26 October 2010

Thank you, Mrs. Faltz

About a month ago I got tired of looking at the empty bookshelf tucked into the end of my kitchen island. Before Jasper, it was the spot where I kept the part of my cookbook collection I reached for most. My Better Homes and Gardens, the three-ring book that holds a mishmash collection of newspaper clippings and hand-copied recipes. And more than a dozen old cookbooks I've picked up over the past 10 years.

I figured Jasper was old enough to at least not tear the books up. Much to my surprise, the problem we've had with them doesn't have to do with him mishandling them. In fact, it's the opposite. He frequently pulls a book off the shelf -- at perfect eye-level for a 3-foot-tall boy -- and starts flipping through the pages. He talks to himself about the books and seems fond of the ones with pictures.

Today he plucked a small, tattered book from the shelf, and given its frail spine, I replaced it with another book and took "Magic Chef Cooking," copyright 1935, into my own hands. As I set it down on the counter, a loose piece of paper fell out. I picked it up and warmed just a bit at the penciled scrawl. I didn't really care what the recipe was, I just love reading anything that someone wrote by hand, and given the age of the book, my heart pumped just a bit faster thinking of how long that recipe may have been lost in the pages of the book.

The recipe was for Pumpkin Cookies by Mrs. P.E. Faltz and references Hobart, Okla., not surprising since the receipt tucked into the front of the book reminded me I'd picked it up at an antique store in north Oklahoma City on a visit home for Christmas about five years ago.

After reading through the recipe, I knew it was very similar to this one I'd made before. But that didn't matter much to me. With bright orange, red and yellow leaves falling in our neighborhood streets and the first real rain storm of the season pressing down, pumpkin cookies seemed perfect.

I enlisted Jasper's help to dump flour, cinnamon and sugar into the mixing bowl, and he had fun using the crank nut grinder to chop the walnuts. Much like the previous pumpkin cookies I'd made, the texture of these cookies didn't fit what I'd call a traditional cookie. They don't spread, but bake pretty much in the round you drop them onto the cookie sheet. And they are soft, not crispy. They remind me of some type of breakfast pastry, actually, but that didn't stop me from eating a couple of them at 4 in the afternoon.

I'll keep this recipe around. In an era where I make many recipes looking right at my laptop and never see them printed on paper, it's a nice reminder that a handwritten recipe or margin notes are sometimes more valuable than the books they're tucked into.

Mrs. P.E. Faltz's Pumpkin Cookies

1 cup sugar
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/4 cup shortening
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup of dates or raisins, chopped
1/2 cup nuts
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups flour

Beat sugar, pumpkin and shortening together . Add egg and continue beating. Add all other ingredients and mix well. Drop by the teaspoonfuls on greased cookie sheet and bake at 375 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes. Ice with powdered sugar icing, flavored with orange juice or maple. Makes about two dozen cookies.