Cookies and Grief
How far would you travel for a cookie?
I drove outside Montreal for an hour to find one particular cookie at one particular bakery. Why? It was my late father's favorite…and I wanted to grieve for him by eating baked goods.
Food and the Feinglos Family have always gone hand in hand, and I'm certain I'll be writing a lot about grieving through food this year. Some families went camping – we did not. We went out to restaurants. Some families played board games together – we did not. Dad and I would cook together. Some families allowed picky eating habits – we did not. Period.
Eating anything and everything was a badge of honor in our family. The rule was: you always had to taste it. If you didn't like it, it was ok. There was just a touch of disappointment on Dad's face after he'd cooked dinner.
(Case in point: when Dad would cook anything involving mushrooms, I'd always try a bite of a mushroom, hoping, PRAYING that maybe my taste buds had evolved. He'd watch me try with bated breath. I never did like them until my 20s, and so my father would always make me a separate little pan of tomato sauce before he put all the mushrooms in for him and my brother. He was never spiteful about it. Juuuuust a little disappointed.)
Okay but back to these cookies, though. My father's favorite cookie was a sweet, bready raisin cookie from a long-standing bakery in St. Sauveur. As a child, I remember driving out there with Dad only once and experiencing their magic in-person. But he managed to tell so many people about his love for the cookies over the years that when folks knew he was coming to town, someone (a cousin, my grandfather, etc.) would have driven out to grab some cookies in honor of his arrival. When my brother moved to Montreal, he would drive out and express mail packages of the cookies to Dad for his birthday every year. Dad would freeze them and savor each one over the course of months.
If you're curious about the cookie, yourself, my mother's first cousin (my first cousin, once removed! I had to Google that!) Marcy is a professional baker and many years ago, at my father's adorable urging, she did her best to replicate the recipe after some research back in 2003. There is also a very sweet intro before the recipe that explains the story behind the cookie and its connection to our family.
My father was always joyful about good food. He would say "MMM!" out loud and kind of punch his fist in the air. "Boy, that's good!" As my brother likes to say, our father was just a little boy from the 1950s sometimes. When he ate those raisin cookies, it took him to another place in his mind.
So, I made the cookie pilgrimage myself, to grieve. I spoke my crappy French at the bakery. I cried at the taste of something that reminded me so much of my father in moments of pure joy.
And they were delicious.
The 2003 Recipe for Country Bakery Sour Cream Raisin Cookies, from my first cousin once removed, Marcy Goldman of BetterBaking.com
In St. Sauveur, a picturesque little village about 40 minutes north of Montreal, there is a 100 year old bakery called Page’s Bakery. It is known for warm bread, wonderful pies, and great big raisin cookies. My cousin-in-law Mark Feinglos, who lives in North Carolina, is addicted to these cookies and begged for a recipe (not that he does not tote back a ton of them anyway when he comes to Montreal on a visit with his kids, Becki and Daniel). Mark had these cookies while he courted my cousin Susan Goldman. They honeymooned in St. Sauveur and yes, raisin cookies are part of the post-wedding memories :). I have not yet had the cookies but recently spoke with Jonathan Livingstone of Page Bakery. We agreed we bakers should meet and will be doing a raisin cookie/biscotti exchange soon. In the meanwhile, here is a great raisin cookie I created for my cousins – to tide them over until I figure out an exact replication and before their supply of frozen Page raisin cookies runs out. This makes a big boulder of a cakey cookie with crisp edges. It is bulging with raisins
and a warm, subtle, bakery flavor and fragrance that comes from a long time ago. If you wanted these spicier, I would add 1 tablespoon of molasses and up the spices and add a touch of lemon zest. In days past, these were probably called Raisin Jumbles. No one makes cookies like this anymore! Page divulged that their recipe takes sour cream – and so this one does too. This recipe is my gift to my American cousins and in loving memory of my cousins Susan and Pam, and those special, warm holiday times that always featured us three ‘Goldman girls’
Country Bakery Sour Cream Raisin Cookies
1 ½ cups raisins
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup unsalted butter or shortening
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup sour cream
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
pinch cinnamon, nutmeg
2 cups all-purpose flour
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line two stacked baking sheets with parchment
Cover the raisins with boiling water and let stand 10 minutes. Drain well
and dry on paper towels.
In a large bowl, cream the sugar and butter (or shortening) until fluffy.
Add in egg, vanilla and sour cream and blend well.
Fold in dry ingredients and then the raisins.
Drop in large gobs (abut 2 – 3 inches apart) on the baking sheet.
Bake 15-17 minutes until edges are browned and cookies are just beginning to colour or get barely golden.
Cool well before eating.
Makes about 1 dozen substantial cookies.