December 05, 2018They're the epitome of shortbread. Mom called them Pecan Sandies. Every blessed Christmastime, she'd form the dry dough into small balls and bake them, the buttery scent wafting throughout the house. Then she'd roll the warm cookies in powdered sugar.
A clueless kid, I munched on our decorated sugar cookies and washed them down with milk. A sophisticated baker, Mom bit into a Pecan Sandie that crumbled into her coffee. I can still see the ecstasy on her face.
Southerners love their butter, pecans, and coffee.
They're not the only tribe who claims these foods as old molecules in their DNA. There are Russian Tea Cakes, Swedish Tea Cakes, and Mexican Wedding Cakes—cousins of the Pecan Sandie clan.
After 48 Christmas seasons rolling crumbly dough between my hands, I understand. Who could resist naming this simple, exquisite pastry as their own?
I'm not a Pecan Sandie historian, but I hazard a guess Mom's recipe is an inherited variation of Scottish shortbread. After all, Mary, Queen of Scots, is attributed to popularizing "the biscuit" in her homeland-a sweet legacy from a bitter life.
A much happier history, my Great-granny Annie Chapman Hunt raised dairy cattle. She churned cream into butter then pressed it into molds. She hitched a mule to a wagon and drove to the nearest mining camps in eastern Kentucky to sell her merchandise.
"I felt real big when Granny let me help her with her butter molds," Mom said in her last years with us. "We never went hungry, even in the Depression."
I imagine Great-granny would've had plenty of butter available to bake shortbread during long, frigid winters. Every nineteenth century Southern cook kept flour in her barrel for biscuits. All Great-granny needed was salt and sugar to make shortbread. Nothing fancy for one of the most delicate confections on the planet.
My mother wasn't sure she approved when I first offered her a Pecan Sandie with mini chocolate chips. She stood by her ingredients with a fixed lower lip.
Decades later, I developed another new food molecule with one tablespoon of culinary lavender speckled throughout the dough. I promise you, if Mom could've smelled the aroma of baking butter, lavender, and chocolate she would've jigged for a taste.
I recently baked a double batch of Pecan Sandies for my herb group's cookie exchange at Seven Ponds Nature Center. I carried my contribution in the white vintage pail my mother gifted me twenty-five years ago. She hosted an Appalachian Christmas that December for all her progeny then some.
Dear Reader, I miss my mother sorely at Yuletide. I believe her Scots/German genes would've eventually developed a new Chocolate Lavender Pecan Sandie molecule.
The epitome of shortbread.
Blend: 1 cup butter with ½ cup powdered sugar; add 1 teaspoon vanilla.
Add to mixture: 2 ¼ cups flour, ¼ teaspoon salt, ½ cup chopped pecans, ½ cup mini chocolate chips (or chopped chocolate), and 1 tablespoon culinary lavender.
Bake for 12 minutes at 400 degrees on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Roll warm in powdered sugar. Cool thoroughly before storing. Yield: 2 ½ dozen
Email Iris at firstname.lastname@example.org.