Growing up in the Midwest, cookies played a major part of my December. Throughout the holiday season, we gathered at my grandparent’s home for various parties and meals, always entering their home via the garage and past the cookies. Perched on the woodpile, the cookies lived in old tins between layers of wax paper and were kept cold by the Michigan winter. This holiday staple, a recipe by my grandmother, produces a soft and chewy cookie with a dense crumb and can easily be scaled up or down.

John Frederick Peto, The Poor Man’s Store (detail left), 1885
oil on canvas and panel, 90 x 65cm, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The American trompe l’oeil artist John Frederick Peto depicted ordinary objects at their actual size in his paintings. Peto worked within the genre throughout his career and The Poor Man’s Store is an early example of his aesthetic style. The jumble of goods displayed through an open window in the painting portrays candies and fruit, gingerbread and nuts. According to historical accounts, this shop window would have been a common sight on the streets of Philadelphia. Due to the disorderly arrangement of the humble items, Peto rarely had wealthy patrons and his work was often misattributed to the more successful tromp l’oeil painter William Harnett by unscrupulous art dealers (1).


 {Old-fashioned Molasses Cookies}

Recipe by my grandmother
Yield: around 72 cookies

1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup butter
2 eggs
1/2 cup molasses
3 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup water
5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon salt

Mix sugar, butter, eggs and molasses. Dissolve baking soda in water; stir into molasses mixture. Stir in remaining ingredients Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours.

Heat oven to 375F (190C) degrees. Roll dough ¼ inch thick on lightly floured cloth covered board. Cut with favorite cutter. Place 2 inches apart on lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake until light brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Cool.