'Tis the season of the cookie. With visions of Mom and Grandma baking Christmas cookies dancing in my head, I put out a call for family reminiscences and got this reply: “No doubt you will make mention of Mrs. Schweer's cookies.”
Mrs. Schweer? Who the devil is Mrs. Schweer? I turned in desperation to the internet. Lo, there she was! She’d been written up in Life Magazine, and she’d died at age 105 in the very hospital where I was born. I wrote Mom to confirm.
“Not our Mrs. Schweer.”
With a prompt from my sister (the Family Historian), I dimly recalled a plate of white-iced ginger cookies, but no Proustian epiphany occurred. The only cookie-based memory I could conjure was of my own baking attempt: peanut butter cookies with burnt bottoms and weird fork marks on the top, flour-covered counter tops, and an oily smell of peanut butter that lasted for days.
So who, I asked, was our Mrs. Schweer?
The Family Historian reported: “I don't have much information but I remembered we loved the cookies and looked forward to them every year. I did find an entry in my baby book that verifies the spelling as Schweer, but that's about it (entry made 1956).”
Mom filled in the blanks: “Mrs. Schweer, a.k.a., Grandma Schweer (first name may have been Laura) lived next door to us in Chicago Heights. She was a true renaissance woman of homemaking. Quite elderly when I first met her circa 1948, I marveled at her vigor.
“Mrs. Schweer maintained an immaculate house and garden, pushing the vacuum indoors and the lawnmower outdoors with no help to get in her way. She hung her laundry to dry outdoors on a line in the sun. In the winter she single-handedly shoveled the snow off her walks.
“She did all of her own cooking and at Christmas baked batch upon batch of cookies, plates of which she wrapped and distributed to her neighbors’ children. Mrs. Schweer sent cookies to you two even after we moved away. As to why she brought you cookies, I don’t know. Probably because it was a renaissance woman’s thing to do!”
We still had a historical gap to fill. Mom had certainly baked cookies each Christmas, and Grandma must have done so, too.
To borrow a phrase from the Family Historian: Oh so not the case.
“We did not bake cookies at our house,” reported Mom. “Great Grandma L. baked mincemeat pies and Grandma G. baked applesauce cake, coffee cake with a crumbly, sugary topping, and pumpkin pies . . .
“Somehow I did not inherit the baking gene. In spite of that, I always baked birthday cakes to order for you two; the occasional cherry pie while our tree was bearing; and Christmas cookies only because it was de rigueur in our happy homemaker Village of Homewood. If it weren’t for Mrs. Schweer and Nabisco you would have been seriously cookie deprived.”
Thanks be to Mrs. Schweer! (I’ll leave Nabisco aside.) Mystery solved, I’m off to the bakery to get myself supplied.
This post was first published December 23, 2009, and the commenters at that time told wonderful and funny stories all their own. We hope you, too, will add to the story by offering your own holiday memories!
For those who like to bake, click here for a great recipe for Pepparkakor cookies and links to other cookie recipe delights.
The beautiful (and delicious) cookies in the photograph at the top of the post were made by Duane Park Patisserie.
The cake shown in the birthday party photograph was, as requested by its recipient, purple with green icing.
The cookies on a plate (the closest replica of Mrs. Schweer’s recipe found so far, though without the decorative bits) were test-baked by the Family Historian. She pronounced the recipe not good enough and continues her search.