Aunt Rickie's Icebox, Mom's Iced Orange Drop, Aunt Myrtle's Ginger and Jean's Oatmeal Chocolate Chip
Cookie lovers probably would agree that nothing makes lazy
summer afternoons more pleasant than relaxing on the porch or
shaded patio with a plate of cookies and sweet mint ice tea. Children come home from swimming or playing ball with ravenous
appetites, and they like a cold glass of milk with their
cookies. Such afternoon cookie breaks are the essence of easy
In the days before air conditioning, cookies had to be baked in the cool early morning hours before the house got too hot. In even earlier times, homes had a separate summer kitchen for this purpose. Today we can indulge the urge to bake cookies any time of day, because air-conditioned houses quickly neutralize the oven’s heat.
I took for granted the cookies my mother made when I was a kid and asked her to buy chocolate-covered marshmallow cookies from the grocery store. She did, just once, probably hoping that reverse psychology would help me see the truth that store-bought cookies aren’t as good as homemade. Gradually I did realize that chocolate marshmallow cookies are among the lower forms of commercially-made cookie products. But I’ll still eat them, on occasion, when will power weakens.
In her cookbook, Mom included a selection of cookie recipes that she’d gathered from many sources, as people who love to cook do. Some came from relatives or family friends, and tasting
these cookies still evokes memories of these people, the ones I knew as well as those I only heard about from my parents.
One of the mainstays of Mom’s cookie production was ice box cookies. The very word icebox says old-fashioned, and this recipe is old. It came from mother’s Great Aunt Rickie who lived in Scribner, Nebraska, a farming community almost 100 miles from Mom’s hometown in southwest Iowa.
Each summer my mother’s family traveled by car to see Aunt Rickie and Uncle Albert, and these visits were among the highlights of Mom’s childhood. An automobile trip of that distance was a more rigorous adventure in the early 1900s than it is today, certainly not a one-day excursion. The family would stay in Scribner for several days, re-establishing connections in the village where Mom’s father grew up. Aunt Rickie and Uncle Albert had no children of their own, but they were as devoted as grandparents to Mom and her siblings.
Aunt Rickie added caraway seeds to these icebox cookies in keeping with her German heritage. I’ve liked the taste of caraway since childhood, and Mom continued to make these cookies for me after I’d grown up, when I came home for summer visits with my sons. Because of the generous amount of butter called for in this recipe, the cookies have a crunchy, shortbread-like consistency. It makes a fine sugar cookie, but I prefer the added flavors of caraway or cinnamon and almond.
One great advantage to refrigerator cookies is that you can bake one roll at a time, keeping the remaining dough wrapped in foil, in the refrigerator, for up to one week. These cookies also freeze well.
Aunt Rickie’s Ice Box Cookies
2 cups butter
2 cups sugar
6 cups flour
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
Cream butter and sugar; add eggs, vanilla and dry ingredients.
If adding flavor variations, divide the dough in half. Thoroughly mix in ground almonds and cinnamon to one half and caraway seeds to the other. Form dough into two-inch rolls and refrigerate.
When dough is cold, cut into ¼ inch slices, working with only one roll at a time. Keep the remaining dough in the refrigerator. Bake on greased cookie sheets at 350 degrees until lightly browned.
My Note: As is typical of old recipes, precise amounts for the added ingredients are not given. I suggest starting with ½ tablespoon of caraway seeds for one half of the recipe and 1/3 teaspoon cinnamon and ½ cup ground almonds for the other half, adding more if desired. The recipe makes about 120.
I don’t know the origins of the frosted orange cookies Mom used to make for us, but the citrus flavor and cool sweet icing do refresh the palate on a warm summer day. Extra care should be taken when storing frosted cookies in hot weather. I remember more than one occasion when these cookies stuck together in the humid Iowa heat. They’re not as appealing that way, so take the precaution of storing them in an airtight container with wax paper between the cookie layers.
Iced Orange Drop Cookies
2/3 cup light brown sugar
6 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon grated orange rind
¼ cup orange juice
1 1/3 cups flour (more if needed)
1/3 teaspoon soda
2/3 teaspoon baking powder
Cream the brown sugar and butter, beat in the egg and add orange rind and juice.
Sift the flour before measuring; resift with baking powder and soda. Mix into the sugar mixture.
Drop teaspoons of batter onto a greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 to 375 degrees for about 7 minutes. Cool before icing. Makes about 40 small cookies.
1 tablespoon soft butter
1 tablespoon grated orange rind
3 tablespoon orange juice
2 to 3 cups powdered sugar
Beat in powdered sugar until icing is just thick enough to spread.
I only met my Aunt Myrtle once or twice, but I’ve relished
eating her ginger cookies all my life. She was married to my
father’s half-brother, Shelby Cullison, and they moved to
southern California years before I was born. Uncle Shelby
died while still in his 30s, leaving his wife with three children to rear alone. Although a native Iowan, Aunt Myrtle
remained on the west coast for the rest of her life.
Aunt Myrtle’s younger son, also named Shelby, came of age at the start of World War II. Fresh from military training, he had the misfortune of being sent to the Philippines and was there during the siege of Corregidor, in early 1942. He survived the infamous Bataan Death March but was then evacuated to a prisoner of war camp in Osaka, Japan. He was too ill to work in the camp, and fellow prisoners protected him as best they could. His mother received two postcards from Shelby in the fall of 1943, confirming that he was still alive.
Because we lived in the center of the country, we were insulated from the immediacy of war. I remember only one night when we observed a blackout in Iowa. My brother Alan and I waited in his darkened bedroom, peering from behind drawn shades at the dark peaceful sky. Other than the food and gas coupons Mom kept in a drawer of the dining room buffet, known forever after as the “ration book drawer”, we enjoyed more normalcy than people living nearer to the east and west coasts where the threat of invasion was more possible.
But our cousin Shelby gave us a personal awareness that the country was at war. A large framed picture of him in dress uniform stood on a table in the living room. We’d never met Shelby, but the fact that he was a relative in peril bothered us. Next to his picture was a small American flag on a brass flagpole that worked like a real one. My brothers and I played at raising and lowering the flag, so it was quite tattered by the end of the war.
Aunt Myrtle learned of Shelby’s death two and a half years after the fact. Survivors who had known him contacted her after the war. They said he’d dictated the postcards to her in March of 1943, just weeks before his death, and she realized that the messages were his last brave efforts to connect with his family.
I like to think that Shelby’s mother made these cookies often for him in his youth, and that he savored them as much as I still do.
Myrtle’s Ginger Cookies
¾ cups butter
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons sorghum
2 ¼ cups flour
2 teaspoons soda
2 teaspoons ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter and sugar; add sorghum
and beat in the egg. Add the dry ingredients and mix well.
Make teaspoon-size balls of dough and roll them in sugar.
Place the balls on a greased cookie sheet without pressing
them down. They will flatten out into a nice pebbled surface as
Bake until lightly browned. Makes 24 cookies.
The only chocolate chip cookie recipe included in my mother’s cookbook came from a girl with whom she’d studied home economics in college. They remained good friends for their entire lives. I used to tag along with Mom to meet Jean for lunch or dinner in Des Moines, where she lived. Our parents were tolerant about letting us sit in on adult conversations, and I loved to quietly listen to Mom’s “girl talk” with her friends.
These women taught me the value of having female friends, and I
learned from them how to nurture and cherish similar friendships
of my own.
Jean Olmsted’s Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 cup butter
¾ cup brown sugar
¾ cup white sugar
2 teaspoons hot water
1½ cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon soda
3 cups oatmeal
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 6-ounce package chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts
Cream butter and sugar, then beat in the eggs. Add water
and dry ingredients, then vanilla, chips and nuts.
Bake on greased cookie sheets until lightly browned, about 12 minutes, at 375 degrees. Makes about 5 dozen cookies.
Most of us have strong opinions about what chocolate chip cookies should contain. I think there must be more recipes for them than any other cookie. Some people don’t like nuts or oatmeal added, others say less flour and more butter makes a richer cookie. What about chunks instead of chips, dark or milk chocolate?
But there’s one essential point that’s incontrovertible.
Biting into a chocolate chip cookie, or most any other cookie,
still warm from the oven is an unparalleled cookie moment.
Recipes from the collection of Anna May Cullison