Moms a cussin’, and it’s the camel’s fault

It would have been this weekend 40 years ago, and for many years before and many years after, that mom would have gotten out her Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book. She would turn to tab number 8 for cookies and page 149. Right there, was the only recipe for cookies that she would use for Christmas; Sugar Cookies.

You can see the stains of a well-used page. It’s a simple recipe that holds so many memories.

Her big Sunbeam Mixmaster would come off the top shelf and it was time to get started. Creaming the sugar and shortening, adding the vanilla and being taught how to crack an egg – this is when a kid realizes that mom is a magician. When the dough is done, it would go on the bottom shelf in the fridge and we would spend the hour cleaning up and getting ready to roll it out, cut it, and bake.

This isn’t mom’s. Her’s died and sat in the kitchen closet for a few years before she threw it out. I think hers had metal bowls instead. When I could afford my own stand mixer, I got a new Sunbeam Mixmaster for myself for Christmas one year. A couple of years ago Mick got me a KitchenAid and attachments.

Mom had a small set of aluminum cookie cutters. There was a Santa with a pack on his back, a bell, a star, an angel and a tree. There was one more and mom used to cuss it every time we used it, the one-hump camel.

These are similar to the ones that mom had. I don’t know if one of my brothers has her cutters or not. I remember them always being in the bottom drawer in the kitchen. 

We would always cut the cookies out on the kitchen table. Mom would flour the table and roll what she needed of the dough out with her wooden rolling pin, the one I have today. Then we would each get to take a cookie cutter and begin. We each had our favorite, but of course, we each wanted a turn with the camel. There would be other opportunities to get mom to cuss over Christmas, but this was too easy and it would not be our fault.

You see the problem with the camel is not that he had one hump, but that he had 2 legs. Legs which never wanted to come out of the cookie cutter. It did not matter how much mom would flour the dough before we cut it or even if you tried to flour the cutter, one of his legs would still stick and break off trying to get him out. These cutters had backs and handles, so you could not just push the cookie out, you had to shake it. All of them stuck to some degree. There we were, flour all over the table, our hands, and the cookie dough and we would commence to shaking. Every now and then Santa or an angle would take flight as they broke free of their aluminum chamber. Not the camel, though. He was humped in and hunkered down. Eventually, we would give up and take a butter knife and either set him free or carve him up. Mom would do her best plastic, or dough, surgery to whichever leg didn’t make it out.

This would be the camel with the detaching limbs. Sometimes we would just eat the broken leg raw. I know, you are not supposed to let your kids eat raw cookie dough. We survived better than the camel did.

Next, it was off to the oven. We gave them a generous amount of sprinkling with plain ole white sugar. We didn’t get into fancy sprinkles or colored sugars. We tried, but plain sugar always worked for us. It would always be my older brother’s jobs to keep an eye on the clock; eight minutes. When they were golden brown, mom would pull them out of the oven and set them on top of the stove. We only had a couple of cookie sheets, so we had to wait for those to cool a bit, get the cookies off and place a whole new batch. We also didn’t have any racks to put the cookies on to cool. Mom just laid out some clean dish towels and that worked pretty well. Some of the cookies might have had a little fuzz on the back if they were still hot when we took them off the sheets and laid them on the towels, but oh well.

As we moved through all the dough and mom fixed several broken legs, we would notice that some of the cookies began to stick to the cookie sheet when they came out of the oven. We may have been a little too generous with the sugar. We got to eat the broken cookies right then! And, you guessed it, I got a few legs and my brothers got a few humps.

When all the cookies were cooled, mom would put them in a lard tin she kept in the hall closet. It was the utility closet and always stayed cool, I guess because the pipes from the basement came up through there. She would pull out what we could eat into a smaller metal cookie tin. It had a pretty designed, colored lid and was still bigger than I could hold as a kid. I have no idea what ever happened to that old tin, but for years that was where we would find our Christmas cookies. If someone gave us a plate of cookies, they went in that tin too. Sometimes we would look in there in the spring and find a cookie or two that we had never eaten. They may have not been as fresh, but we didn’t care much. Who could resist a Christmas cookie in April?

I don’t really remember any other treats at Christmas, except a box of navel oranges that we kept in the basement and some years mom would make a tub of fruit salad. There were the mixed nuts that mom would get, but we could never crack them open by ourselves much. The nut bowl, for a long time, would go back up on the top shelf of one of the kitchen cabinets. Maybe mom kept it there so she could have them, I don’t know. Eventually, it went on the coffee table. Maybe that was when we were older and not as apt to accidentally take an eye out with one of the picks. And yes, I did say accidentally. Lots of things that happened to us growing up were by accident on purpose. As we got older, the camel may have accidentally on purpose lost a leg so we could hear mom cuss. I would give anything to hear her say “You damn camel!”  again.

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The Appalachian Tale

Memories, recipes, and Tales of an Appalachian Boy.

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