Hi everyone, Nelson here again (Liz told me I’m getting too comfortable at the keyboard). Maybe it’s because my parents are visiting with us, but I’ve been feeling a bit nostalgic lately, so I thought I’d prepare another recipe from my mom’s book of traditions (the handwritten recipe book she made for me).
Before I mention today’s recipe I’m going to give you a bit of background of what I remember from my early days in the Azores. We were living in Canada, and when I was eight my dad decided that it had been far too long since spending time in the Azores. He actually quit his truck driving job so that we could go spend 3 months “back home”. Looking back now, and knowing my dad, this was a huge move! My dad doesn’t do “uncertainty” very well, so I really respect the guts he had to make this move. I was just a kid at the time and this was quite the change from my day-to-day life in Toronto.
Pico Island in the Azores is “with the times” today… there’s current tech, wifi, properly maintained tourist attractions, nice restaurants and most other amenities you’d find on any other vacation in Europe or North America. However, this wasn’t the case when I visited at the age of 8. Let me describe some of the things I experienced. During our visit, we stayed with my maternal grandparents. Their house didn’t have running water. They had a large tank built into the house that collected rain water. We used this water to bathe, wash dishes, drink, cook, etc. I would literally go to the tank, open the little wooden door, throw a bucket in, and pull the rope to bring out a bucket full of water for whatever our current needs were. We had a large aluminum tub that would come out on “bath day”. Do you have any idea how long it takes to boil enough water on the stove to prepare a bath? The next big one on the list of my experiences was the bathroom… oh wait, we didn’t have one! My grandparents had an outhouse. I’m not kidding! On the bright side, it was a pretty fancy outhouse; it had two seats side-by-side 🙂 To this day, I’m not sure I understand why. There are some things you just shouldn’t do side-by-side. The other down-side to an outhouse is the “out” part of it. Going outside on a cold wet winter night wasn’t very pleasant.
Let’s move on to electricity. Our village, Santa Cruz, had a generator that worked on diesel. This is what powered up lights and appliances in the village. The generator would typically work from around 5:00 pm to midnight, unless of course there was a festival. In that case they’d keep it going longer so the community could celebrate with lights and cold drinks. I have lots of memories of family gatherings where we had to turn on petroleum powered lights to keep the card game going, the food served and the locally made red wine flowing. These are great memories.
Next on my list from my box of memories is the childhood entertainment. It’s not that I had video games back in Canada, because I didn’t, but this was definitely different. Kids were so creative on this small island! I remember playing with wood tops (pião) made by local carpenters, also, games with marbles, handmade cars made of locally grown bamboo and cork wheels (from fishing nets) that we’d get from the town’s fishermen, soccer in the little dirt field right by the ocean, and playing cowboys who fought. All our war weapons were made by hand from wood 🙂 I also have fond memories of building small “houses” (tiny sheds) with some buddies in our vineyards. We used rocks that were typically used to make dividing walls between people’s lands. We’d even find pieces of tin for the roofs. These structures were our club houses. I’m sure we weren’t always playing safe in any of our games, but we had so much fun!
A few other items of interest… We had to make phone calls at the tiny general store in town because very few people had telephones. A couple of mattresses in my grandparent’s house were filled with corn husks (I actually loved sleeping on these beds). For the few folks that had TV, there was only one channel (which made channel surfing really easy). Most of our food was locally produced, grown or caught and we typically only ate fruits and vegetables that were in season.
The picture I just painted of that time in my life seems like something you’d find in a history book or at a “Pioneer Village” type of tourist attraction. The thing is, I didn’t buy a ticket to experience any of this. This was normal life on the Island where I spent 3 months of my life when I was 8. I’m so grateful to have experienced this era of the Island. I met and connected with such wonderful people. I also gained an appreciation for the simpler things in life. Life was simple and people were happy. Go figure… happiness unplugged; a concept that I believe many have forgotten in today’s fast-paced, high-tech world. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a self-professed geek and I love my technology, but there was something special about that lifestyle that I truly appreciate.
All this talk is making me hungry! How about we talk cookies now? There’s a reason why I pulled out the history chat today. Today’s cookie recipe is also old. My mom remembers her mom making these for special occasions when she was a child. My mom told me that her mom would serve these to guests and then put the remaining cookies in a jar and hide them out of sight. My mom’s cousins would then go on the hunt. The next time my grandmother would go to serve the cookies she’d find the jar half full (or would she have said half empty?). I guess she never hid that jar very well 🙂 These cookies aren’t fancy; they’re just simple but delicious buttery cookies that go really nicely with coffee or tea. I love that my mom passed on the recipe as she learned it from her mom; and that she shared her childhood memories of these cookies while we worked side-by-side in the kitchen baking these cookies today. To me, that’s pretty cool.
Now go dig into your own box of memories and chat with friends and family about the good ‘ol days, or go make some new memories; bake with your loved ones, and always… eat well friends!
- 3¼ cups unbleached flour (all-purpose can work as well)
- ½ + 1 tbsp cups sugar
- ½ tbsp baking powder
- ½ tbsp ammonium bicarbonate
- ¼ tsp salt
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1¾ stick unsalted butter (14 tbsp), at room temperature
- ¼ cup water, at room temperature
- 1 large egg, beaten (for brushing the tops of the cookies)
- 1 tbsp sugar for sparkling on the tops of the cookies
- Preheat oven to 375 ºF.
- Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.
- In a large stand mixer bowl, add the flour, sugar, baking powder, ammonium bicarbonate and salt.
- Whisk the dry ingredients.
- Use a large spoon to create a cove in the middle.
- Crack the eggs into the middle.
- Add the butter and water.
- Using the paddle attachment and knead the dough for about 4 minutes.
- Lightly flour a flat table top and place the dough on top. Note: Do ½ the dough at-a-time.
- Lightly flour the top and roll the dough using a rolling pin to about 0.2 inches or ½ cm.
- Use a round pasty cutter or a glass to cut out the cookies. The diameter is about 2½ inches or 6.35 cm.
- Place the cut cookies on the baking sheets.
- Using a pastry brush, brush the beaten egg over the cookie tops.
- Sprinkle a little sugar over each cookie.
- Place a baking sheet in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Note: If you bake both baking sheets at the same time, extend the cooking time by about 10 minutes.
- Remove the cookies from the oven and place them on a cooling rack until completely cooled.