Lately, I find myself quoting Nora Ephron a lot; “I remember nothing”. My busy days jumble together, lovely moments with friends, the Opera or Theatre, are soon forgotten. But when I open my mother’s recipe box, and take the time to read her recipes, my palate has no problem savouring the flavours of her cooking, as if it were being served to me that very moment. And mostly, I remember the Christmas baking. Every Christmas mother would pick a Saturday, usually the 2nd Saturday in December, and the day was dedicated to baking. Every Saturday we would listen to the Metropolitan Opera, but Christmas baking day, mother would turn up the volume, sip a little sherry and the drama paired with the aroma was intoxicating. We were allowed a wee taste of everything on baking day; the rest was put away for company and Christmas Day. Her list wasn’t onerous; Mince tarts, Naniamo Bars, Birdsnests, Christmas Drop Cookies, Cherry Snowballs and the Prize Shortbread. To this day, I believe my mother’s shortbread to be the best in the world. Now the sad story is, my mother died 11 years ago, and every year I fondle the recipe, remembering, but fearful to make the shortbread; what if I make a mess and ruin the memory? Well, I have decided, my mother often said that FEAR was False Evidence Appearing Real, so I will make the shortbread this December and create a new memory for myself, one that I hope to remember.
PRIZE SHORTBREAD – the recipe of Peggy McIntosh, nee Gladys Margaret Clunas
1 cup unsalted butter
½ cup powdered sugar
1 egg yolk
¼ teaspoon salt
Flour (Mother did not include the amount, try 2 cups)
1. Soften the butter slightly, but do not allow it to become oily.
2. Stir in sugar, salt and egg yolk using a wooden spoon (wooden spoon is underlined in the recipe)
3. Add the flour, a very little at a time, until mixture is too stiff to work with the spoon.
4. Turn onto a floured board and knead lightly, drawing in flour all the time until the lump begins to crack.
5. Divide mixture in two, pat into 2 ungreased pie plates. Bake at 350 degrees, no time is given for baking (no wonder I am fearful!)
December 3rd, 2015 - Shortbread update.
Today I took the leap and made my mother’s shortbread. I put Ben Heppner into my CD player, turned up the volume and enjoyed the labour of love and memory. Did the first bite feel as good as mother’s? No, but it does age very well. Each morning before I leave my nest for the shop, I remove the wax paper that keeps the slab fresh, and break off a gentle, buttery, morsel. I find this ritual very pleasing, a nice way to start the day during the sweet season.