I always feel nostalgic in October. This year especially. I miss my mom. I miss "normal" life. After finally coming home after a whirlwind couple of months, I am hoping to stay put for a little while. Pumpkin was on my mind, and I really was yearning for a little sweet. I decided to go down memory lane. Let's head to my childhood home.
I spent my preschool and elementary years in Clinton, Iowa. This house in Clinton, that was full of family, my parents and 5 kids, is the one I pine for.
It is the house that built me. It was a gorgeous English Tudor sitting on a large hill with views of the Mississippi River. It was once a retreat for an order of monks which explains the cross mowed into the lawn in the above photo.
It sat on an acre of property, most of it woods, and had a beautiful stone patio, an enormous screened in porch and a balcony from my parents room. The wood inside was heavy and dark, and every room had built in closets, dressers and shelves, some even had solid wood paneled walls. The windows are were all leaded glass (drafty!) and there were 2 huge picture windows. In the spring there were dozens of lilac trees and bushes of peonies. In the summer we would have thousands of monarch butterflies and in the fall we would collect hedge apples and pine cones.
Christmas was magical. My dad would string the big Charlie Brown bulbs all over the hedges and when the snow would fall the lights would glow in bursts of color. Our huge Christmas tree would proudly stand at the living room picture window. We would have cut it down ourselves at a tree farm just north of Clinton, where the caretaker took the money from an old abandoned bus. One year we brought home a bird's nest in the tree! We decorated our tree with dozens of family ornaments and tossed tinsel all over it. I never thought to look for the Christmas presents hidden on the screened in porch, but many years later I learned that was my mom's favorite hiding place.
The house had a large creepy basement with a pool table, washer and dryer and rooms full of toys. In the garage there was a large pit in the floor that my brothers used to learn to work on their cars. I remember their friends coming over to change the oil there.
|I had to buy him from my mom's garage sale in 1986!|
My favorite spot in the entire house was the breakfast room, with its octagonal shape and all the leaded windows. We sat on a hill, and had a sweeping front driveway and a short driveway out the back. When you sat in the breakfast room, no one could come in either driveway without being seen. My first bedroom is the upstairs window on the left. There was a little window seat, and the other window looked out over the front door, which was on the left side of the house. There was a big tree out that window and I loved the view. My last bedroom (I had to wait until the older sisters went to college), had a wall of windows that looked out over the river. We had 2 staircases, unheard of in the 60's, and the tiny little corner window on the second floor was my mom's sewing room. I learned to make Barbie her wardrobe in that room. I have so many things from my mom's sewing room, I know she is at my side. My friends remember the suit of armor at the foot of the stairs, the entry coat closet the size of a small bedroom, the den with its heavy paneled walls and the moose hanging on the wall, and the kitchen with it's cooktop that pulled out from the wall and the 2 ovens that were side by side. It was such a magical place.
I have the photographs and the memories, and this time of year makes me think of a particular cooking memory. In our Betty Crocker Cooky Cookbook that is falling apart, are the many recipes we made. I blogged about it before and decided that it was the perfect time to make Pumpkin Cookies. I made these cookies on September 24, 1976. The note next to the recipe says "couldn't go skating". It was a sad day.
Every fall we had a roller skating party for the school, and 7th and 8th grade went together. It was the one night a year a 7th grade girl (in 1976) could hold hands to a Shawn Cassidy song and roller skate a memory. But alas, I didn't clean my room. I remember my room had 2 very deep closets flanking my window seat, and I was a slob. I basically scooped up all the clothes and toys that were strewn about, and stuffed it in a closet. Needless to say, my mom was smarter than me. That night she was the meanest mom in the entire world and made me stay home. There were many tears, I'm sure I told her some unkind things, and sulked in my room. My life was over. She came upstairs later and said let's bake some cookies. She probably launched my love of baking and journaling through recipes that very night. I remember it all so clearly. As I thumbed through the Cooky Book I saw notes on many recipes, most in her hand, some in my sister's. We decided on pumpkin cookies, and I wrote "excellant" next to the recipe with my memory and the date (I did misspell it, and often do to this day!). There was likely a note, and invitation and a photo tucked away in the book as well. Every cookbook of my mom's, and now in my own kitchen, is a sort of diary, and a place for special mementos. My stories are told by what we ate! It is, after these many years, a very happy story.
I made a few changes to the recipe I used 44 years ago, and they are noted below in the recipe. The original is in the photo. Pumpkin Pie spice is a perfect fall blend, but has no ginger. So when I opted out of raisins and pecans and added chocolate chips and walnuts, I tossed in some crystallized ginger as well. It was a welcome addition. The cookies are a little spongy, and don't spread. I did reduce the baking powder, so I am not sure if that altered the final cookie. I iced them with a browned butter cinnamon buttercream, and I know my mom would love every single bite!
PUMPKIN DROP COOKIES
from the Betty Crocker Cooky Cookbook
changed up by SweetiePetitti
1½ cups brown sugar
½ cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
1¾ canned pumpkin (this is one, 15oz. can)
2¾ cups flour
1 t baking powder
2 teaspoons Pumpkin Pie Spice
1/2 cup chocolate chunks
1 cup chopped walnuts
handful of chopped crystallized ginger
Preheat oven to 400º I use convection and set my oven at 380º.
Using a hand mixer, cream brown sugar, butter, and vanilla until mixed thoroughly.
Add eggs and pumpkin and mix just until it comes together.
Add flour, baking powder and spices and carefully mix until no dry ingredients remain.
Add your assortment of chunks.
Drop by mounds onto parchment lined baking sheets. Bake 7 minutes and turn sheet and change shelves in oven and bake another 8 minutes. Cookies should be dry but not really browned. Remove from oven to cooling rack, and remove cookies from sheet when cool to the touch. Cool completely before icing.
BROWNED BUTTER CINNAMON BUTTERCREAM
4 T butter
1 t vanilla
3 cups powdered sugar (more if it gets too thin)
a little milk or cream as needed
Place butter in a small pan (very small if you have a butter pan!) and gently bring the heat up to medium as the butter melts. You need to watch very carefully, and as the butter takes on a golden brown color you will smell the heavenly scent. Remove from heat before anything burns! Let the butter cool to a soft consistency before whipping with vanilla and adding powdered sugar and milk to get the proper consistency. You want it spreadable. Taste it often, trust me. If it's humid it'll need more powdered sugar, if it's a dry day, more milk. Ice the cooled cookies and chill until firm enough to stack in airtight containers. Make coffee and call me....I'll be right there! What are you waiting for? Get in there and bake!