My great-grandmother Dandeen would have been 101 this Christmas.
Her friends and family called her Dandeen, but her name was Retaw Snyder McCoy, and she passed away last spring at the age of 99. She grew up in western Pennsylvania, as did her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, but moved away when I was little– first to Florida to soak up the sun, then, widowed and no longer able to see, to Vallejo, CA to live with family. I used to love visiting her in Largo as a child. We didn’t do much, just talked– she’d let my hair out of its tight ponytail and brush it, and we’d eat cookies, play Uno and talk. She never made me eat anything I didn’t like, and she had the greatest stories, about the massive snowstorms they used to get when she was young, or the trouble my grandpa got into as a kid.
It’s been more than a year since she died, but this Christmas, she was everywhere. I kept running across little pieces of Dandeen‘s life in unexpected places– a photo here, a crocheted afghan there. She kept popping up in conversations. And then I starting going through my mom’s recipe box.
The recipe box is much older than I am (I’m 27), and it’s filled with recipes handwritten on stationery from long-gone local print shops, yellowed newspaper clippings and typewritten index cards. I found a letter from Dandeen and Pap-Pap (that’s my great-grandfather) to my mom asking how baby Sarah was doing, and I also found this recipe. A note in Dandeen‘s handwriting reads:
These are for Dusty’s sweet tooth.
Both real good.
I don’t frost the cookies.
(Dusty is my dad– this was before my parents divorced.)
I wasn’t brave enough to make this, because I hate sauerkraut with the deepest of passions. Even more than I hate pickles. Yes, I realize that rinsing the sauerkraut will drain it of its flavor, leaving it to act as a moisturizing agent– like cake recipes that use yogurt or applesauce, for example. I still can’t get close enough to a bowl of sauerkraut without gagging to make this recipe. Sorry. But I have to say I’m curious– so if any of you dear, brave readers want to know more about Pittsburgh’s German culinary heritage, please, make these and let me know how it turns out! Click through for two recipes.
3/4 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 8-ounce can sauerkraut, drained
2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup raisins
In mixer bowl, beat the 3/4 cup butter and brown sugar till fluffy. Add egg, milk and the teaspoon of vanilla. Beat till fluffy. Rinse sauerkraut, drain. Stir sauerkraut into creamed mixture. Stir together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Mix dry ingredients into batter. Stir in the raisins. Drop from a teaspoon onto a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes. Cool.
And for the rest of us, here’s another proven crowd-pleasing German cookie recipe Dandeen used to make:
1 cup shortening
1/4 cup sugar (for the dough itself)
1 1/2 cup sugar (separate, for rolling the balls of dough)
1 tbsp. cinnamon
2 3/4 c. sifted flour
2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
Sift together flour, soda, salt and cream of tartar.
Cream shortening and 1 1/2 cups sugar thoroughly. Add eggs and vanilla. Beat. Add sifted dry ingredients and mix well.
Chill dough until easy to handle (1 hour). Combine 1/4 cup sugar and the cinnamon. Roll dough into small balls and roll them around in the sugar and cinnamon mixture until lightly coated. Place on lightly greased baking sheet. Bake in 350-degree oven 10-12 minutes. Makes about 80.
After I wrote this, I had a dream in which Joe and I had recently moved into a new house. Dandeen was there, sitting in an armchair, and we talked and talked while I unpacked boxes, as though she’d never been away. Love you, Dandeen.