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The Cookies My Mom Never Made (but Said She Did)

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In honor of Mother's Day, we're unearthing Heirloom Recipes and memories from our community members' moms all week.

Today: Emily Love's mom wasn't much of a cook, but that didn't stop her from contributing to the annual Christmas cookie platter.

Whenever I hear friends reminiscing about their mothers' home cooking, I’m never quite sure what to say. My mother is good at many things, but cooking is just not one of them. She admits as much—following recipes isn't her forte, and she's too impatient for baking. She's been known to say, “Just turn the oven up—it will cook faster!”

At one point in her life, she belonged to a gourmet cooking club and baked beautiful Barbie cakes (as pictured below), but decided she preferred eating food to making it at some point during my teens. If you need a restaurant recommendation, my mom is your girl. After I graduated from college and moved halfway across the country, my mom's homecooking was not one of the things I missed the most—especially when it came to baked goods.

One of my mom's rare culinary endeavors, a Barbie cake for my birthday (yes, that's me).

Growing up, a family friend hosted an annual Christmas cookie exchange. And every year, my mother would go to the grocery store and buy those delicious powdered snowball cookies (also known as Mexican or Italian Wedding Cookies). She'd remove them from their packaging and place them on our own Christmas-themed platter. Whenever anyone asked her for the recipe, she'd brush off the question saying she forgot to bring it. I’m not sure what she would have done if the store had run out or stopped carrying those cookies, since the slice-and-bake sugar cookies with Christmas trees in the middle were about as far as her baking went.

Unlike my mom, I had a passion for baking from a young age, and could often be found making literally hundreds of cookies whenever I visited my favorite aunt’s house. My sister and I would dole out gingerbread and sugar cookies to any and all relatives we could find—an occasion when having seven aunts and uncles comes in handy. Now in my twenties, I have successfully taught myself to both bake and cook—something I consider a small miracle.

Sesame Cookies
I baked cookies whenever I had the chance growing up.

My mom has since dug up a recipe from an old church cookbook that her mother, Lucile, used for snowball cookies. She claims to have used this recipe in the past, but I never saw the evidence. Regardless, I guarantee these will be just as delicious as the store-bought kind, if not better. I have adapted this recipe from my grandmother’s, as it consisted of four brief sentences and something called "nut meats." I was never able to meet Lucile, but I hope she would approve of my version of her cookies.

Lucile’s Snowballs

Makes 24 to 32 cookies, depending on cookie size

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted, plus more for rolling
tablespoon cold water, plus more as needed
teaspoon vanilla extract
cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1/4 teaspoon salt
cup chopped pecans or walnuts
teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Family photos provided by Emily Love; all others by James Ransom

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Tags: Pantry, Nut, Dessert, Mother's Day, Food History, Heirloom Recipes, Comfort Food