Every Christmas for as long as I've known Heidi I've heard about these disgusting cookies her mother used to make at the holidays. Masquerading as a traditional cut-out, these were flavored heavily with anise, and neither Heidi nor her two brothers could stand them. To hear them tell it, they all had their own strategy to scope out the cookie plate to be sure that the one they selected was not of the dreaded licorice variety.
Last night at dinner the subject came up again, but this time her mother, Louise, told us how those were the only cookies they had when she was a little girl. The recipe was her mother's and it was based on a traditional Polish cookie similar to those her grandmother baked. "To me," she said, "they're the only cookies that really taste like Christmas." Then she shrugged and added, " I haven't made them in years because nobody else likes 'em, and they're too much work for just me."
"Oh, you should have them!" I said, ignoring Heidi and her brother shaking their heads and slashing their hands across their throats. "I'll make them for you tomorrow." Which is exactly what I did, with help from both of Louise's children, to their credit. It was an old-fashioned recipe-- all shortening and sour milk, and the dough was super-soft and a bit hard to roll, but it was totally worth it, and the whole experience only got better for me the minute they pulled out the old cookie cutters.
They were the exact same pressed aluminum and copper shapes that we had when I was a child. That hump-backed Santa and camel were unmistakable, as was the reindeer caught mid-flight, and the star with the fluted edges. "Is there a heart, diamond, spade, and club with this set?" I asked, recalling the bridge shapes that were present but rarely used in our collection. And they were there, along with the snowman and the bell and the Christmas Tree.
The cookies? Not terrible, even Heidi and Mark said so, but it wouldn't have mattered at all even if they were.