Any time Jeanne Fitzgerald wants to remember some of the food her mom made while she was growing up, she turns to the family cookbook she and her sisters made for their mother.
“Those are still the same recipes I make over and over again,” Fitzgerald says.
Inside the “Family Secrets: Schmidt Family Recipes” cookbook are recipes for Extra Crisp Sugar Cookies, Texas Pecan Cake, Chow Mein Noodle Cookies and one of Fitzgerald’s favorites: Almond Crescents. It’s marked with a “Best of Show” and “Best Cookie” label because it is one of the family’s favorites, too.
“We only make them for Christmastime,” she says of the Almond Crescents. Growing up, Fitzgerald and her two sisters would help their mother make the cookies. Even as adults, the three women joined their mother in her kitchen between Thanksgiving and Christmas to make the crescent moon-shaped cookies. Everything that was baked was stored on a shelf in the front hallway closet until it was time to share the baked goodies with neighbors and others.
“That was something we always helped Mom with,” Fitzgerald recalls. Their mother, Mary Schmidt, died about four years ago.
The cookie dough is rolled out and cut with a round cutter with a hole in it, similar to a doughnut, and then the cookie is cut in half to create a crescent.
“When my mom passed away, that was the one thing I wanted was that cutter,” Fitzgerald says.
Mary Schmidt also was known for the Texas Pecan Cake she would make. The cake, similar to the traditional fruit cake, would be made two weeks before Christmas and stored in the refrigerator while the flavors fermented. Schmidt usually made two dozen of the cakes, which contained dried fruit, pecans, flour, coconut, and a can of sweetened condensed milk.
“She used to make it every year because it was one of her favorites, and she felt like she could get away with making it at Christmastime,” Fitzgerald recalls. “Sometimes she would give it away as gifts to the neighbors.”
Need to serve a large family leads Norwalk woman to recipe
Betty Minella was looking for a dessert that would be easy to make and serve her growing family.
She liked pumpkin pie, but one pie was not enough for her three children and all of her grandchildren. Minella found an alternative that has turned out just as good: pumpkin pie bars.
“It has oatmeal in the crust, and I love oatmeal,” she says. “It takes like pumpkin pie because it’s exactly like a pumpkin pie on top.”
About 20 years ago, she came across the recipe in one of her cookbooks and started making it for Christmas Eve dessert.
“I have three kids, plus grandkids, and it serves more people than a pie,” Minella says.
Minella also makes a sweet potato crunch that she found a recipe for in another cookbook.
“It’s really awesome,” she says. “It has pecans and brown sugar on the top, and it is so much better than canned sweet potatoes with whatever in them. My kids always want me to make it, and it’s something they would really miss if I didn’t make it.”
Ease of cookie recipe allows young to old to help in the kitchen
Every Christmas Eve, Debbie Putbrese and her family gather in the kitchen of her mother, Kathy Garton, or at whoever’s house where the celebration is being held, to make No Bake Cookies.
It’s a tradition that began when Putbrese and her brother were children and made the cookies with their grandmother and mother.
“We would help make them, and it’s tradition to this day,” Putbrese says of making the cookies. “My brother and his family, we all get together and make them to this day with all of our kids. Little kids can make it; people in their 90s can make it. It’s such a simple recipe.”
Putbrese says her sister-in-law is the best maker of the cookies.
“I don’t know what it is, but she does something to them that they’re not as mushy,” Putbrese says.
When others make elaborate desserts, cookies and candies for Christmas, Putbrese says her family prefers to keep things simple.
“We try to make Christmas really simple because we’re not big shoppers,” she says. “We try to really make it about the meaning of Christmas.”
Putbrese’s four children Marie, 19; Charles, 16; John, 15; and Lizzy, 13; have been making the cookies with her since they were old enough to stir the batter. Sometimes she lets them add sprinkles or coconut to the cookies to make them a little extra special.
“It’s something they could help with immediately,” she says. “It wasn’t like making chocolate chip cookies, because there weren’t a lot of ingredients. It was easy to teach them the recipe and to learn to cook, be with the family and to start the joy of the process of being in the kitchen. At Christmas it’s all about the togetherness. That’s the way it is with our family. We’re more into (the baking) for the togetherness.”
Marie, who is now in college, asks for the cookies to be sent to her in care packages. And while the cookies are popular among the kids, Deb’s husband prefers her pineapple casserole at Christmastime.
Each Christmas Eve afternoon the family gathers in the kitchen and makes double or triple batches of No Bake Cookies.
“They are fought over because this is the only time we make them,” Putbrese says.
Jeanne Fitzgerald’s Almond Crescents
½ pound butter
1 pound of almonds, ground (1 pound bag with shells)
1 cup sugar
2 cup flour
Pinch of salt
Squirt of lemon juice
Mix all ingredients together. Roll out but not too thin. Cut dough out into crescent shape using cutter. Bake at 350 degrees for 9 to 10 minutes. Dip into powdered sugar.
Deb Putbrese’s No Bake Cookies
2 cups sugar
4 tablespoons cocoa
1 stick butter
½ cup milk
1 cup peanut butter
1 tablespoon vanilla
3 cups oatmeal
Bring to boil the sugar, cocoa, butter and milk for 1 minute. Then add the peanut butter, vanilla and oatmeal. Mix well. Drop batter in spoonfuls on to wax paper and let cool.
Deb Putbrese’s Pineapple Casserole
Two 20-oz. cans of Dole crushed pineapple (drain but keep the juice)
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1½ cups shredded cheddar cheese
½ stick butter, cut in slices
1½ sleeves of Ritz crackers, crushed
In a sauce pan over medium heat, mix sugar, juice and cornstarch until it forms a syrup-like consistency. Stir in pineapple. Combine pineapple mix from sauce pan with cheddar cheese in a casserole dish coated with nonstick spray. Top with Ritz crackers and spread slices of butter over the top of the casserole. Bake at 350 degrees until lightly golden brown.