Thirty-five years ago, my Grandmother Graber - from Goshen, Indiana - sent me a birthday card. A simple yellow card with a picture of some flowers and a duck. Inside was folded a well-worn ten-dollar bill. For some reason, probably because we were living in England at the time, the card was put aside, together with its contents, and came to rest in a box of old family letters. And there it stayed. For decades. Only this fall did the card, and the money, finally make its way back to me.
This is what she said:
It gives me pleasure this Sat. morning to send this greeting on its way. And it will get there on time, won't it! Do you like Pepper-nuts? If you do I wish I could hand you a coffeetinful. I made them last evening - thot I'd never get finished _ there are tens of thousands! Because I cant hand them over I'll do next best - send you a bill and ask you to add it to your hoard - knowing you - expecting you to use it for something you dream about. ... My love to you... Grandma
Ten dollars! What do you do with a gift that is thirty-five years old? After much deliberation, I decided to use the money to do what Grandma was doing that day - make peppernuts - a festive seasonal cookie from the Old Country.
I freely admit that most of my cooking involves the liberal use of a can opener. So this proved to be something of an adventure, in both cooking and budgeting.
The day after Thanksgiving, my daughter and I took that ten dollar bill and hit the stores - or more precisely, the Goodwill on US 33. They were having a half-off sale, and we needed cookie tins. We descended on the housewares-slash-miscellaneous-slash-what-on-earth-were-they-thinking aisle, with a vengeance - like a couple of vegetarians at a tofu tasting, it was all you can eat. Forty-nine cents a tin, at half-off? Who could resist? We pulled out anything with a lid - ducks, snowmen, flowers, a star. And my personal favorite - three wise men looking out over the land of Mordor.
We staggered to the checkout, carrying twenty-one tins between the two of us. The total bill? Five dollars and fifty-one cents. Score! Next stop, the grocery store. We had most of the ingredients we needed already - but we still lacked ground cloves. Three dollars for spices, and a dollar-fifty for eggs, and we were at our ten-dollar limit.
Now for the tricky part. The baking. We marshalled the ingredients. Eggs, sugar, flour, milk - the usual - and then the spices - nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and of course black pepper. Our old stand mixer, itself a relic of the 1960s, sang noisily as it whipped up a double batch of dough. It was a messy business - and by the time the mixing was done, the whole kitchen was covered in a thin patina of flour.
The dough went in the fridge for two hours while we cleaned up. Then, it was time to shape the cookies. We rolled out long ropes of dough, for what felt like hours, and cut them into small sections - imagine hundreds and hundreds of buttons from winter coats, scattered over every surface in the kitchen, and you get the idea of the scene. Onto the greased baking sheets they went, into a hot oven for no more than twelve minutes - peppernuts should bake, but not dry out.
Then out of the oven and onto cooling racks. The dog hung at our heels, happily snapping up every cookie that rolled off the counter. We joined in, tasting each batch - just to make sure the recipe was acceptable. And then, finally, bagging the cookies and putting them into their twenty-one odd-shaped containers.
The next day, I went to work with a suitcase filled with tins. Rolled it around the building handing out treats. Everyone got a copy of Grandma's card and a note of explanation. I don't think my baking will win any prizes - but this was a time where it really was the thought that counted. And I loved it. What a gift. After all these years, a chance to share the cookies that Grandma had been making in far-off Goshen Indiana - coffeetinfuls for me, and a lot left over to share.
For Michiana Chronicles, I'm Andrew Kreider.