In my first post in this series of #100morselsofjoy, I talked about the resort I grew up going to ever summer, and how all the owners of the resort were related, and how each one of them took care of a specific aspect of running the resort. Well, while all the owners hold a special place in my heart, and my memories, my hands down favourite was Lillian.
Lillian ran the kitchen – from that little room on the left with the white awning and flower boxes. Every morning, Lillian baked. And the smells that came out of that window could, and often did, make a person swoon. Luckily, there were two ways resort guests could get their hands on Lillian’s baking; either you could put an order in for what you would like, or, you could wander down to her kitchen and see either what was just coming out of the oven, or what cookies she had packaged (on little styrofoam trays placed inside plastic bags and tied with a little wire tie) and stored in a large chest freezer.
Yup. That’s me (and the dog Rex that lived at the resort). And right behind me . . . that’s the door to Lillian’s kitchen. I’m about 5 in this picture, and I’m pretty much as happy as can be, because as soon as I’m done with my ritual patting of Rex, I know I get to go into Lillian’s kitchen and see what she has baking. Even as young as five, I knew I wanted to know how she made such magic in her kitchen . . . and that when I grew up, I wanted to be able to spread happiness the way she did by making things in the kitchen.
As a young teenager, it became apparent that the resort owners were getting old and would be putting the resort up for sale. My father, in a stroke of genius, asked Lillian if he could accompany into her kitchen and watch her bake. She said yes! I was on cloud nine. I was finally going to get to see the inner workings of the kitchen where so much magic and so much happiness was created.
That experience, in that old cottage kitchen, with a woman who had been baking her entire life, is etched into my memory. She had been baking for so long that she didn’t need a recipe. She simply baked by feel.
Perhaps at this point I should note that while her cookies were out-of-this-world delicious, her “sticky” buns were even better – the secret she claimed being that she used maple syrup that had been made on the property. And it was on sticky-bun day that I got to watch her bake (sticky bun day was Thursday, and resort guests were sure to put in orders for these as there were never any leftover to be put into the freezer for sale at a later date).
As the morning unfolded, I realized that my dad’s stroke of genius may have had more to do with attempting to obtain Lillian’s recipe for the aforementioned sticky buns and any secrets she might have had that made them taste so good. Unfortunately, since Lillian could bake solely by feel, and didn’t need a recipe, it was difficult to pin down exactly how she made those buns (to this day, I’ve never been able to recreate them. However, if you live in Toronto, and ever go to the Brickworks Market on a Saturday, there is a woman there who sells cinnamon buns that taste remarkably close to Lillians – her stall is in the north east corner of the market – they are laden with brown sugar and butter – and not the maple syrup that I prefer – but they are stupendously good nonetheless)
BUT, not all was lost. She did have one recipe that she actually had written down, and that she was willing to share. Luckily for us, it was the recipe for our most favoured cookie of all the cookies she made . . . it was a raspberry jam thumbprint cookie. But the cookie itself wasn’t the traditional shortbread. Nope. It’s a brown sugar/oatmeal cookie with desiccated coconut mixed in. A better cookie, you have never tasted.
And so, each year, when my family is assembled, I try to make at least one batch of these cookies for everyone to enjoy. Today was that day. It was another gloriously sunny day, and the perfect day for a picnic lunch, complete with Lillian’s cookies.
As the cookies cooled, I made myself a thick peanut butter and jam sandwich (strawberry) on freshly-baked white bread, a few sandwiches for the kids, sliced up some fresh veggies and lots of watermelon, and by the time the cookies were cool, we were ready for our lunch by the water. And a better lunch, we could not have had. Pure joy!!
And that . . . in a nutshell . . . is where I feel in love with baking, and why I find so much joy when I’m in my kitchen and I hope, that by sharing this story, and this recipe, I can share some of the magic and happiness of Lillian’s kitchen with you.
Lillian's Oatmeal Jam Cookies
- 2 cups lard (due to all the work I’ve done with the Coach, I just couldn’t bring myself to use lard . . .so I used butter. Did they taste as good. Yes. But they also weren’t as crispy – was that due to the 100% humidity we had here today . . . maybe . . . so use whatever you have on hand/prefer to use)
- 2 1/2 cups brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- 2 cups coconut (1 200g bag)
- 2 1/2 cups oatmeal
- 2 1/2 cups AP flour
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp baking powder
- raspberry or strawberry jam (about 1/3 of a cup)
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, using the Convection Baking option if you have it.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer (although Lillian did all her mixing by hand in a big bowl with an equally big wooden spoon) cream together the butter and the brown sugar.
- Add in the eggs and vanilla and mix well until the mixture is light and fluffy.
- In a large bowl, measure out the flour, oats, coconut, baking powder and salt. Add half of this mixture into the stand mixer and mix until just combined. Add in the remaining dry ingredients and mix until everything is well mixed.
- Roll the dough into about 1″ balls, if not a touch larger and place on cookie sheets (no need to grease/line the cookie sheets. Using your hands, flatten the balls only the slightest amount, and using your finger, make a small indent into the top of the dough ball. Into this little well, place about 1/2 tsp of jam (I use 2 teaspoons to get this job done).
- Bake for 8-12 minutes. The cookies will spread and should crisp up nicely (unless of course you are making these in weather conditions that include 100% humidity!)