by Kara Fossey
The leb cakes are spread out on every available surface-the kitchen table, the dining room table, and the enameled counter of the Napanee hoosier cabinet that has stood in the kitchen forever. There is a method to it, like an assembly line. My grandmother’s two sisters make the dough and cut out shapes with a seemingly endless supply of tin cookie cutters. I like the antique ones best because they’ve darkened with age and I imagine all the hands that have used them to shape dough. The cutters are mostly shaped like animals. The best part about the cookies is that the outlines are always familiar: there is the Pennsylvania Dutch distelfink [a stylized bird], the fat bunny, and the lumpy figure that is simply referred to as the ‘bear or the dog.’
The cookies are tested for doneness by pressing a finger into the center to see if it slowly bounces back. Grammy ices the cookies once they’ve cooled enough that the icing won’t run down the sides of the cookies and adhere the bottoms to the tray. My brother and I stand at the dining room table with bottles of vibrantly colored sugar: red, orange, yellow, green, blue. I won’t learn until years later that Grammy carefully makes each of these batches of sugar by adding food coloring to plain white sugar and then rolling the sugar out between layers of wax paper before letting it dry overnight.
There is something about time shared in the kitchen and over food. It has a way of staying with you even when the details of other memories curl at the edges. It’s how I remember Grammy leaning over a pot of boiling potatoes on her vintage stove and laughing as she smothers the flame that catches on her apron. It’s how I recall the smooth edges of the Griswold cast iron pan as it fluffs up a batch of perfect scrambled eggs. It’s how I know to store my potato chips in the freezer for freshness. And it’s why I treasure an old wooden box filled with recipes written in neat cursive.
And now, in my own home 350 miles away, wearing Grammy’s apron and standing at my great-grandmother’s hoosier, I shake sugar on rows of leb cakes cut from those same old cookie cutters and marvel that something as simple and ephemeral as a cookie has the seemingly magic ability to close time and distance. The buzzer goes off on the oven once more and it’s impossible to feel she’s not there.
On Sunday December 6th, the Groton Historical Society will host a holiday open house and cookie swap from 1-4 PM. The Boutwell House at 172 Main Street will be decorated for the holidays thanks to the Groton Garden Club. There will be live music courtesy of Indian Hill Music. We encourage visitors to bring along a dozen of their favorite cookies and their family food memories to share.