Weird Cookies

My grandmother, my mother’s mother, always looked the same to me, from the time I was aware of her as a little kid to the year she died in 1989 when she was 96 (she said she could have done without the last four years). She is here with her brother George.

She always wore a dress – never skirts but a dress. She was not a cuddly grandma type person. We called her Grandmother, sometimes Grandmum but always the grand thing. Not an imperious grand, just a civil, respectful one.

She was the most seriously Canadian person I knew. Never half this and part that. She didn’t have an old country. She was born in this one and so were her parents. In 1918, the year women got the vote in Canada, she was there. Maybe she left her babies at home but certainly she put a big X by the Liberal candidate on her ballot. I remember my mother and aunts saying to each other how it probably pained her to leave this world with her country in the hands of the then conservative prime minister, Brian Mulroney.

Before that, she made these weird cookies – oatmeal raisin made with bacon fat rather than butter. No one knows where they came from, they just always were.

I first had them on a family trip out west to visit my grandparents when I was five, the same time of this photo. Nothing could have shocked my palette more – had I known I had one. My mother didn’t make them, even though she (as I do today), saved bacon grease on top of the stove.

I ate the two I was given, on a plate in the afternoons, in my grandparent’s city house with the porch pantry and the prune plum tree. The first bite always surprised me, yet it was somehow compelling. Reality was, it was the only sugar I was going to get until after dinner when we were offered Foley’s mints following the thin rhubarb or apple sauce served in the crystal fruit nappies.

The farms and ranches my grandparents came from were never very far from their city life. The table discussions were about crops, cattle, politics. The spare time activity in the day was reading. We had to ‘behave ourselves’. This meant playing quietly and for more than 20 minutes. I don’t remember being bored but maybe I was.

I learned about Penny Wise on that trip. She was the frugal lady in the Vancouver Sun (the women’s pages of the paper) who helped homemakers stretch their dollars. She looked old, at least 103 by my calculations, given her hair do. A few years later, when we had moved from Ontario to Vancouver, they retired Penny. My grandmother was disappointed though pragmatic. I know this now because she drew the quiet sigh that people do when their turn at deciding is past.

Maybe Penny was responsible for the bacon oatmeal cookies. It would be her kind of thing. They were an economy saving recipe, one that my grandmother kept long after the Depression and the sugar rations of the war (WW ll), and the county’s economic situation improved. She liked them.

The recipe was, is, glued in a few places in her 1915 edition of the Boston Cooking-School Cookbook, along with many clippings from Edith Adams Cottage, another regular Vancouver Sun newspaper cooking feature (I bet Edith is responsible for those swanky tomato juice starters in the photo). I also found the weird cookie recipe in my Aunt Jane’s recipe box, neatly transcribed with a Smith Corona typewriter.

I made them a while back and found I liked them, albeit in that same hesitant way, but my daughter liked them wholeheartedly. I took a half dozen to my Aunt Eleanor, who had lived her life with her parents (my grandparents) and so would have regularly packed two (always two) into her brown bag lunches while she went off to her high class office job. Polite as always she thanked me, but I got the idea they weren’t anything she hankered after. Maybe she never liked them. Maybe she thought they should have been left behind in the Depression, or been a memory of the war.

Not me. I have enough bacon grease again, so I’m going to make. Here’s how (and a photo).