December is a month rich with traditions around the world, as humanity celebrates the fruitfulness of the autumn harvest, cold death of the coming winter, and birth of the spring growing season. No matter where you live, what culture you are born into, there are traditions—all of which modern anthropologists and archeologists have diligently worked to catalogue the histories. Being an artist and an ESL teacher, I’ve come to appreciate learning about other cultures, as well as understanding the history of my own. So I wanted to share a family recipe that has been a favorite every Christmas in my family: Aunt Ethel’s Sugar Cookies.
Some of you probably recognize the name of this recipe as it is a very popular Betty Crocker cookie recipe. However, I didn’t realize this—nor did my family. For many years, my grandmother, Dee Dee, would make Aunt Ethel’s Sugar Cookies. We all thought it was a hallowed family recipe that she had learned from a great Aunt Ethel in our family (apparently, she was an aunt). Then one day, Dee Dee mentioned she needed a new Betty Crocker Cooky Book, because the Aunt Ethel’s recipe was very faded and stained. In that moment, all our beliefs could’ve been shattered—the nostalgia ruined as we discovered that this was not truly a family recipe. Yet, those cookies were too damn good, and we had a sense of humor. So, the tradition continued, and we made Aunt Ethel’s Sugar Cookies for Christmas (I’ve even made them for Valentine’s day and Easter!).
This is my adaptation of the Betty Crocker recipe, as I’ve made a few of my own tweaks to it over the years.
Ingredients: ¾ c. unsalted butter (room temperature)
1 c. sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs (room temperature)
2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ c. cornstarch
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
First sift the flour and cornstarch together. Whisk in the baking powder and salt.
In a separate bowl, cream the butter and sugar together. Then mix in vanilla and eggs.
Next stir in the flour mixture (I usually do about 1 c. at a time).
Gather dough into a ball and divide it into two halves. Wrap each dough ball in Saran wrap and chill for at least one hour.
After dough is chilled, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Let the dough sit about 15 minutes before you roll it.
Roll the dough on a lightly floured board to about ¼ inch thick (personally, I like mine a bit thicker, but just make sure they are about the same thickness so they cook evenly).
Place cookies on an ungreased baking sheet. I line mine with parchment paper to make clean up easier. Add sprinkles if desired.
Bake for 6-7 minutes and then remove from oven and let sit for a minute before transferring to a cooling rack or wax paper.
If desired, you can frost the cookies after they have cooled. They’re very versatile with decorating, so have fun!
Carpo, or Karpo, belongs to the Greek pantheon. She was part of a seasonal nature goddess triune (aka the Horai or Horae). This beauty represented Autumn, while her counter parts were Spring and Summer. The Horai were not just the seasons, but the fruit of the seasons, so Carpo represented the harvests in the fall. Being the end of the seasons which produce food, Carpo is also considered a counterpart to Demeter (another goddess associated with Autumn and harvests). The name Carpo translates as fruit or produce, and the English language borrows this word for scientific terminology used in botany, such as carpophore and carpogonial.