Note from curator Rozanne Gold: Marie is a trove of handwritten recipes and stories. An award-winning cookbook author and food writer, Marie Simmons wrote Bon Appetit’s “Cooking for Health” column for many years, and is the author of more than 20 cookbooks, including the wildly popular 365 Ways to Make Pasta, The Good Egg, and Lighter Quicker Better. Marie, a self-proclaimed story teller, is alight with thoughts of her mother and grandmother. She says, “These two family cooks taught me how important it is to make sure everyone has something good to eat. I hear their words, and I do the same.”
Mrs. Cubbard’s Raisin-Stuffed Cookies by Marie Simmons
Some children have play dates with friends. My play dates were with my grandmother Nana and we had them every Saturday morning. We made stuffed cookies from a recipe from a lady, whom I can’t quite visual anymore, by the name of Mrs. Cubbard. She was a neighbor who had a boarding house and Nana helped her in the kitchen.
Nana and I needed to keep her large dark-blue canning pot filled to the brim with Mrs. Cubbard’s signature cookies. You never knew when someone might stop by for coffee or iced tea or a glass of cold milk. What a smile it would bring to her face to know that sixty years later, I still keep a large container of cookie stuffing in my freezer so that I can prepare these nostalgic treats in a moment’s notice.
Nana and I had an assembly line going as we sat at her big round table in the center of her kitchen. (She, cutting out the dough, and me, stuffing the cookies.) The cabinets were painted a deep Greek sea blue. My Aunt Tess, the “decorator,” loved color so much that she filled her kitchen with her water colors and oil paintings and hung them on brightly-painted walls, making it quite festive. Imagine, ruffled white calico curtains billowing around the high-set windows that wrapped around the porch...and an apple pie cooling on the porch railing.
We began our morning by sipping weak tea. We always shared a tea bag. And we chatted. Nana said I inherited her gift for gab and anyone who has met me knows that can’t be denied. I sure do like — make that LOVE — to talk. I seem to always have a story to share.
Mrs. Cubbard’s (Stuffed Cookie) Recipe is a basic sugar cookie made with shortening (shortening is so 1950s!) and sugar, milk, nutmeg, vanilla and egg. I still make it with shortening, somehow surviving the nutrition police. The recipe calls for a “stuffing” of raisins, lemon sugar, and chopped lemon. I have updated the recipe with a filling of fig and prune. Nana would roll the dough on her big flannel-covered table top. Her rolling pin was a long broom handle she bought at the hardware store. She would use the rim of a glass dipped in flour to press out rounds for the cookies. It was my job to use her worn thimble (long misplaced, which makes me very sad) to cut out a circle out from the top of each round. Nana spread the raisin filling on the base of the rounds. I would carefully remove the thimble cut-out and hide it in my apron pocket so I could eat them later. Nana of course warned me, “Don’t eat the raw dough…you’ll get a tummy ache.” But I loved the taste of the raw dough. So I snuck it into my pocket and worried about the tummy ache later.
My Saturday morning play dates with Nana, my mentor, my soul mate, taught me to think about food, to love the taste and feel of food, to write about food and to make me want to be a cookbook author. I have now written more than twenty cookbooks with my latest, Whole World Vegetarian (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), just published this month. I think I’ll make a batch of Mrs. Cubbard’s cookies…and celebrate.
Mrs. Cubbard’s Raisin-Stuffed Cookies
Makes approximately 12 cookies
3/4 cup sugar
6 tablespoons shortening or butter
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1-3/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
Several tablespoons milk, if needed
1 cup chopped raisins
½ cup sugar
½ cup water
2 tablespoons flour (dissolved in 2 tablespoons water)
Grated zest of 1 lemon (or 1 teaspoon lemon juice)
Filling: Put raisins in small saucepan with sugar and water. Bring the mixture to a boil and boil 2 minutes. Add dissolved flour and lower heat to medium. Cook 5 minutes, stirring constantly, until mixture is soft, thick and dry. Stir in lemon zest or juice. Set aside and cool completely.
To make cookies: Beat together sugar and shortening (or butter.) Beat in egg and vanilla. Sift together flour, baking powder, nutmeg and salt. Fold into wet mixture. Add enough milk, as needed, to make a roll-able dough. Roll out onto floured surface to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut with 2 or 2-1/2-inch round cutter. Place on oiled cookie sheet and add 1 tablespoon raisin mixture to each cookie. Top with another round cookie (the center cut out with thimble!) and pinch sides together. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake 12 to 15 minutes until just starting to brown. Let cool.
Note from RG: Instead of using a thimble to cut a small round from the top cookie, I used a tiny melon baller.