Back in the days of Woodstock, my mother opened The Country Sampler in the sleepy village of Boalsburg in Central PA. While others were dabbling in psychedelia, I was a very un-hip teenager, wrapping gifts and helping with cooking demonstrations at “The Sampler”.
One year my mother hosted Elaine Light from nearby Punxsutawney who had written a cookbook entitled “Gourmets and Groundhogs”. My mother sold the book at her shop, along with groundhog cookie cutters. That was when my mother and I began baking groundhog cookies for shop customers every February 2.
The groundhog cookie tradition traveled with me from Central PA to the Lehigh Valley, where my husband and I began our family. Nonna passed the tradition of Punxsutawney Phil and groundhog cookies to Marina and Richard, as well as her 10 other grandchildren. The kids took groundhog cookies to school in their lunch bags, and sometimes I sent in a whole batch for their classmates to celebrate our Pennsylvania winter holiday.
In the early 1990s, as a new mother, I began working part-time for a volunteer gardening organization in the Lehigh Valley. We needed an inexpensive way to recognize the dedication of our volunteers, and decided on a yearly potluck with special awards. December was too busy a month. January, too frozen. We seized upon the idea of holding the celebration on Groundhog’s Day, winter’s turning point for garden lovers to contemplate spring. To continue the theme, I ordered groundhog cookie cutters from The Country Sampler. At the ceremony, I dressed in tails and a top hat, a fellow gardener brought a stuffed groundhog, and I asked the new class members questions about groundhogs. With each correct answer the trainee would get a cookie cutter. And, of course, we served groundhog cookies for dessert. Believe it or not, the get-together continues today.
The years went by, and groundhog cookies went to Women’s Winter Weekends, Kutztown school events, Fleur-de-Lys Farm Market, and filled our home kitchen with a wonderful spicy molasses scent (not to mention filling our tummies).
As I entered 2011 alone in our farmhouse, I needed a pick-me-up. My soon-to-be-ending marriage was reduced to stacks of documents shuffling back and forth between attorneys. Knee surgery and snowstorms kept me inside, so I started baking groundhog cookies.
The first batch was mailed to Brussels so Marina and friends could partake of the silly Pennsylvania custom. Our Brasilian “son” Celso stopped by to help with farm chores and got his yearly dose. Richard visited and gobbled a few. And, of course, I’ve been “tasting” them as well, to make sure they are as good as I remember.
At Kutztown University’s health fair last week, I picked up a packet of simple activities for dementia patients called Mind, Body and Soul. I was headed to State College for my monthly visit with my mother who is suffering from the disease, and my mind focused once again on groundhog cookies. It seemed the perfect diversion to share with my mother, as she had shared with me 40 years before. A bit of nostalgia, and sweet treats to eat.
On Friday I arrived in State College with a Ziploc of the cookie dough, and on Saturday, began rolling out portions between layers of waxed paper. I cut out our beloved groundhog cookies and I placed them in rows on parchment-covered cookie sheets. Then my mother joined in. She “painted” each one with a slightly beaten Fleur-de-Lys egg wash and pressed a raisin “eye” on each cookie. Then we slid the trays into the oven. Through it all, a circular conversation swirled in the kitchen.
What are these? Groundhog cookies.
They’re really thick. Shouldn’t they be thinner? They’ll be fine.
Oops, that one lost a tail. No problem, we can fix it.
Where did you learn to make these? You taught me.
Are these rabbits? No, they’re groundhogs.
They’re coming out of the oven like Grant took Richmond. Why are you baking so many? For the Groundhog’s Day party.
Where is the party? Seipstown Grange.
Are you going? Yes, and so are you.
Where did you get the mold? From The Country Sampler.
Oh, my old store. Yes.
Should I put the eyes on now? Sure.
These raisins are really big. The better to see you with, my dear.
Why are you making these cookies? For Groundhog’s Day.
Where did you get this recipe? From you.
Oh, I just have to try one. They’re kind of hard … but tasty. Good.
And on it went. I lined up our treasured cookies on the trays, and she painted and placed the raisins. Row after row. Then, with my mind somewhere else, I slid one of the cutouts upside down amongst the others.
“That one’s upside down. You’d better watch out, I might just put a belly button on it.”
It made me smile. Laurie Lynch
2 cups flour
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cloves
1 ½ tsp. cinnamon
½ cup soft butter
1 cup sugar
½ cup molasses
1 egg yolk
1 egg, slightly beaten
Sift flour, salt, soda, baking powder, and spices together and set aside. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Blend in molasses and egg yolk. Stir in flour mixture and mix well. Form into ball and wrap in plastic. Chill overnight. Roll out a small amount at a time between waxed paper to avoid sticking. Cut out groundhog shapes with floured cutter. Place on parchment-lined cookie sheets. Brush with slightly beaten egg. Decorate with raisins. Bake 8 to 10 minutes in 350° oven. (Depending on the thickness, I bake them 10-12 minutes.) Cool before removing from sheet. Place in tin for storage.
Groundhog Cookie Tasting: At Fleur-de-Lys Farm Market, 440 Hottenstein Road, Kutztown, on Wednesday, Feb. 2. If the roads are too icy, we’ll continue into Thursday.
Groundhog Cookie Cutters: Available from H.O. Foose Tinsmithing Company, 18 West Poplar St., Fleetwood, PA 19522 or on the Web at foosecookiecutters.com
Fleur-de-Lys Farm Market: Open for egg sales throughout the winter. Stop by or call ahead for availability, (610) 683-6418.
Written in Slate: “We can do no great things, just small things with great love. It is not how much you do, but how much love you put into doing it.” – Mother Teresa