(by Janet Clare)
I’ve never spent much time, maybe none, thinking about cooking and eating and my mother. I have no memory of ever having cooked together. Maybe that’s strange, but there it is. As a little kid, I might set the table or wash and dry the dishes (pre-dishwasher), but that was pretty much the extent of my foray into the kitchen.
It was the sixties, and I, dressed in head-to-toe-black, was consumed with some vague adolescent existential dread, and spent my time hiding out in my beige and orange (orange!) bedroom, reading late into the night with a flashlight under the blankets. I couldn’t be bothered about cooking. Entirely too bourgeoise, or so I thought, even if I wasn’t totally sure what it meant. And, once I went away to college, I never again lived at home.
Naturally, I went on later in my life to cook oh-so-many meals for a grand variety of people, even did a little baking, to the point where I was capable of whipping up a pleasant enough dinner without poisoning anyone.
Recently, however, I was digging around in my mess of recipes, (most never made, certainly not in this century), looking for a strange cookie recipe my mom used to make because my father loved them. Onion cookies. Sounds weird, and they were, but weirdly good. Eastern European in origin, as far as I know. I finally found my mother’s handwritten recipe on the browned notebook paper that she had given me probably 40 years ago. I think I made the cookies once for my dad and never again; not sure why, maybe they didn’t turn out well at the time. Perhaps, as with so many things, the memory was better than the reality. Nevertheless, there’s something drawing me now to this plain, rather dry morsel, thinking they might be swell with a cup of coffee. There’s nothing sweet—not a speck of sugar or honey—about this cookie, which might be likened instead to a kind of cracker or biscuit.
In today’s world, I was able to look up recipes online for this odd cookie that I once thought was particular to my family. The variations appeared similar, though most notably my recipe does not include poppy seeds, and that’s fine with me; such useless little beads that get stuck in your teeth. My mother’s entire written recipe takes less than half a page, the blue ink long faded into milky veins, but still easily legible. Her instructions were simple and imprecise: “flour to hold dough, about 5 or 6 cups, roll about 1/8 thick, cut up any which way, makes a lot of cookies.” Hers were mostly diamond shape, as I recall. The last line of the recipe makes me smile: “If you have any problems—call.” I wish I could. My mom passed away at 99, although since she was born in July, 1916, and died in March, 2016, she did, indeed, reach her 100th year. Still of sound mind, her final words were startlingly breathtaking in clarity: “I’ve had enough.” Of what? I asked. “Of this life.” The attending nurse and I both were left speechless.
As a kid, I remember coming home from school to find clean dishcloths spread around the kitchen and my mother turning thin crepe-like pancakes onto each one, then plopping a large dollop of hoop cheese mixture. I might have that recipe, too, but I have no intention of ever making it. It was a dish she’d made infrequently, then stopped altogether, also dropping any form of red meat in favor of chicken or fish. Times were changing, and when my father was diagnosed as pre-diabetic, she went into full gear rearranging their diet and keeping him off medication for years. Always slim, to her last days she never failed to eat fresh vegetables, but also never denied herself a daily small piece of chocolate and a bit of ice cream.
Into her 90s, we would go out to lunch, often sharing an avocado club sandwich, which she adored, and occasionally to a deli where she and my husband would split a bologna sandwich, delighting in their joint appreciation of an apparent delicacy that still remains a mystery to me.
A bite to eat, a ride to the ocean; my mother was easy to please. I miss her as we all miss someone lost to us, but now my plan is to bake those strange onion cookies in a wild attempt to recapture the scent, the taste, and the nostalgia of a time gone by.
3 large onions, chopped
1/2 c. oil
1/2 c. water
2 eggs, beaten
2 t. salt
1 t. pepper
approximately 5 - 6 c. flour
Mix ingredients together, adding enough flour to hold dough together.
Roll out about 1/8 inch thick on a floured board, adding more flour as needed.
Cut up any which way.
Prick tops of cookies with a fork.
Preheat oven to 350 F. and bake until lightly browned.