Butter Cookies:  A Century Old Recipe from a Century Old Farm

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Homesteader and Swedish Immigrant Great-Grandpa Ole Larson and his family. Standing in front of the big house. 

The farm that I was born on in Swede Grove Township, Minnesota, has been a “Century Farm” for many years.  The house and barn were built in the 1880s and 90s.  The small original homestead cabin eventually became a pig shed after the big house was finished.

As a young child, I loved to play in the basement of grandmother’s “big house.”  In that cold dank dark basement, I could count on finding salamanders and abandoned old wood burning kitchen stoves. I liked the antique stoves a whole lot more than I did the slimy spotted reptiles sticking to the moist basement walls.

In that basement, I could spend hours in a make believe world pretending to be a great chef as I “cooked” on those curly legged, silver and white porcelain stoves.  I still remember how heavy the burner plates were to lift and what the tool used to lift them looked like.  It had a large metal coil on the end that you held in your hand and the other end was a slightly curved flat screw driver tip.  I also learned very quickly to be careful not to get my fingers pinched should the heavy oven door snap closed.

One of my great regrets in life, besides not having my grandmother teach me the Swedish language, has been not having her teach me how to really bake using one of those stoves.  My grandmother and my great aunts to their dying day maintained that bread, cakes and cookies never tasted as good in a modern oven as those that were baking in an old wood burning stove.  I was assured over and over again that none of their baked goods ever tasted like smoke.

From their stories, I gleaned that there was quite an art to regulating the coals to get the perfect baking conditions.  Those gals never used an oven thermometer.  To regulate the heat they would open the oven door insert a hand into the hot oven air and judge the temperature by the speed at which they could feel the heat on their hand.  They were all experts on the process. Never was food burned, as wasting food was a sin.  All of their special baking was always delicious and perfectly browned from the hearty breads to the most delicate of butter cookies.

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Auntie Esther Kronbeck, Grandma Esther Larson and Aunt Hilda Kronbeck

Growing up on a dairy farm has many perks.  One of them is an endless supply of fresh butter.  This is the butter cookie recipe that my Grandmother Esther used.  I have so many wonderful memories of baking cookies with her when I was so young I had to stand on a chair to reach the counter to help stir the dough.

While I may regret that I cannot share with my children and grandchildren the lost art of baking with a wood burning stove. I can pass on the generational traditions, recipes and farm stories that those women shared with me. Traditions like making butter cookies with and for grandchildren.  Today, my butter cookie dough is already in the refrigerator chilling.  This afternoon I will roll out, bake and frost a batch of heart shaped cookies to give to my grandson tomorrow when I see him.

I hope you enjoy this very old and well-used recipe for butter cookies, I know he will.

100 Years of Butter Cookies Recipe

Preheat oven to 425 degrees

1 cup soft butter
½ cup sugar
1 egg

3 teaspoons almond or vanilla extract
3 cups of all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder

Using an electric hand mixer, in a medium-sized mixing bowl thoroughly mix together butter, sugar and egg.  Add in flavoring extract.  Mix until combined.

Sift together in a small mixing bowl the flour and baking powder.  Stir the dry ingredients into the butter, sugar and egg batter.  Continue stirring until a dough forms.  It will look dry at first, but it will make a moist dough when completely combined.

Chill dough for at least one hour.  On a lightly floured counter top roll out to thickness of ¼ inch.  Cut into desired shapes.  Bake until delicately browned. Baking time is about 5 to 7 minutes.

Yield: about 7 dozen 2 inch cookies.

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Me and my brother on the upstairs porch of the big house.
I was the robber and he was the sheriff. 


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