It’s easy for Debi Bender to scare up good food for her family to enjoy. Her trick is to have a repository of recipes that are kid-approved. And her treat is mixing it up with her grandchildren in the kitchen.
Debi and Bob Bender, her husband of 40 years, have three children and six grandchildren. Their oldest grandchild, 11-year-old Parker Bender from Lenexa, is his grandmother’s right-hand man. “Being the oldest can be a little crazy, but it’s fun,” Parker says. “If everyone gets too crazy, I just give each one a cookie.”
Occupation: Not-for-profit writer and speaker
Special cooking interest: Bewitchingly sweet treats.
You are surrounded by a lot of characters in your kitchen. Why do you enjoy being in the kitchen with all your grandchildren? Cooking from scratch is becoming a lost art. I think it’s important to pass along the knowledge I have to the next generation, so that it doesn’t become lost. We need to give our children the tools to be able to take care of themselves.
My family has always cooked together, because we love to eat together. And while we have a family cookbook we have compiled over the years of our favorites, we are always testing new recipes.
Why did you choose this recipe to share? This sugar cookie recipe is from Alberta Nichols Dankers, my maternal grandmother. She lived in Michigan and was married to my grandfather, Howard, who was a farmer. Farming was a big part of their family income, but with five children it wasn’t enough. So my grandmother worked part time in the public schools as a cook in the cafeteria.
At home, my grandmother was a great cook, too. One of my fondest memories is how she would always have her sugar cookies on the table when we came to visit. She holds a special place in my heart because it is through her ancestral line — here in America, since 1648 — that my mother and I were able to become members of the Daughters of the American Revolution or DAR. I have been a member of DAR since 1990 and a member of Quivira Crossing Chapter in Lenexa for more than 20 years.
Isn’t it interesting how family history intersects with food? As one of my majors in college, history has always been one of my loves. Since another one of my other favorite activities is cooking, I have been fortunate to be able to combine the two. I give talks and demonstrations from time to time about the history of American cooking through the DAR and Girl Scouts organizations.
More than any other influence, Americans have learned to cook from cookbooks. I have more than 500 cookbooks in my kitchen, and while many today search the Internet for virtual recipes, I believe there are many great recipes found in actual cookbooks.
If I had to choose only one cookbook to keep, it would be from America’s Test Kitchen. I love how they go into the science of cooking and explain the process behind creating great food.
How has your cooking evolved through the years? Cooking is an ever-evolving necessity of life, and we spend a lot of time at it — from family gatherings, holiday parties and neighborhood get-togethers — I enjoy it all.
I have always cooked from scratch, but since a breast cancer diagnosis in 2012, we are eating more organic foods. I gave up some red meat, but still enjoy my glass of wine.
Some of the best recipes in our family cookbook come from family and friends. That is why I am glad to share this sugar cookie recipe, handed down from my grandmother to my mother to me, and onto my children and now, grandchildren. Enjoy this yummy piece of our American family history.
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. Email her at email@example.com to nominate a cook.
Grandma’s Sugar Cookies
About 2 dozen 3-inch cookies
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
2 tablespoons buttermilk
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
Colored sanding sugar, for decoration
In a large mixing bowl, cream shortening and sugar together, using an electric mixer on medium speed. Add eggs, lemon extract and buttermilk, mixing until well combined.
Sift flour, baking soda, baking powder, nutmeg and salt together. Stir into creamed mixture until just blended.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Drop dough by tablespoons onto baking sheets. Gently press each tablespoon of dough with the bottom of a glass dipped in sanding sugar. (Sprinkle additional sanding sugar, nonpareils or baking decorations onto tops of unbaked cookies, if desired.)
Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until cookies are barely colored on edges. Remove cookies from baking sheet and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.
Continue process until all dough is used and cookies are baked. Store cookies in air-tight containers.
Per cookie: 117 calories (37 percent from fat), 5 grams total fat (2 grams saturated), 18 milligrams cholesterol, 16 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams protein, 88 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.