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Good day, future legend!
Today's struggle, tomorrow's strife-
all essential components of your origin story.
You, forged for greatness. Go!
- Lin Manuel Miranda

The Honey Cookie Grandmother

May 21, 2019

The most insensitive thing you could do to a cookie is to scoop the dough harshly with a melon baller and plop it on the cookie sheet without another thought, not taking the time to shape and form the dough. Doing so makes the dough ball crude and unshapen. Instead of this method, my grandmother taught me as a little girl to roll each bit of dough carefully between my palms, back and forth, to make each one alike. When my fingers set the finished sphere on the cookie sheet, my grandmother would say to me, “You make cookies just like my grandmother did. Her cookies were always the same size as each other, almost perfect.”

She would tell me this every time I came over to her house to make cookies. I was always sure to put deep concentration into shaping the dough. I wanted to earn my grandmother's praise and make my cookies like those of her grandmother. I was only four or five at the time, but I felt like the care that I took was necessary to honor the way my family had rolled our cookies all these years. Besides, the cookies my grandmother and I made deserved extra consideration. These were not just any cookies - they were special.

We call them Honey Cookies, a family recipe invented by my great-great-grandmother. This woman is known to my relatives as the Honey Cookie Grandmother, but her real name was Alma Mae. My aunt tells me that her hair grew down past her waist and she always wore it in a braid around her head. The Honey Cookie Grandmother first created the recipe for Honey Cookies during the early 20th century, around the time of World War Two and the Great Depression. Food and money were scarce during these years. As a woman of the house, the Honey Cookie Grandmother learned to work with what she had. Sugar and butter were too expensive during these times. Instead, she used honey for sweetener and Crisco for shortening, a cheaper alternative.

I have always wondered how she thought to make Honey Cookies. Was it that her children, begging for something sweet to eat, prompted her to find a way to answer their childish pleas? Was it that one day, while looking for ingredients in the bare pantry, inspiration struck? No matter the origin of Honey Cookies, she could not have known that her creation would last generations, even after the times of poverty had passed.

Indeed, the cookies did pass the test of time, because my grandmother continues to make them with me today. She always smells like Honey Cookies. Her house smells like them, too - warm and nutty, a subtle woody sweetness spreading through the hallways of her home. She's made them so many times that the recipe is engraved in my grandmother’s mind like the wrinkles on her hands. I can remember the first time my grandmother let me help her make the cookies. I was tiny, unable to reach the tall counter surface where the mixer was. I had a kitchen step stool that leaned against the granite counter, and I would watch and taste from my perch as my grandmother did the hard work mixing and measuring ingredients. As I got older, she would tell me about Honey Cookie Grandmother as we baked, reliving her memories as if they happened yesterday. Making these cookies have always been how I take part in my family’s story, even though I may not have been alive to witness it. Most importantly, it connects me to my grandmother in one of the most human ways possible: food. 

Now that I am older and have moved away, whenever I come to visit her she always has cookies made by the time I arrive, still warm and soft on the cooling rack. By instinct, I walk straight to the kitchen to grab one of the freshly baked cookies. The first bite fills me to the brim with a sense of satisfaction and joy. 

These women, this history, is the reason why I always roll my cookies with care. To honor my family’s past, to honor the Honey Cookie Grandmother herself. If I just plopped a dough ball on a cookie sheet carelessly, I would be overlooking what these cookies mean to me, to my family. When I roll each piece of dough between my palms, it means something. 

When I make my cookies, I see Honey Cookie Grandmother standing in a kitchen somewhere in the past. She’s at her work, sizing and shaping each cookie to perfection. When she sees that her cookies are beautiful and sweet and perfectly round, she smiles. And I smile, too, knowing I am making Honey Cookies just like her.


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