I decided to make Lap Cookies since Mrs. P. Uttley contributed this Christmas recipe to the 1906 Berlin Cook Book and she has a connection to the city of Waterloo. Tonight I attended an annual year-end gathering of colleagues from various museums and galleries in the area. It was great to see old friends again, hear the latest news and it was nice to listen to at least four of them discussing my blog! For as long as I can remember this event has been held at the Huether Hotel in Waterloo. This old hotel has had a number of name changes in its long history, including the Kent hotel during my university days. Back then part of it was a strip club — something I’d forgotten when I chose to make cookies with the word “lap” in the title.
I have the strong suspicion that Lap Cookies is a variation of Lebkuchen, a traditional German Christmas treat. I happened to have a cookie recipe book out on the kitchen table as I started getting ready to make Lap Cookies. This slim little volume collects all the best cookie recipes from author Edna Staebler’s Food That Really Schmecks series of cookbooks. I was pretty sure it contained a Lebkuchen recipe and it turns out she also has a recipe for Lep Cookies. If you think about Lap, Lep and Leb it is easy to see how changes in spelling take place particularly switching from German to English. I used Edna Staebler’s recipe to help me figure out Mrs. P. Uttley’s recipe since Edna Staebler was born the year the Berlin Cook Book was published and she was a local girl. She writes in her cookbook that “There hasn’t been a Christmas in my life without Lep Cookies and I hope there never will be. … Mother’s recipe, which she got from her grandmother makes eight cookie jars full”. The two recipes are different but there is a similarity in technique.
Mrs. Uttley’s recipe is also large so I cut it back to half. My first challenge was determining what she meant by syrup. Was this maple syrup? My supply of maple syrup was tossed during the fridge incident this summer and with unemployment imminent I couldn’t afford to restock. Edna’s recipe uses molasses. I had some Crown brand corn syrup on hand so I decided to use it since this is not only a product that was available in 1906 but also a popular Canadian brand at the time. http://achfood.ca/crown_history.htm I put two cups of syrup in a large saucepan on low heat. I intended to add one cup of milk but I was out of it so used cream instead. I weighed the sugar and added half a pound (8 ounces) to the pan. Once stirred together I turned up the heat and left it to reach a boil while I prepared the other ingredients.
One cup of almond bits weighed four ounces. It took a little less than a cup of citron, orange and lemon peel to reach four ounces. I added approximately a cup of each of the four ingredients to a bowl and stirred. I checked on the milk/syrup/sugar and stirred it too. Once the liquids reached a boil and removed the pan from the stove. Now I wasn’t sure whether I was to add the flour to this liquid or put the liquid in the bowl with the fruit and nuts and flour. I really didn’t have room in the saucepan for two pounds of flour so I mixed the flour, baking soda and cream of tartar with the fruit and nuts and then slowly added the hot liquid. I can’t imagine trying to mix up a full recipe. It was challenging getting everything blended as the dough became almost stretchy and rubbery. It was at this point I realized I’d forgotten to add the spices, something that would be easier to blend into the flour. I decided to go ahead and try to mix in some spices. I selected cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and more cinnamon.
Now I needed to turn this dough into cookies. I took teaspoons of the dough and dropped them onto a greased cookie sheet. I flattened each blob of dough a bit and baked them at 350 °F. for 10 minutes. I ended up keeping them in the oven for another 2 minutes as they were a little pale at the 10 minute mark. I was eager to taste them and didn’t wait for them to cool before tasting the first one.
Mrs. P. Uttley was Catherine (Catie) Oberer prior to marriage to a fireman named Peter James Uttley. They started their lives together in Waterloo and had three sons. By the 1911 census they’ve moved to Berlin where Peter is an engineer in a shop or a ship (its hard to read) and live at 181 Joseph Street. Based on the style of her recipe, I would assume Catherine is an older woman, but she is just 29 when the cook book is published. It is likely that this is a family recipe and so it reflects the changes as it is passed from mother to daughter. The ingredients are all listed at the beginning but there is a mix of weight and volume measures. The directions come at the end but they lack precision.
These are good cookies. I skimped on the spices so next time I’ll add more and taste the dough before baking. Fresh from the oven they are crispy outside and chewy inside. Once cool they are very hard outside but still somewhat soft inside. Edna Staebler’s recipe says they are hard at first and then later they’ll be chewy and keep for a long time. I’ll have to see how my cookies change over time.
Mrs. P. Uttley
1 quart syrup, 1 pint sweet milk, 1 pound sugar, 1 cup butter, 1/2 pound almonds, orange, lemon, and citron peelings, 1 tablespoon soda, 1 tablespoon cream of tartar, minced and spiced to taste. Boil milk sugar and syrup together, then add 4 pounds of flour.