May Column Winner

Cookies, A love story

TED STREULI, The Journal Record

Frances was a baker. Coconut cakes required the cracking of the big brown nut and slow, careful grating of its white meat. Cake was made from flour, sugar and eggs, not a cardboard box bearing the name of Duncan Hines.
Frances was tiny; less than 4 feet, 10 inches. A stepstool or the generosity of someone taller was required to get ingredients from pantry shelves and cabinets to counters and tabletops.
There was always a tool in her hand, a mixer or an eggbeater or a rolling pin, and she wore a permanent dusting of Gold Medal all-purpose flour that started at the apron tie and descended the length of a hand swipe. Her ovens gave birth to pies and cakes, cookies and breads, and to year-round smells that wrapped around you like Mama's arms with just a hint of vanilla.
Occasionally Frances veered from brownies and banana bread, pulled out a worn candy thermometer, and cooked up a batch of chocolate fudge. Everyone knew when there was a batch of fudge available; they could tell by the line of children at the door.
Such skills did not translate to entrees or appetizers or even side dishes. When Frances cooked dinner for her family the meals ran to tuna casseroles and pork chops saved only by the applesauce. Soups came from Campbell's, peas from the Green Giant, potatoes au gratin from Betty Crocker. There was an incident one Saturday night when the eating of an innocent artichoke resulted in a broken tooth.
Such fare is easily overlooked when followed by Gravenstein apple tarts, still warm under a sugary lattice crust, slowly melting a scoop of topgrade vanilla.
Some of us hear about a coming regatta and race for our sailing gloves. Some see fading red paint on an aged covered bridge and are compelled to pull to the shoulder, liberate the camera bag from the trunk, and record the view. To Frances, such was the pull of the bake sale.
The Town School for Boys had just such an event one day in 1967. The afternoon before sale, the flour was extracted from the pantry, the rolling pin withdrawn from the cupboard, the tattered cotton apron removed from its hook. And from the collection of hundreds of cookie cutters, Frances selected just one metal silhouette, the one meant for gingerbread in the shape of a little boy.
There was to be no gingerbread, though. The sugar cookie dough was mixed, rolled and cut, the rest packed back into a ball to be rolled out again, and cut, and packed, until no dough remained. While the cookies baked, Frances made icing, drops of food coloring turning individual bowls of sugar paste into a palette. Sometime that night, the cookies finally cooled, the decorating began.
The baked dough became the school's students, each different, some in shorts, some with blond hair, some in the navy blue school cardigan with white-striped sleeves. Some wore long pants and dark blue sweatshirts that said Town across the chest, this one with red hair and freckles, that one with brown hair and blue eyes, all of them decorated in such detail that icing had to be applied with a toothpick.
Frances finished four dozen of those about 5 a.m., in time to put a pot of coffee on the stove and start thinking about breakfast.
Those little baked boys went to the sale that day, where someone priced them at 50 cents apiece, the equivalent of charging $3.43 per cookie today. And every cookie she'd made was sold before most of the other goods were out of their boxes.
Except, of course, the ones she put away for when I got home from school.
There are two little towheaded boys who should get some of those cookies now, Mom. I wish you were here to make them.