Mix a little history into your next cooking session with your grandchildren. Here are stories and favorite cookie recipes to share. Recipes are courtesy of the food folks at About.com. Some of these recipes are bound to be a part of your family history. Besides a history lesson, you can work in a lesson on kitchen safety. Have fun, and don't forget to eat your homework!
I remember making snickerdoodles back in the 1950s. The earliest recipe with this name is from 1902, but similar cookies were popular in medieval and Renaissance Europe. Some say the name is derived from the German schnecken, meaning "sticky bun." Others say it is a nonsense word or a generic term for a cookie that could be made very quickly. This classic cookie recipe is fun for kids to make because they get to roll the dough in little balls and then roll the balls in a cinnamon and sugar mixture. They look really good, too, because the cinnamon and sugar coating makes a crackly pattern. The only drawback is that the classic recipe calls for the dough to be chilled in the refrigerator for one hour before forming into balls.
I have a lovely gingerbread recipe from my mother-in-law, but it makes a cake-like gingerbread, not a cookie. I grew up with the story of the gingerbread man but never knew that the Pennsylvania Dutch used to bake foot-high gingerbread men and prop them outside their houses at Christmas time. This recipe is a little more complex than the one for snickerdoodles, but it is a good way to introduce the grandchildren to the wonderful smells of the different spices. It also requires an hour refrigeration before rolling out. You can use the hour chilling time to draw and cut out patterns for your cookies. Use waxed paper or parchment paper; then roll out the dough and cut around your pattern with a knife. Of course, you could use cookie cutters.
Peanut butter cookies are a relatively new variety, dating from about the 1930s. The grandchildren will enjoy forming the dough, which has been refrigerated for an hour, into balls and then flattening the balls with a fork dipped in flour. No less a cooking figure than Craig Claiborne, in no less a venue than the New York Times, once discussed why the fork maneuver is such a essential part of baking a peanut butter cookie. Claiborne couldn't come up with an answer, but I believe the peanut butter makes the dough stiff enough that it wouldn't get thin and crisp if not flattened. We always made a criss-cross pattern by pressing twice with the fork. I'm told you can also flatten the cookies with the bottom of a glass, but I wouldn't risk it.
A sugar cookie by another name, Southern tea cakes are an English tradition that somehow took hold in the South, although we prefer our tea sweetened and iced. The English often added currants and other ingredients. Southerners prefer the plain vanilla version. My family always made these cookies at Christmas. My mom liked them thin and crisp. I like them thicker and with a simple icing. The grandchildren will probably want to gussy them up with colored sugar or sprinkles. They are a fairly big project as you must refrigerate the dough, roll out the dough and cut with cookie cutters. They are, however, adaptable to all holidays and occasions, and they are guaranteed to disappear in no time.
I grew up on these oatmeal cookies. They are unlike both the sweet, chewy oatmeal cookies found at fancy bakeries and the hard ones found packaged at the grocery store. These are a substantial, not-too-sweet version that probably provides the best nutrition you can find in an old-fashioned cookie, especially if you can get the grandchildren to eat them with raisins. It's probably advisable to make a test batch which includes some without raisins or nuts and some with raisins but not nuts--well, you get the idea. The good news is that these are drop cookies that can be baked immediately after mixing them up. They also keep well and pack well in lunches since they are not fragile.
I had to include these because the making of them in my household always signaled a special occasion. This recipe is very similar to my mom's, which was included in a set of cookbooks published in 1940 by the Culinary Arts Institute. I still have several of the CIA cookbooks, but the cookie one is in pieces. By the way, the cookbooks I have sold for 15 cents. This recipe is not easy, but the cookies do come out so pretty. Give it a try with your older grandchildren, especially if you have a budding chef in the family.
This list wouldn't be complete without this favorite of my daughters, chocolate no-bake cookies with peanut butter and oatmeal. No-bake cookies originated in the United States during the Great Depression, and this version is still fairly cheap to make. Most no-bake cookies are more like candy because they don't contain flour, but the oatmeal in this recipe keeps it from being too sweet. It's a quick recipe because it doesn't require any oven time, but younger grandchildren won't be able to help you with the stove-top part. The nuts are, of course, optional.