Every year at Christmas, my dad makes his grandmother Dorothy’s (or Dot, as most people knew her) sugar cookies, using a recipe written on a notecard that he’s had my whole life. They’re somewhat basic, frosted cookies that he makes in various shapes—stars, cowboy boots, candy canes, and Christmas trees.
Every year my dad makes enough cookies to share with extended family in Ohio. For them, the cookies are familiar and remind them of childhood holiday celebrations with Grandma Dot. Dot’s cookies have become a staple for more than just my dad’s family. I grew up in Texas, where my mom is from, and every Christmas, several generations of my mom’s family would gather at her grandmother's house in Corpus Christi. My dad would always prepare a huge batch of cookies to share, and they became a beloved part of the celebration. Since moving away, we still hear from family members about how they miss those cookies. This sharing of food was very much a way of creating a bridge between my mom and dad’s separate families.
The preparation is also a big part of these cookies for my family. Every year, my father will make a big show out of making them. He is by far the primary cook of our household and likes to make every culinary endeavor into an event. The day before he makes our Christmas cookies, he plans every detail—how long it will take to mix the dough, let it set, bake and decorate the cookies, and ensure that everything is set to go the night before.
Preparing the cookies is a project my dad takes on alone, but when it becomes time for decorating the cookies, it’s a family affair. After a few hours of staying out of his way, my sisters and l gather around the dinner table and watch him layout sheets of cooling cookies and assemble the frosting in various pastel colors. When we were little, he would gently say, “okay now, we’re gonna be really careful,” and guide our hands, one by one, so my sisters and I each got a turn to help. Now, he says, “all right, get to work,” and we do, decorating a couple of trays of cookies each.
In our class, we talked about how preparing and consuming food together strengthens families' social bonds. I definitely feel like our yearly cookie decorating tradition is an example of this. It gives my family a chance to sit down together and talk while working towards a common goal—getting those cookies frosted. Additionally, familiar foods are associated with certain experiences or memories, particularly foods from one’s childhood.
These cookies definitely are a familiar and nostalgic food to me and my family, one that will always make me think of childhood memories of Christmas in Texas. They have another level of nostalgia for my father, reminding him of childhood Christmases with his grandparents in Ohio.
Evangeline McFarlin's Food Story
Grandma Dot’s Christmas Sugar Cookies
Grandma Dot's Christmas Sugar Cookie Recipe
1 lb Oleo
2 cups sugar
3 well-beaten eggs
4 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup sour cream
2 lbs powder sugar
Milk to consistency
A few drops of butter extract to taste
Beat eggs, butter (Oleo), and sugar together
Mix in baking powder, baking soda, and sour cream
Mix in flour a little bit at a time
Chill dough until you are ready to bake
Bake at 400 °F for about 5 minutes
Mix all ingredients to desired consistency and taste
Drizzle icing on cookies and let harden