If you have any visions of sugar plums dancing in your head, get rid of them right now. December may be that culinary month of sugar and spice but the fact is if you wanted sugar plums for your holidays, you should have started months ago.
Webster says sugar plums are small sweetmeats made of sugar and flavorings. Dating back to the 1600s, the confection was made of fresh plums or apricots slowly boiled and dried in sugar repeatedly. So much sugar that, in a modern day recipe Sharon Cohen posted on Gode Cookery, she could only say one of the ingredients was, “lots of white granulated sugar (unfortunately I cannot be more exact).” She also gives a warning about the attraction of ants during the three day process.
Sweetmeats have come a long way. Today we have cookies. And whether you spell them with a “y” or an “ie” or a “Pillsbury” as in ready-to-bake dough, December is filled with all the sugar and spice anyone could ever dream of.
Here are a few old recipes, given more for the fun of reading than baking and a few tried and true ones which should satisfy any sweet tooth.
By the way, the best sugar cookies I ever ate were made with chicken fat and so this first look includes instructions how to get the goose fat that laid the golden cookie.
Meta Given’s Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking (1955) included the following: Rocks No. 2 with Goose Fat. (Rocks are cookies much like jumbles, using raisins, dates, nuts and spices. They keep a long time.)
Put lumps of raw chicken or goose fat pulled from the cavity…into a shallow pan and place in a slow oven until fat is tried out. Drain off the accumulated fat from time to time to avoid overheating. Strain and store in refrigerator.”
In 1909, Washburn-Crosby Co. of Gold Medal fame, used a whole page of their cookbook to instruct on making cakes and cookies. One of the most interesting recipes though was for a cracker confection much like our Minnesota Squares. They called them Marguerites.
In 1901, the Ladies Aid Society of the First Presbyterian Church of Marion, Ohio, didn’t mince words with their recipes. Titles included nine “Cookies” with instructions mostly like this, “Two cups granulated sugar, one cup shortening, one cup sour milk, one teaspoonful soda, two eggs and flour enough to roll.”
They also spoke of crackers — Lemon Crackers — “three cups sugar, one cup lard, one pint sweet milk, two eggs, 5 cents worth of lemon oil, 5 cents worth of baking ammonia. Pound the ammonia fine, and pour on it a half a teacup of boiling water. Mix as stiff as bread, roll and cut.”
Last but not least is the 1890 “Compendium of Cookery and Reliable Recipes” version of ginger snaps. “Ginger Nuts — one and three quarters pounds of syrup, one pound of moist sugar, one pound of butter, two and three quarters pounds of flour, one and a half ounces of ground ginger, same of allspice, one and a half ounces of coriander seed, sal volatile size of a bean, a little cayenne, flour enough to roll, but not thin, cut with a wineglass.”
A modern term for sugar plums is Bonbons. Gold Medal introduced this cookie in 1955. Very tasty cookies to say the least!
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 tablespoon vanilla
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Dash of salt
Dates, nuts, candied cherries, maraschino cherries, chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix sugar, butter, vanilla. Work in flour and salt until dough holds together. (If dough is dry, mix in 1 or 2 tablespoons of milk) For each cookie, shape dough by tablespoons around a date or cherry or other filling to form a ball. Place one inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake until set but not brown — about 12 minutes.
Cool. Dip tops in the following glaze and decorate with nuts, coconut, colored sugars. Glaze is one cup powdered sugar beaten with 1 tablespoon plus 1-1/2 teaspoons milk and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Tint with food coloring if desired. About 2 dozen cookies.
Minnesota Squares or Marguerites
12 whole graham crackers
1 cup butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1-1/2 cups chopped pecans
Layer crackers touching each other on rimmed baking sheet. (A jelly roll pan works well.) Bring butter and sugar to boil in a saucepan for 2 minutes. Pour hot syrup over crackers. Sprinkle nuts over top. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 8 minutes. Cool, cut or break apart. NOTE: Saltines may be used, substituting granulated sugar for the brown and chocolate chips added to top.
Mexican Fiesta Balls
1 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups flour
1/4 cup baking cocoa
1 tablespoon instant coffee
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup finely chopped pecans
1/2 cup drained, chopped maraschino cherries
Confectioners’ sugar (4x sugar)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In mixing bowl, beat butter, sugar and vanilla until creamy. Sift flour, cocoa, instant coffee and salt together. Blend into creamed mixture. Stir in nuts and cherries that have been drained well. Chill until easy to handle.
Shape into walnut size balls. Place on ungreased cookie sheets (rimmed sheets are best as the balls will not roll off). Bake for about 20 minutes, cookies should be set but not dark brown. While warm, roll in confectioners’ sugar. May be rolled in the sugar again after cooled.
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