Right after my mother Sally’s mitral valve repair operation, she delighted in reading the comments and words of encouragement on Facebook. One comment in particular by a childhood friend of MCV’s, Angela, had literally touched Sally’s heart – Angela told her she was a “tough cookie”. Angela had given my mother an enormous virtual hug, a pat on the back across the continent. How’s that for encouragement?
One of Sally’s favorite Christmas cookies was an anise flavored German cookie called Springerle. Nana, our local fairy godmother, baked a variety of Christmas cookies every year and a tin of them always made its way to our house. Sally was not a baker. A fantastic cook, mind you, but not interested until later life in the Diabetic Arts. Even then, it did not sustain her interest like making kimchee, bone broth, or Persian sliders for did Sally have a sweet tooth.
If I was lucky, Nana would invite me over to her house in mid December to help bake the cookies. The dough would be chilled and formed into logs, swaddled in plastic wrap, waiting to be rolled and cut. Nana instructed me how to roll evenly, to place the cookie cutters intentionally to get the most out of the dough, and how to use the leftover bits to make clever little treats.
Nana’s frosted sugar cookies were simply the best. Soft, these cookies literally melted in your mouth, the vanilla butter cream frosting binding all the crumbly bits together.
Springerle, on the other hand, can break your teeth. Hardtack and dog biscuits are softer. I am not quite sure why Springerle are eaten, except to make the Germans happy. “Ve vill not make ze experience of eating a coooookie a pleasant one, ja?!”
But Nana made Springerle, just for my mother. I loved the rolling pin (baking jewelry!), the old fashioned designs rolling out in bas relief from the dough, but had no desire to eat them. This was an adult cookie.
So what, in the end, are the essential elements of a Tough Cookie? Intense flavor, for sure. Durability – not getting stale if left out on a plate overnight. Perhaps an interesting pattern, arising from the dough, not excised out of it, by a sometimes uneven hand. Grace under pressure. Chewy.
Because Sally was a Tough Cookie, enduring physical hardship after hardship, never taking fresh vegetables for granted, and finishing what she began, we were all more than a little hoodwinked when she died. Shocked. In utter disbelief. I personally felt cheated. Sally always pulled through. Even at the last, she made it off the operating table and out of the hospital, home in time for her husband’s birthday and Christmas. She did not die “of complications”. She did not die of a heart attack. Her heart just stopped beating but this time she pulled through to the other side.
Some of us never get out of the Sugar Cookie stage. As a tail end Baby Boomer, I want to yell at the next generation, “BUCK UP, BUTTERCUP! GET YOUR GRIT ON!” Otherwise, the darling snowflakes might end up as the Fruitcake on the Cookie Plate of Life, artificially colored sugar bits glommed together with nuts and sultanas, then baked and soaked in rum for up to ten weeks before wrapped in fancy cellophane and used as a doorstop, impromptu hockey puck, or semi nuclear missile. No one wants to be the fruitcake, even though it might not fall apart.
The better option is to be the Springerle. Both traditional holiday amuse bouches might end up sliding off a festive paper plate into the garbage but the Springerle will probably be found by archaeologists a millennium from now. The Snickerdoodles, Mexican wedding cakes, Fruitcake, and Fudge will not.
The supply of tough cookies is dwindling. If you know one, why not give them a call? Take them to lunch? Today I am thankful for Angela, who appreciated one when she saw one, even if that self-same tough cookie might have yelled at her to go play outside with my sister and served her something weird on a Friday night sleep over instead of pizza.