This week’s 52 Ancestors prompt is “Dear Diary,” but I’ve only inherited one diary over the years. I wrote about it a few months ago, too: the diary belonged to Maude (Merrill) Hammond in 1948, and she penned a few lines each day about the weather or her shopping trips for the entire year. It’s mundane, to be sure, but even the mundane offers clues into our ancestor’s past; I love being able to follow an ancestor’s footsteps and to read their thoughts, even if it’s only for a little while. I wish I had another diary to share this week, but we’re unfortunately out of luck. So I’ve decided to share the next closest thing: my Aunt Monie’s butter cookie cutouts recipe.
For the women in my family, recipe books and boxes are practically diaries, anyway. My paternal grandmother’s red-and-white-checkered Betty Crocker cookbook has notes about each recipe scribbled in the margins (the banana bread was “very good,” but the Russian tea cakes were “too crumbly”), and Grandma Hattie’s recipe revisions over time have been captured on each index card. When my sister and I would visit our grandparents over the summer, my maternal grandmother would always ask us to help her bake cookies, and I’m pretty sure this is what sparked my own love for baking. I remember making my first recipe in second grade: I was trying to make a cinnamon coffee cake for my parents, but I completely messed up the ingredients; it ended up being better than the original, and the recipe stuck. I don’t always have the same luck!
But today’s post is about Aunt Monie’s recipe cards, not my baking fails. Monica Stella Struzynski was born on April 10, 1913 in Dunkirk, New York to Joseph and Stella (Mendikosky) Struzynski, but everyone called her Monie. After graduating high school, Monie started working at the Safe Department Store, and she married my great-grandmother’s brother, Louis Marczynski, on August 7, 1935. Monie’s daughter described her as a “twenty-first-century kind of woman:” she played semi-professional baseball in her early twenties, and her wardrobe was “tailored” (“which really meant pants”). Like her husband, she was a nurturer, selflessly caring for “all those close to her with a heart that held no bounds.” And she was a good cook, too.
According to Monie’s son, she prepared Polish food, including kielbasa (Polish sausage), czarnina (duck soup) and platskis-latkes (potato pancakes). She even opened a restaurant and ice cream parlor–Sweet Shop–with her friend, Vicky Kwasniewski, between 1948 and 1954. But I’ve always loved cutout cookies (they’re the cookies my maternal grandmother taught us how to make over the summer), and, luckily enough, I have a copy of Monie’s recipe. It’s simple, straightforward and no-nonsense–just like Aunt Monie. And it’s a classic, sure-fire recipe for butter cutout cookies, too. You really can’t go wrong with this one; the ingredients you’ll need are 2 cups of butter or margarine, 1 cup of sugar, 2 teaspoons of vanilla and 4.25 cups of sifted flour (plus decorations and icing):
In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Blend in vanilla and egg.
Gradually blend in flour.
Set out baking sheet. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Roll out one fourth of dough at a time to an eight inch thickness and cut out, as you like.
I first roll all the dough into small rolls and refrigerate it till you can just slice.
Monie’s husband passed away on July 10, 1962 when she was only 49 years old; in the years that followed, she learned how to drive, got a job at Sidey’s Department Store and began a new life, determined to stand on her own two feet. And she did it: Monie had always been outspoken, independent and steadfast, and that never changed. She made sure that her children were loved and provided for, and she continued to try new things and to challenge herself to travel or rise up through the ranks at work. The way her children describe her today says it all, but I think her recipes give us a pretty good indication, too: like a diary, her short-but-sweet butter cutout cookies recipe gives me a glimpse into her world and personality. Maybe recipe books and diary entries aren’t too dissimilar, after all.