My Grandmother Drum was quite the cook. Long before I was born, she was cooking for an extended family in Olney, Texas. I was told some of Grandaddy’s family lived with them, and along with their three children, they had a houseful. I wish I had a picture of her little narrow kitchen: a deep sink at one end with a counter top maybe two feet square beside it; on the right was one of those Hoosier cabinets with the funnel-shaped bins for flour on one side and sugar on the other with an enamel covered counter top that she could either fold up or push in out of the way when she wasn’t using it, not sure which it was. To the left was her very old black gas stove and oven. I’m sure there was a name for it, too She had just enough room to work at the Hoosier cabinet and then turn around to do something on her old black gas stove.
I have two ovens, a microwave, loads of counter space, an island with an electric range top on it, and I have trouble getting Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners on the table in coordinated fashion! Grandmother did all dinners, not just the big holiday meals, for more people at one time than I do, in that little kitchen, and everyone ate well. She wasn’t just a cook; she was a magician.
Grandmother’s side of the family, the Cornforths, came over on a boat from England in the late 1700s or early 1800s. Hard to get much more British than that! At least it sounds very British to me. A Cornforth married into the Tate family, which was Grandmother’s maiden name, and she married a Drum, Richard Alcedis Drum. They had three children, one of which was my mother, Jack Louise Drum.
I suspect many of my mother’s recipes were Grandmother’s recipes, and now they are mine as well. One of the dishes we always enjoyed was Grandmother’s tea cookies, which I suspect was handed down from her Cornforth family. After all, the British talk about tea cakes all the time; she just called them tea cookies for us. And we ate a ton of them.
At some point I asked Grandmother to give me that recipe, so she diligently typed it out on a note card for me. At some point I copied the recipe on another note card so I could put her original one up somewhere for safe keeping. And now, of course, it is really safe because I don’t remember where I put it and can’t find it! And I would love to share the original, typos and all, with you. One of these days I expect to come across it while looking for something else; at least I hope so.
One of the things that is fun about her original is the way she stated everything. The main thing I remember is that in the list of ingredients, she just said, “Flour, enough for rolling consistency.” Well! She knew how much that was, but I didn’t have a clue how much flour that would be. I played with it and after some experimentation, right or wrong, came up with three cups of flour. I don’t know that she ever even used a measuring cup; I suspect she just opened that bin of flour with one hand, put her other hand under the opening, and added handfuls of flour till she got the dough like she wanted it. She always made biscuits, too; I’m sure she measured for them in the same way and never got it wrong.
So here is my version of her recipe:
1 cup shortening-Crisco to us these days
1 cup sugar
3 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
Melt shortening; add other ingredients in order listed; roll out and cut cookie dough; bake at 450 degrees for
7 minutes. Thinner cookies are crispier; I usually make them a bit thicker.
I was fortunate enough to wind up with her cookie cutter, well, probably her biscuit cutter, and use it many times when making these cookies. No telling how long she had it. It has Gladiola in raised letters on the handle, so no doubt it came with some bag of Gladiola flour back in the day when flour came in large printed cotton material bags which she then made into pajamas and other clothing for all the grandchildren. I know that she used it so much that at some point Daddy had to weld or solder the handle back on for her.
When I was teaching and would sometimes take cookies to school to share in the teacher work room, I would add food coloring just for fun. It was always fun for me to see how they turned out, color-wise, and what the patterns would look like.
These cookies are easy to make and have a good shelf life. They aren’t real sweet, but have a nice flavor. So if you want to try a new recipe, this might be one to consider.
And of course, every time I make them, I see Grandmother in that tiny kitchen with the comforting smell of cookies baking.
Thanks to Shelia Stevenson and my cousin Richard Drum for help with this story.