Italian Cookies for the Holidays

December 2, 2019

As the Christmas and holiday baking season approaches, I am most grateful for the dog-eared and faded, hand written recipe notebooks that my mom passed onto me, along with her old worn wooden recipe box stuffed with splatter stained index cards that tells the stories of her favorite baked goods. When I read or make the recipes, vivid memories surface of my mother mixing dough in her old mix master at her butcher block baking center in one corner of the kitchen and I want to rush into my kitchen and recreate that taste of home and of a simpler time gone by.

Most of my holiday cookie baking centers around classic Italian favorites like queen’s cookies from Sicily called biscotti Regina, totos’, chocolate and black pepper cookies from Naples and cuccidatu, Sicily’s answer to the fig newton. But I have to admit that mom’s sour cream dried cherry filled cookie was the blue ribbon winner of all of her cookies. When I begin baking, that cookie is at the top of the list.

Each year, I try to vary the kinds that I will make but no matter how hard I try, I usually make well over 25 different kinds. That is because cookies are my gift of choice for family and friends. October 12, Columbus Day, was the kickoff date for holiday cookie baking to begin and the Italian women of my mother’s era, who lived in the neighborhood, took this seriously.

Months before baking began, mom had large gleaming tins of dried cherries delivered from Michigan, sacks of flour were stored in the cold pantry and loads of eggs and butter clogged up the refrigerator Mom made hundreds of cookies to give away as gifts. They were wrapped tightly and stored in airtight containers in the large Ben Hur freezer. They kept well and when it was time for giving, she arranged an assortment of her handiwork on pretty plates, encasing them in cellophane and adding colorful ribbon streamers.

I have kept true to the October start date and the holiday smells that permeate my kitchen in early fall, work like magic extending the season providing me with the yearly gift of an endearing connection to the past.

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