Sunday, December 19, 2010

In Search of Lost Cookies Redux

And suddenly the memory appeared.  That taste was the taste of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray . . . my aunt Léonie would give me after dipping it in her infusion of tea . . .

'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.


  1. Dear Raining Acorns,
    I love Renaissance Houseproud Women like Mrs. Schweers! I bet she never had a minute of ennui, and to give her cakes to children shows she wanted company! (Emily Dickinson is also to be said to have baked cakes and letting them down in a basket on a rope from the upper chamber in her house - for children). Though such "Superwomen" always intimidate me a bit - but it's nice!

  2. Always a great story, RA, and memory of the best gingerbread cookies in the world although the introduction to Duane Park Patisserie is a very close second!

  3. Britta: How interesting about Emily Dickinson! Glad you enjoyed the post.

    JMS: Thanks for helping to tell it! Any progress on finding the perfect recipe?

  4. Sorry, I have no cookies story to tell, although Mum certainly baked some every year, before she decided to give the home-baking up for the much superior products sold by the Konditor and Backer.

    I tried to bake cookies from old recipes but gave that up in my turn when there were no longer any children to impress with my skills.

    Actually, I might try baking cookies again, I seem to remember that they were rather nice, if a little misshapen.

  5. I love home baked cookies, but mine were always rather misshapen, too. Do you bake, RA?

  6. Carol-Ann: I, too, love home-baked cookies, but carry on the family tradition of not baking a jot. For that reason, I am always nosing around for good bakeries!

  7. Well, I am just now commenting because, yet, I've been baking cookies! I, too, am not a baker, but it does seem rather compulsory this time of year. I most enjoy making traditional Toll House chocolate chips - much tastier than the tedious roll-out cookies that I cannot seem to master.

    All you who say you are not bakers, how can any concoction of butter, sugar, flour and vanilla not taste good? :) When you stray from that path, you run the risk of baking failures.

    Speaking of baking, I thought our site had been hacked when I saw the latest photo of Carol-Ann's Christmas cake!

  8. Thank you for the tip. May give me courage to try one of these years. As for Carol-Ann's Christmas cake, what you see is the unveiling of her own pre-frosted cake. I have also heard a rumor that we may see another iteration once the frosting is complete!

  9. Now I want some cookies!

    WOS - Yes, RA is right, that poor cake will be iced soon - though it will never look like the gorgeous specimen that was at the top of the post in the first place.


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