Guest Post by Kimberley Lovato.
When I think of my grandma, one thing comes to mind—chocolate chip cookies. Whether I was visiting her during school breaks or she was making them on Christmas Eve so I could leave them for Santa, her chocolate chip cookies speckle my childhood memories like Barbie dolls and roller skates.
I haven’t outgrown them either, just as my grandma, now 93, hasn’t tired of making them for me. But as the only granddaughter in the family I feel compelled to discover the secret of these family heirlooms that emerge from the oven exactly the same every time–crunchy at the edges, chewy in the center, with hills of milk chocolate chips and golden doughy valleys.
To date I’ve baked thousands of cookies–or so it feels–and yet not one batch has rivaled hers. From time to time, I call her for advice.
“What about the butter?” I ask. “Do you think I’m softening it too much?”
“Did you use butter or butter-flavored shortening?” she inquires.
“Uh…the recipe calls for real butter, Grandma,” I respond.
“Ah ha! Well, that’s it then,” she says. “I always use butter-flavored Crisco.”
I refrain from pointing out that she once told me she follows the steps of the original Toll House recipe “exactly.”
I try it. I hate to admit that the Crisco cookies look and taste slightly more like hers. But they still aren’t hers.
“Did you put the flour in a little bit at a time after you creamed the butter and sugar?” my grandma asks during another call.
“Well, maybe it’s your mixer,” she proposes.
I remind her that I’d purchased a mixer just like hers years earlier when I first embarked on my cookie quest. It has the same removable beaters like the ones she used to let me lick when I was a little girl in her kitchen.
As I fold chocolate chips into creamy dough year after year, I don’t say out loud what’s actually on my mind–that this isn’t about the cookies at all. What I’ve really been measuring and stirring all these years is a potion that will somehow fill the void of her absence and conjure up memories of her when she’s gone. Memories of us squeezed together in the EZ chair eating warm cookies while reading ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas. Memories of the soft touch of her hands in my hair as she formed the double braids I was so fond of as a child. Without an exact replica of these cookies, I’m afraid my memories will fade away, like the hopscotch squares I drew on her driveway as a kid.
So while practice brings me closer to perfecting the recipe, I still feign helpless granddaughter from time to time, calling her for advice. But mostly I just call to hear her voice.
“Do you use pure vanilla extract or vanilla flavoring?” I ask.
She knows I already know the answer, but plays along.
“Oh, only pure vanilla extract,” she says.
Neither of us is ready to let go just yet.
Recipe for grandma johnson’s chocolate chip cookies.