Our childhoods are partly defined by holiday traditions. A tradition which is unique in my experience is that of painting holiday cookies. As long as I can remember, my mother has been making sugar cookies from a recipe in the old McCall’s cookbook (they use sour cream and nutmeg, and are delicious even without icing), then painting them with different colours of icing. I think it started with Christmas cookies (trees, Santa faces, reindeer, bells, balls, candy canes), then we had Easter cookies (chicks, eggs, flowers) and Thanksgiving cookies (turkeys, autumn leaves, pumpkins).
During a recent visit home, I got to help decorate the Thanksgiving cookies with my mother, who’d been asked to supply some for a church event. I remembered how much fun I’d had doing this as a child and how proud I was when my cookies were praised. It can be a painstaking process if you do intricate designs, and developing a good technique takes a while. Painting with icing is different to using actual paint. The icing, which is coloured with food dye and thinned down with a bit of water, has to be pushed and pulled around the cookie using a small paintbrush. If it’s thin enough to have the consistency of real paint, the icing will soak into the cookie, so what you want is a thin paste but nothing really runny.
For this year’s cookie shapes we had leaves, apples, turkeys, pumpkins, bell peppers and horses. The peppers were a bit of a stretch, but how often do you get to make cookies shaped like bell peppers? We were working to a tight schedule so didn’t get too elaborate, but I had a bit of time toward the end of the evening and took out a red apple-shaped cookie whose icing had already dried. With a very small brush I painted a tiny worm peeking out of the apple, and with the point of a toothpick, I applied eyes and a bit more definition. I left the wormy apple on top of the pile for my mother to find, wondering whether she’d be amused or find it icky.
Twenty minutes later, she was demanding more worms for all the other apples. We finally decided to do just a few and scatter them among the plates of cookies to surprise people.
I’m looking forward to being able to paint cookies with Small Boy in a couple of years. When my niece visited a few Easters ago, the activity was a big hit, so I’m sure he’ll enjoy it as well.