hours. We did this first part one afternoon as soon as the girls got home from school on the bus, around 4 pm, and then continued with the recipe after dinner that night. Here’s what the dough ball looked like as it was being wrapped up to put in the fridge:

While the dough was in the fridge, we prepared two baking sheets by greasing them (we used non-stick spray) and sprinkling anise seeds over them. We weren’t too good at sprinkling the seeds uniformly, so we kind of spread them out with our fingers, too.

Sprinkle pastry board and plain and springerle rolling pins with confectioners sugar.

This brings up the part that’s really difficult: you need to find some kind of cookie mold. Springerle molds are usually fairly intricate and kind of pricey, but very pretty. We didn’t have time to search out actual springerle molds or a springerle rolling pin, so we went to the kitchen store and bought cookie molds. They probably didn’t give as pretty a cookie as springerle molds would have, but they worked.

Anyway, at this point you start to roll out the dough using confectioner’s sugar to keep it from sticking to the board and the cookie mold.

Divide dough into 3 equal parts. Roll each part ½” thick with plain rolling pin. Roll dough slowly and firmly to ¼” thickness with springerle rolling pin. Since we were using cookie molds, we rolled the dough a little bit thinner than ½”…

…and then pressed the molds into it to make the cookies about ¼” thick.

Cut cookies apart. Place 1” apart on each of 3 greased baking sheets which have been sprinkled with anise seeds. Since we had round cookie molds, we used round cookie cutters to cut out the cookies and then rolled the scraps together and rolled them out again.

We filled each cookie sheet with cookies from each third of the dough ball. The last scraps we just rolled out and placed on the cookie sheets without pressing in the cookie mold (so you could technically make springerle without using a cookie mold at all, but they wouldn’t be as pretty—and that’s part of the point). We ended up getting a dozen cookies on each tray, plus a total of 6 cookies made from the scraps. (42 cookies total)

The design on our cookie molds were a present (see below) and a cupcake.

Dry uncovered at room temperature at least 8 hours. I put the trays on top of my clothes dryer because I didn’t have any other horizontal surface that I didn’t need to use for that long. We let the cookies sit out overnight and baked them the next morning before the girls went to school.

Heat oven to 325°. Bake in center of oven until cookies are firm and light brown on bottoms, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool on wire racks.

Supposedly, one of the reasons for the name “springerle” is because the cookies “spring up” when they bake, which looks like this as they come out of the oven (if you look closely, you can see a little “foot” at the bottom of each cookie):

Reserve anise seeds remaining on baking sheets. Store cookies with reserved seeds and a slice of bread in airtight container. One of the cool things is how the cookies pick up anise seeds as they bake. This is the bottom and top of one of the cookies made from scraps to show how the anise seeds are baked into the bottoms of the cookies as they bake. The seeds are picked up by the sides in some places, too.

Change bread often. We changed the bread every two days.

Allow cookies to mellow 2 weeks. Store at room temperature no longer than 1 month. We tried the cookies the day after they were baked, and they tasted just fine then. After being stored in an airtight container for two weeks, the cookies had a drier, crunchier crust. After that, we left them in the container, but stopped keeping the bread with them. At this point, they started to really harden—the way my husband remembers really liking them. Once they were hard, I really liked them dipped in some herbal tea. Really really good.

Okay. So how’d it taste?

Flavor: Light licorice taste, but everyone in the family likes it so the licorice taste must not be too overpowering (or else my kids like licorice better than I thought).

Texture: Everyone loved it after two weeks with the bread—slightly crunchy on the outside, but still soft on the inside. My husband absolutely prefers it hard, after it’s gone without the bread for several days, but he’s alone in that.

Ease and fun: Not too easy, especially with all of the different steps, but definitely fun. The kids loved pressing the molds into the dough and cutting out the cookies.

Will we make it again? It was definitely worth the effort.

Overall grade: Win.

29 November 2009

Green bean casserole

Yes, it’s the holiday season—and that means it’s time for tables across the country to start buckling under the weight of all sorts of foods that we wouldn’t even think of making any other time of the year. (Twenty-three pound turkey, anyone?) One of these dishes is a creation of the Campbell Soup Company: green bean casserole.

Green bean casserole was (according to its Wikipedia article—who knew there were Wikipedia articles for pseudo-homemade foods?) invented in 1955. Yes, the 1950s, that low point in the history of food, back when soy sauce was considered an exotic ingredient to be used carefully by the half-teaspoonful. We’re going to stick with the green bean casserole here, but anyone interested in just how bad American cuisine got mid-twentieth century should visit James Lileks’ Gallery of Regrettable Food. (If you click on the “Knox Gelatin” link you get pictures from a cookbook that we actually own a copy of. Trust us, the pictures on that site don’t do justice to how bad the food looks in that book.)

Anyway. There are a number of different recipes for green bean casserole, so we went with the one we could find: the one currently on the back of cans of French’s French Fried Onions (original flavor). We don’t know if this is the original recipe, but we figure it’s probably close, since French’s is a Campbell’s brand. So the first thing we did was to collect the ingredients. We doubled the recipe, but they’re listed here as a single recipe, just like in the original.
  • 1 10¾ ounce can cream of mushroom soup (the recipe specified Campbell’s brand, but we went with a store brand—we know it’s unAmerican of us, but we figure gloppy mushroom soups are gloppy mushroom soups no matter who makes them)
  • ¾ cup milk
  • ⅛ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1⅓ cups French fried onions (the recipe specifies French’s, which we did in fact use)
  • 2 14½ ounce cans green beans, drained or 2 9 ounce packages frozen cut green beans, thawed (we went with the canned beans, both because we had them and because the relative freshness of frozen vegetables just seems somehow wrong for a recipe like this)

By the way—cream of mushroom soup is a “good source of fiber”? Wow—such a healthy food! I guess we should all be chugging the stuff straight from the can! Daily, if not more often.

Mix soup and milk…

So we dutifully proceeded to follow the directions.

Before mixing. You know it’s gonna be good when it starts out looking like this.

Here’s the soup and milk all mixed together.

Incidentally, we got a large (26 ounce) can of cream of mushroom soup rather than two regular-size (10¾ ounce) cans, and we ended up just pouring the whole can in rather than measuring out 21½ ounces. (We suspect that it didn’t really change the final results, though.)

…then add pepper, beans, and ⅔ cup onions in 1½ quart casserole.

Here’s everything dumped on top of the soup mixture. (There were so many green beans that you can’t really see the onions and the bizarrely tiny amount of pepper underneath them.)

Here’s everything mixed together and poured into a 9×13 baking dish. (It wouldn’t fit in a 1½ quart casserole, since we were doubling it.)

By the way, have you noticed the jack-o-lantern tablecloth? Yes, it’s a Halloween pattern even though we were making this Thanksgiving morning—that’s just the way we roll around here.

Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes or until hot.

We went ahead and baked it for the full 30 minutes, even though we couldn’t figure out why that long of a cooking time would be necessary.


We like simple directions.

Here it is after baking but before stirring, so you can see how dry the top got. (The dryness was only a very thin layer, though, so it didn’t cause any difficulty.) It’s worth noting that the French fried onions had clearly soaked up a good bit of the liquid—the sauce wasn’t what we’d call thick, precisely, but it was definitely thicker than when it got put in the oven.

Top with remaining onions.

For those of you keeping score at home, this means that half of the onions get mixed with everything else, half go on top.

Bake 5 minutes.

Here’s the final product, right as it came out of the oven. Notice that there’s no real additional browning of the onions on top; also, you can’t see it, but it still wasn’t terribly thick. However, it thickened upon standing a while as everything else got set up for Thanksgiving dinner.

Also, the recipe is over at this point—in particular, it gives no hint whether to serve it hot or room temperature (our recommendation: hot), or whether to let it stand to thicken a bit (our recommendation: yes, and rewarm it in the oven for ten minutes or so afterward if needed so it’s hot).

And now: How’d it taste?

This really is, to my mind at least, the pinnacle of 1950s-style comfort food. This isn't necessarily a compliment, but it isn’t intended as a complete slam, either—the recipe may only be 54 years old, but it’s earned a place in tradition, unlike a number of other recipes from 1955.

On the whole, it’s reasonably flavorful (though a bit too much of the flavor might best be summed up as, simply, salt), but the texture is pretty uninspiring—this is food for people who either have no teeth or expect not to have any by next Wednesday. Like i said, though, that’s part of the tradition of the thing.

One clear positive is its simplicity. Up to the moment of putting the mixture in the oven the first time, this is a recipe kids of pretty much any age can help with—there’s little to nothing to mess up, and unless you use canned beans like we did there aren’t even any sharp edges anywhere nearby. So from that point of view, it’s a decent one to make as a family project.

At a more specific level, opinions were heavily divided in our family on whether this recipe was worthwhile or not.

To begin with, the two-year-old and four-year-old refused to try it—we don’t know if it was the look of it or if it was the competition from all the other foods on the table. From everyone else:

Flavor: Our ten-year-old loved it, and i suspect she would happily subsist on green bean casserole and nothing else if she had to. Our eight-year-old, on the other hand, loathed it and would rather starve than poison herself with the stuff. Both parents like it, though it doesn’t get anything near the sort of adoration the ten-year-old offers.

Texture: This is pretty much the same thing—the ten-year-old thought it was marvelous, the eight-year-old thought it was revolting, and the parents were vaguely positive about it, though i’m considerably more lukewarm about its texture than its taste.

Ease and fun: Due to the pressures of having to time this with other foods, there was no fun involved with this bit of cooking. It certainly was easy, though, and it would probably be fun if it wasn’t done on such a high-pressure day. Of course, does anyone ever make this stuff on a non-high-pressure food day? Nope, that’s what i thought. In any event, it takes less time to whip everything together than it does to preheat the oven, so it’s got that going for it.

Black magic: I can’t get the rest of the family to stop with the mocking laughter for long enough to get their input on this, but i suspect that the Campbell Soup Company made some sort of deal with the Devil at a crossroads somewhere in the vacant lots surrounding 1 Campbell Place, Camden, New Jersey. How else to explain that green bean casserole tastes so good on just one day of the year (Thanksgiving), but is so completely inedible every other day? Think about it—magic’s the only logical explanation!


Did we like it? Mixed reviews.

Will we make it again? Next Thanksgiving, like clockwork. Not until then, though.

Overall grade: Meh.

08 November 2009

Early American cookies

For our first historical recipe, we figured we’d do something pretty basic—cookies.

Cookie-like substances have been around a long time, but cookies as we know them today are a North American development. (The main distinguishing mark of cookies as an independent branch of sweets is the creaming of butter and sugar, which was applied to these sorts of items in the eighteenth century. Interestingly, many modern cookies have abandoned that step, moving the development of cookie styles ahead another notch by abandoning their main distinguishing characteristic. But i digress.)

We figured that we wanted to use a very early cookie recipe, so we pulled together a selection of possibilities. Sadra Marie chose the earliest of these, from Amelia Simmons’s 1796 cookbook American Cookery, the first known cookbook written by an American for an American audience. (By the way, only four copies of the original edition are known to still exist. There’s a good idea for a birthday present for me…)

Simmons’s cookie recipe, as reproduced (and slightly modernized, by replacing pearlash with baking powder, since you can’t easily get pearlash nowadays) in Esther B. Aresty’s The Delectable Past is as follows:

  • ½ cup butter or margarine (we used butter, of course, and it was unsalted, also of course)
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 2 cups bread flour (we used all-purpose flour, since we were out of bread flour)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder (we ditzed and used baking soda—so sue us)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • ⅓ cup sour cream mixed with 2 tablespoons milk

I’m guessing that the sour cream-milk mixture was another modernization by Aresty, probably as a stand-in for clabber.

Cream the butter until soft; add the sugar gradually and cream until fluffy.


Sift the flour with the baking powder and salt, add the coriander.

Coriander was really widely used in early American cooking, but nowadays it’s pretty rare. This is a pity–it’s a pretty amazing-tasting spice.

Add the dry mixture alternately with the sour cream and milk, beating after each addition.

The dough will be quite firm and may be handled and baked at once.

Pinch off pieces the size of a hazelnut. Roll in balls, flatten out in circles on a greased cookie sheet.

We messed up here a bit here—the recipe says to make balls the size of hazelnuts, and we went with something somewhere between hazelnuts and walnuts. Wrong—when the recipe says hazelnuts, it means hazelnuts. It didn’t mess with the flavor, but these cookies spread immensely, as it turns out. Also, pressing them flat with a glass worked really well, but we discovered that we needed to spray the bottom of it with oil every cookie or two, because if we didn’t the cookie stuck stubbornly to the bottom of the glass. You have been warned.

Bake in a preheated oven (375°F) for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the edges begin to brown.

We put the cookies in for 12 minutes. After 12 minutes, the cookies one one side of the sheet were just barely starting to brown around the edges, but the ones on the other side hadn’t started to yet, so we turned the cookie sheet 180 degrees and baked for another minute. After that they all looked good.

So here are your before and after baking pictures:

We didn’t get a picture of the cookies right when they came out of the oven, which was a shame–they were puffy right at that point, but they’d collapsed into what you see in the picture within about a half minute or so.

The recipe instructions didn’t give any hint how to cool them, so we let them sit on the baking sheet until they were firm enough to be moved–just a couple minutes–and then moved them to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Cookies may be sprinkled with colored sugar, cinnamon and sugar, or chopped nuts before baking. For variety, reduce the coriander by half, and add 1½ teaspoons anise flavor. Makes about 75 2–inch cookies.

We didn’t try the anise flavor variation, though i, at least, think it would be interesting. We also didn’t go with cinnamon and sugar (i think the added cinnamon flavor would be a bit much, really) or nuts, but as you can see from the pictures we sprinkled half of this batch of cookies lightly with colored sugar. It didn’t change the flavor or texture of the cookies, but of course we didn’t douse them with the stuff, either.

And now for the important part: How’d they taste?

Well, this is a really basic cookie recipe, and let’s face it, it’s tough to mess up basic cookies. These have a nice balance, though—they’re nicely buttery without being overly oily, and the coriander gives them a really nice flavor, particularly noteworthy given the absence of vanilla in the list of ingredients. (Hriana thought they tasted like lemon, which is another pleasant effect of the coriander.)

The texture was what you want to see in a thin cookie—crunchy around the edges, chewy in the center. I liked the texture a lot, but i’m not a fan of cakiness at all. If, for whatever reason, you like your cookies to feel like little cakes, this isn’t going to be your thing.

Getting back to taste, there was near-universal approval of the flavor, though i felt like i detected a very little bit of an extra baking soda flavor. When i mentioned that, Jeanne said there’d been baking soda in it to go with the dairy, and i said that it might have needed a bit of cream of tartar to completely neutralize the soda.

Well, then we start typing the recipe in for the blog and we realize that we’d used baking soda but should have used baking powder—so immediately my tasting extra baking soda made sense. Presumably, using baking powder would eliminate or reduce this problem, but since the flavor profile of this cookie is so simple i have to wonder if the high-temperature acid in modern baking powders would create its own taste issues. I’d like to try this recipe again, adding ½ teaspoon cream of tartar (and maybe dropping the baking soda to ½ teaspoon, i’m not sure).

Going in a different direction—and this is always important when kids are around and want to help—it’s a pretty simple recipe to make. There’s no rolling, no waiting around for things to solidify in the refrigerator, no stuffing the dough into a cookie press and then avoiding cutting yourself as you try to put the insanely sharp-edged plate into the press—the only difficulty is that it takes a couple minutes longer to alternate wet and dry ingredients than it would to just dump everything into a bowl and stir, and that’s a pretty minor difficulty.

So on the whole, this recipe gets a positive evaluation:

Taste of the finished product: Four enthusiastic positive ratings, one positive rating with reservations (the baking soda thing), and one cranky two-year-old who decided it was more fun to try to get attention by running back and forth from one end of the living room to the other while screaming maniacally.

Taste of the dough: No raw eggs, so we could test this one, and it gets six enthusiastic thumbs up votes.

Texture of the finished product: Everyone here seemed to like it, except of course for the maniac two-year-old, who abstained from voting.

Ease and fun: Four kids who had fun and want to do it again, one parent who thought it was pretty easy to do even with four kids helping (and occasionally “helping”), and one parent who had to sit through meetings instead of helping put everything together (not that I’m bitter, you understand). It took about 40 minutes, all told, to get everything together and mix everything up (which includes time spent moving stuff out of the smallest kids’ reach, repeatedly), 13 minutes baking time, and about 5 minutes from coming out of the oven until they were cooling on the rack. (We didn’t time how long it took them to cool, but we live in Alaska and it’s November—3 minutes, maybe?)


Did we like it? Yes.

Would we make it again? Yes.

Overall grade: Win.

A statement of purpose

Welcome to My Grandma’s Kitchen—a place for our family to post our adventures in cooking historical recipes. The recipes documented here will all be culled from old cookbooks, or they’ll be recipes handed down from our families.

Due to the nature of this we’ll be posting things here sporadically—this isn’t a recipe-a-day blog. (Some of these recipes take days to make, and we do have day jobs!) Hopefully, though, some of the stuff we post will seem interesting, maybe even worthwhile, to a few people.