I heard a wonderful story on NPR the other night while driving home. It’s about the Brass sisters known as the Queens of Comfort Food from Cambridge Massachusetts. They tell the story of how, in their younger years, the sisters would go over to their Aunt Ida’s house and watch the TV show Dallas and get caught up.
Here’s how they tell it…
“We used to spend every Friday night with Aunt Ida,” says Marilynn Brass. For nearly 15 years, they’d chit chat, watch the prime-time soap opera Dallas (the original, when J.R. got shot) and eat.
“We would have a bagel and we’d have turkey,” Brass says, “but the best part was when she’d go to her postage-stamp-sized freezer and brought something out and heated it up in her trusty toaster oven.”
Ida was a self-taught baker. “She had what we call goldeneh hendts. That’s Yiddish for golden hands,” Brass says. “Whatever she baked, whatever she cooked came out superb. And I have to tell you, her poppy seed cookies were like manna from heaven.”
Luckily before Aunt Ida passed away, they asked her for the recipe and at the service they printed the recipe on beautiful blue paper that looked like it had clouds in the background. It reminded them of heaven. “It turned out the family and friends sat around talking about Ida during [her] memorial week, reading her recipe for poppy seed cookies and crunching those wonderful cookies!” says Marilynn Brass. Of course they baked, and baked as they put it and served over 12 dozen poppy seed cookies at Ida’s service.
What can we learn from the Brass sisters? Ask elders sooner than later for their special recipes and print a copy of the recipe and serve their classic goody at their service. In lieu of flowers here’s an idea, offer to bake some of the cookies or bars for the family and serve them at the service. I don’t know about you, but I’d much prefer munching on a yummy cookie over looking at a funeral flower arrangement.
Oh yes, here is Aunt Ida’s Poppy Seed Cookie recipe:
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup poppy seeds
1 cup peanut oil
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Set the oven rack in the middle position. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Cover a 14 X 16-inch baking sheet with foil, shiny side up. Coat the foil with vegetable spray or use a silicone liner.
Sift together flour and baking powder; add poppy seeds.
Separately, whisk peanut oil, sugar, eggs, and vanilla in a medium bowl. Add sifted dry ingredients and mix to combine. Chill the dough in the refrigerator one hour, or until firm enough to handle.
With floured hands or wearing disposable gloves, break off teaspoon-size pieces of dough and roll into small balls. Place dough balls on baking sheet about 2 inches apart, or 12 cookies per sheet. Pat into circles with your fingers (rather than rolling or stamping). Bake 10 to 12 minutes, or until lightly browned around edges. Let cookies cool 1 minute on baking sheet on rack and then transfer cookies to a rack. Cookies will become crisp as they cool.
Store between sheets of wax paper in a covered tin or freeze in a tightly sealed plastic bag or container.
Yield: 60 cookies