Sunday, September 22, 2013

Yikes, my family's focused on foods! ~ by Leah St. James

A few months ago, my son emailed me and my husband asking about our family traditions. It was for a paper for one of his college classes. After thinking about it for a bit, I had to respond something like, “Geez, the only traditions I can think of involve food!” He answered that’s what he’d come up with.

I thought more about it in the days that followed. There had been traditions when the kids were little—annual pumpkin picking, tree decorating, the usual holiday stuff. But as the kids aged and began to spend holidays with girlfriends, then moved away altogether, the traditions seemed to go with them. All except for the ones that ended with us stuffing our faces. 

Then I realized that even going back into my childhood, most of my memories of tradition were the same—food focused.

One of my earliest memories of my grandmother has me standing on a chair next to her at the kitchen table. We’re putting together apple pies to bake. She has a regular pie pan (glass), and I’m working with a miniature version, about half the size. I remember the aroma of the baking pie, but most of all, I remember the fun of spending time with my grandmother and feeling like a big girl, baking my own little pie. (I still have that plate and think of Grandma every time I use it…although it’s been years since I’ve attempted a pie!)

Grandma didn’t bake just pies. She also baked cookies, and my favorite was one she called “Pecan Crescent Cookies.” Made of lots of fat and sugar, they’re mixed, rolled into a log, then cut, shaped into a crescent, then baked. I still remember Grandma showing me her pinkie finger to use as a measure for the size.  This was my hands-down favorite cookie anytime of the year, but especially at Christmas. 

My sister and I carried that love into our adulthood. Every December we’d take a day off from work to bake massive batches of cookies. For at least a month in advance, we’d comb through cookie and holiday recipe books to make our selections—a total of about 10 or 12 different cookies, from the drop kind, to the roll-and-cut kind, and we even tried some with a cookie press.  Then we’d split them up into gift trays for co-workers, teachers at school and Sunday school, and for the staff at a local nursing home where our mom lived. No matter what else we baked, Grandma’s crescent cookies were a staple.

Now she and I live an 18-hour drive apart. I miss her, but every year when I make Grandma’s crescent cookies, I think of the fun we had.

Here’s the recipe for any who’d like to try them, now or during the holidays.

Pecan Crescent Cookies
(Makes about 3 dozen, depending on the width of your finger.)


  • 2 cups shortening (Grandma used 1 cup of Crisco, 1 cup of butter. I use butter or margarine.)
  • 2/3 cup white granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3-1/3 cups flour
  • 1-1/3 cups finely chopped pecans (If the pieces are too large, it’s harder to form the crescent shape.)

Thoroughly mix all ingredients – and don’t be afraid to dig your hands in and get messy. Everything should be well blended.

Separate the dough in half and form into two “logs.” Wrap the logs in waxed paper or plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator at least a couple hours (I leave overnight).

To form cookies, cut slices of the chilled dough and roll in your hands until about the size of your pinkie. Bend into a slight crescent shape.

Place cookies about 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 ° about 15 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown.  (The bigger the cookies, the longer it takes. :))

Set the cookies (still on the sheet) aside to cool for a few minutes. Until they set, they’re fragile and liable to fall apart.

Combine sugar and cinnamon in a bowl, mix thoroughly. I start with about a third of a cup of sugar and add cinnamon to taste. If you run out, you can always make more.

While the cookies are still warm, but after they have firmed up a little (about 5 minutes or so), roll each cookie in the sugar/cinnamon mixture (careful handling still required!), then place on some waxed paper (or paper towel) in single layer to finish cooling.

These are probably one of the few cookies I’ve ever made that taste better after they’ve cooled, so you might want to wait before sampling. 

Grandma's Pecan Crescent Cookies - in Grandma's Mini Pie Plate :)
 Let’s face it, food is fun—whether you’re making/baking or eating. I think we all have family food traditions. What are yours?


Margo Hoornstra said...

Hmmmm. As an avowed NON- baker, even I'm tempted to try these. One of my grandmother's recipes calls for 'butter the size of a walnut'. It's the memories as well as the food. Great post.

Jannine Gallant said...

Yum, I'm going to make these. We also seem to be all about food at the holidays. Now, I'm the one who does most of the cooking. I never new until I was an adult that my mom doesn't like cooking. Good thing I do!

Diane Burton said...

My family traditions all have to do with food, too. Since my mother didn't learn how to cook until she was married, she made sure her girls knew how when we were kids. (notice I said "girls"; the boys didn't have to learn.) When my own kids were young, I taught both of them how to cook. My daughter is a better dessert maker than I am and my son is a restaurant chef. I think Thanks giving is my family's favorite holiday because of the food.

Leah St. James said...

Margo, I love your grandmother's measurement. Of course I would have to Google Images to see a walnut (because I have awful visual memory), but it's a great trick!

Leah St. James said...

Hi, Jannine - Isn't that funny how as kids we don't think of our parents as people, just Mom or Dad, and then later find out they have likes and dislikes that have nothing to do with us? :-) I'm glad you enjoy cooking now.

Leah St. James said...

Wow, Diane...a son who's a restaurant chef! I'll bet you got to sample some really good stuff while he was training. How cool.

Barbara Edwards said...

sounds like my family.

Alicia Dean said...

Ah, Leah...what lovely memories. You had a very special grandmother, and I think it's awesome that you still have your pie plate. And that you and your sister got together year after year to make cookies. Thank you for sharing the recipe. Sounds delicious!

Leah St. James said...

It was a bit depressing, Barbara, to realize that we don't seem to have non-food traditions anymore, but then again, so what? :-)

Leah St. James said...

Isn't it interesting, Alicia, how our brains work - how the sight of something from childhood takes us right back?

nadinerc said...

I miss those cookie baking days! I wish Icould "beam"myself to your house every year for our cookie baking weekend. We could try skyping it, but it wouldn't be the same. xxoo