Yesterday I went to the store. “Today is the day” I thought. “I have coffee beans in my basket, the store stocked lard, it’s my favorite kind of weather for baking, and today I will examine Nana’s recipes.” Well as you know that didn’t happen. I took the box down, opened it, took a picture, and then started to cry. Suddenly I was re-reading all of my birthday cards and letters from my grandparents, remembering distinctly that this kind of weather often led to treasure hunts, and feeling an intense amount of guilt that I didn’t tell them all of the things I wrote about yesterday until they couldn’t hear me anymore. Long story short, I cried a lot yesterday and didn’t get much of anything besides the dishes done.
Things happen for a reason, I believe. Because yesterday was emotionally intense and now the dishes are all done, I have room to work and the air conditioners remain in our windows so a good way to warm up this apartment is to use the stove. It’s time to look through Nana’s recipe box. I’m searching for something specific, something I’ve never seen outside of Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania, my white whale. The one recipe that I haven’t been able to find in the family records I’ve searched, and the one recipe that I know requires lard: Welsh Cookies.
Every summer we’d congregate in Scranton, PA at The Cottage for a weekend where we held the Steiner family reunion. We’d arrive after Grandma and Grandpa had already opened the Cottage, and it would be sunny, a little dusty, but welcoming to the 11 or so of us that had driven at least 7 hours and would stay there for the whole weekend. The Cottage was pink, had two bedrooms, two couches, two gliders, and two camp cots. We made it work. There was water into the kitchen, but we never drank it and always brought our own. The bathroom was a dual seated outhouse and you always went before bed with a buddy. That was not a walk you wanted to make alone in the middle of the night. The screen door perpetually slammed and the laurels on either side of the worn down stairs where we posed for the family picture every year were sticky with perfume.
After being cooped in the car for so long my brother and I would say hello like kids do then tear across the uneven mossy lawn and jump the one concrete stair down to the “pool”, a flat rectangular area that was once a croquet pitch, and climb our usual trees at the Lookout. The Lookout tradition was, everyone sleeping at the Cottage would watch the cousins who were leaving after coming for Reunion Day pile into their cars, then run full tilt down to the lookout (some trees that lined the woods at the side of the road) to get there before they drove by and scream, “GOOODBYYYYEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!” while waving like maniacs and jumping up and down while the departing cousins drove by. It was tradition for the cousins leaving to honk the car horns, wave out the windows, and generally make as much noise back at us as possible.
Backtracking slightly, upon arriving at the cottage there would be two special things in the breadbox that Grandma and Grandpa had stopped to get before driving up the hill to open the cottage; Grandpa’s Tasty Cakes, and Grandma’s Welsh cookies. There was a little store on the way that sold both, and it was the only time of year I had access to them. The Welsh cookies came in a plastic sleeve with a red twist-tie closure, and with a glass of milk at the Cottage table they were just superb. They’re soft and dense with a griddle-crust and just sweet enough because of the currants that stud the dough. These cookies, their smell, their texture is something I’ve been searching for as a transport back to the Cottage and those memories.
Today I found it. In between yellowed recipe cards for date bars, Ruth’s oatmeal raisin cookies, molasses filled cookies, and marshmallow brownies there it was. It has been with me for years. I found it today because I needed to. I needed to feel close to my grandparents, to be able to sit in the cottage chairs that are now in my kitchen and remember the earthy smell of the cottage and the feel of the oilcloth that covered the kitchen table. Today is a good day.
I’ve never made these before and Nana’s instructions were pretty bare bones. I elaborated on them a little to make the steps more clear to those who aren’t used to my family’s “you should know what I mean” style of note-taking.
4 Cups all purpose flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp salt
1 ¾ cups granulated sugar
1 ¼ cups dried currants
1 cup lard, (or ½ lard, ½ butter)
milk (amount dependent on eggs, see instructions for details).
1. Combine flour, baking powder, nutmeg, salt, and sugar in a bowl.
2. Add the lard (or butter/lard combo) and work together until the consistency of damp sand (I used a pastry cutter and my hands)
3. In a liquid measuring cup beat the three eggs together, then add milk until the total liquid is a scant cup. Since my 3 eggs equaled 3/4 of a cup I only needed to add just under 1/4 cup of milk.
4. Add the liquid to the dry ingredients until partially combined, then add the currants
5. Mix together until you get a sticky dough. I started with a spoon then ended up using my hands to make sure everything combined fully
6. Flour your work surface and turn the dough out. Pat into a disk and use a rolling pin until the dough is about ¼” thick.
7. Preheat your griddle, the recipe I have says 350 but I just put it over the burners set to medium until it felt very hot (don’t have a brain fart and put your hand on it like I did, you can test it with butter to see if it sizzles).
8. While the griddle preheats, cut your dough into rounds and transfer them to a sheet pan with parchment in between the layers so they’re ready to go and don’t stick together. I use a biscuit cutter. Gather any dough scraps, re-roll them and continue cutting rounds until the dough is used up.
9. There’s enough lard in these that you shouldn’t need to butter a non-stick skillet, but I always do because ours is weird and the first round of anything on it always sticks. Place the cut rounds on the griddle, evenly spaced and cook for about 2 minutes on each side. Use a spatula to turn them, they get too hot to use your fingers. Yes I tried.
10. Remove cooked cookies to a cooling rack and repeat with remaining cutouts.
This recipe makes about 54 cookies. Like I said, for old time’s sake I had these with a glass of milk, but they also go nicely with tea and coffee. I hope you enjoy them.