This weekend we are re-enacting an annual family tradition that has its roots in growing up in Youngstown–pizzelle making. Our son and his wife will join us tomorrow afternoon to make 14 to 16 dozen of these wonderful Italian cookies made two at a time on what appears to be a waffle iron (the same one we received from my mother-in-law the first year we were married).
We usually put some Christmas music on to inspire us and have on hand a pot of coffee and other beverages to fortify us. I usually mix up the ingredients and the batter so it is ready when they arrive. My daughter-in-law is great at making perfectly sized dough-balls and positioning them just so (the appearance of our pizzelles have greatly improved since she became part of the family!). Since this process takes several hours, we tag team and give each other breaks. What is amazing is that after doing this for more than a half a dozen years, there is still family harmony! We split the results between us, which usually end up as gifts to family and neighbors or get added to the party buffet at Christmas parties.
What we’ve found is that often when we mention pizzelles to friends who are not from Youngstown, we get quizzical looks. Sometimes they will say, “Oh, those “spider” cookies” because of the web-like design on them. But almost everyone loves them, except for those who don’t like the taste of anise, which is one of the ingredients in our family recipe. In preparing to write this post, I asked my wife, from whose family our recipe came, about whether I could share it. Let’s just say that she prefers to keep it our family’s “secret recipe” for right now. I will share that one key for us is using margarine rather than butter which avoids a “burnt” taste because of butter burning more easily (we found this out when we substituted butter one year).
Christmas baking was a big thing growing up in Youngstown. Ours is a pretty modest affair but often, families would spend weeks before the holiday doing all kinds of baking — pizzelles, kolachies of different types, bow tie cookies, snowballs, all sorts of sugar cookies, some iced (we sometimes make a candy cane sugar cookie), springerle, thumbprints and those peanut-butter cookies with Hershey’s kisses, and so many more!
Youngstown back then was a city with many extended families all living in the same town, often in the same part of town. Christmas celebrations often moved from house to house during the holidays. A spread of cookies was always essential!
At this point, I want to give a shout-out for Recipes of Youngstown (the link will take you to a website with info about how to get a copy) that has all sorts of cookie recipes including a number of different pizzelle recipes. The cookbook is chock full of recipes for all your favorite Youngstown foods and the proceeds go to the Lanterman Mill Restoration Fund. We not only have our own copy but have bought several as gifts for fellow Youngstowners who have absolutely loved it!
What were some of the cookies and other pastries that were part of Christmas celebrations growing up? What are your memories of baking for the holidays?