My Grama was an “old-fashioned” grandmother, the kind that let you help her pick tomatoes and pull fresh peanuts up from the black soil in her garden. The kind that let you run amok with the garden hose in the back yard with siblings, cousins and neighbor kids in the summer. The kind that helped you make a tent using her clothesline and an old bedspread. The kind that played hide-and-seek with you. The kind that let you help her do the laundry by feeding wet clothes through the wringer of her wringer-washing machine (oh the danger…it was thrilling!) She kept a close eye, but let me do it on my own. In her kitchen cupboards, I was allowed to play with all kinds of gadgets: a rotary hand mixer and a french fry cutter were my favorites. In the summer, we’d “go into town” where, at the dime store, she would buy us each a bottle of bubbles to play with when we got home. My Grama wasn’t a gourmet chef and meals were simple, but good: garden cukes in apple cider vinegar with black pepper and salt, salt 0r sugar topped sliced garden tomatoes, hamburgers, potato or macaroni salad.
My Grama was the kind of grandmother that rocked you in the rocking chair and read you a story; and she was the kind of grandmother that baked cookies! I loved my Grama’s cookies. The only two kinds I remember her making were peanut butter and walnut icebox cookies. The walnut cookies were my favorite and, after I grew up and moved to Switzerland, I asked her if she would give me the recipe, which she did. I was so excited to make them! They were easy to make and finding the ingredients in Switzerland wasn’t too difficult. But after the first batch came out of the oven, I knew something wasn’t right. They didn’t smell the same as Grama’s and, worse, they didn’t taste like Grama’s cookies. I chalked it up to the difference in ingredients, and tucked the recipe back into my recipe box where it remained for a long time.
Recently, looking through some old photos, I came across one of me and Grama in her backyard taken one summer when I must have been about five years old. I remembered just how much fun I had in those days at her house, and about the recipe she wrote down for me. I decided to try it again.
This time, it dawned on me why my cookies didn’t taste like her cookies. My grandparents had black walnut trees growing along the street in front of their house! I should’ve remembered those hard-husked green nuts: it really stung when you got pelted by them! I remembered how much work it was getting to the nut meats. Grama had to use a hammer to crack open the husks, and then there was the shell to crack. It was the black walnuts that gave her cookies their distinctive flavor, and why mine didn’t come close.
I don’t have access to black walnut trees, but I was able to buy a bag of Hammons black walnuts on Amazon. I scaled down Grama’s original recipe with a couple of changes: reduced the amount of white and brown sugar proportionally, and used butter instead of margarine. The end result was a cookie that tasted just like I remembered, and now only missing one thing: the love that Grama baked into every batch.