December 31, 2021
Christmas was nearly a week ago, but we still have cookies galore at our house. That’s because my son takes after his Norwegian great grandmother. She always made seven different kinds of cookies for Christmas. He told me on Christmas Eve that he’d outdone himself this year and made eleven – that’s if you counted fudge and divinity as cookies!
My paternal grandmother, Thea Rustad Fernelius, started her cookie baking right after Thanksgiving. One of my earliest memories is of Grandma’s old, stoneware mixing bowls where she turned flour, sugar, butter, spices and eggs into cookies that I still yearn for, over seventy years after her death.
Some of her cookies were traditional Norwegian ones like krumkakes, sandkakes and spritzes. Others were more American like raisin-filled butter cookies and oatmeal cookies with a maraschino cherry on top. I’m sure she brought the recipes for the Norwegian cookies with her when she immigrated to the United States in 1914. The American ones probably came from the women’s page of the newspaper or from women’s magazines like Good Housekeeping or Ladies’ Home Journal.
Grandma’s cookies were her main way of celebrating Christmas. When I was little, I just assumed that everyone’s grandmother made batch after batch of Christmas cookies. When I got older and learned that not everyone made as many cookies as Grandma did, I just chalked it up to her liking cookies better than pies or candy.
It was only when I got interested in genealogy and joined the Swedish Genealogical Society of Colorado that I learned more about Swedish (and by extension, Norwegian) culture. I’d never even known that seven was considered the minimum number of different cookies needed for a proper Christmas celebration. Nine or eleven were even better. The number could vary as long as it was odd. All of those cookies were meant for visitors who’d drop by over the holidays. A cookie platter accompanied by strong coffee welcomed them.
I also learned that some of the cookies my grandmother made are very old recipes. Krumkakes, for example, are not baked in an oven. They’re baked in an iron which resembles a waffle iron. Grandma’s krumkake iron was metal and fit over one of the burners on her coal-burning stove. The whole idea of using an iron to make the cookies dates to several centuries ago when most Scandinavian homes didn’t have an oven.
After they’re baked, the round, thin krumkakes are rolled around a wooden rod to form a cone. This part must be done immediately while the cookies are still very hot. Grandma used to make dozens of the cookies, but nowadays we only make a small batch. It’s not because the cookies aren’t delicious; they
are. It’s just because they’re such a pain to make – literally. Burnt fingers are always a possibility. We always have the cookies plain, but some folks fill them with whipped cream and fruit or even custard.
My son has never cared much about genealogy. Making grandma’s cookies did interest him, and a few years ago he took over the cookie-making duties for our family.
Although I’d never make eleven batches of Christmas cookies, I can’t say I’m sorry that my son does. My grandmother would be proud.
Researcher/Director at Large