There is no heirloom or artifact quite like a church cookbook. Unlike a family photo album or hand-me-down china, the cookbook feels alive, and connects you to the past on two different fronts: your parent(s) who cooked from it, and all the home cooks who compiled it. They are as flawed as a diary and as earnest as a birthday card. They are whole planets.
I’m mostly familiar with the church cookbooks from Chicago’s South Side, the ones that trickled between parishes through generations and across the map until they found themselves in the suburban kitchen of my childhood, where they taught me imperfect recipes transposed by imperfect secretaries. But of course, my Midwest is not everyone else’s Midwest, and there remain untold cookbooks ready to reveal their charms. (Those from Wisconsin, for example, seem to feature many more recipes for game meat.)
My father-in-law, a cookbook collector himself, recently found a volume he forgot he had: a vintage edition of Recipes From Friends from a Lutheran high school in his native Southern Minnesota. Or rather, presumed vintage. There’s no publication year on it; the vinyl cover would seem to predate the laminate binding on the community cookbooks from the ’80s and ’90s, but the interior fonts suggest it’s at least that modern. In any case, my father-in-law had owned it long enough to forget he had it, and the joy of rediscovering it certainly counts for something.
The kids’ section of a cookbook is always an interesting thing. You might ask, why not just let them try out regular recipes for cookies and cakes? Sometimes, the kid versions afford a child a little more kitchen agency. A recipe like Wacky Cake, for example, is something that kids can pretty much handle on their own from start to finish, with minimal parental micromanaging: they don’t even have to melt butter or crack an egg. And in the case of Recipes From Friends, the kids’ section provides a particularly brilliant recipe, contributed by Pat Buth, for those who might be seeking a more visceral experience in their baking: Aggression Cookies.
It turns out Aggression Cookies are a common recipe, the basic format for any oatmeal-based confection. Its ingredients and assembly are Wacky Cake levels of simple and easy to follow, and the uniformity of measurements leaves no chance of accidentally transposing the sugar and flour volumes. Extra benefit: none of the ingredients in Aggression Cookies would cause a messy spill to clean up if the chef in question is a bit clumsy. Most importantly, of course, is the recipe’s adult-sanctioned instructions to get as wild as possible: Now mash it! Knead it! Pound it! What a great way for any kid to get their zoomies out without accidentally breaking a lamp or a sibling’s nose. As for the claim that “The longer and harder you mix, the better it tastes,” while the part of me that recalls high school food science suspects that there’s probably a point of diminishing returns, I see no problem with letting a kid go to town on this dough for a full half hour if they want to. The end result will still have sugar in it, and they’ll be happy. (And, if they’ve done their job right, tuckered out and mellow.)
I have never voluntarily made an oatmeal cookie in my life, but I decided to whip up a batch of these myself and see if they delivered on the catharsis they promised. I skipped the oh-so-familiar community cookbook recommendation of margarine over real butter. I used my prettiest Christmas reindeer spatula because that is what I assume a child would demand. I licked the bowl afterward, as
I am a child is wont to do.
When I first began combining the ingredients, it wasn’t obvious that any sort of aggression was needed, but I quickly got to a point where stirring with a rubber spatula just wouldn’t cut it. I began stabbing the unincorporated butter with the spatula, and that felt good. But what felt best was abandoning the spatula entirely; I really needed all ten fingers in on the action, aided by my palms, to slap the big ball of dough into shape.
Conclusions: I ultimately could have applied more aggression, because my cookies came out a little thin. But besides that, I really did feel better after making a batch of these. (If we learned nothing else from beaten biscuits, it’s that the kitchen can double as a CrossFit gym when necessary.) While I don’t think all that much aggression is technically needed to bake these—it’s more about persistence—I say that as an adult with an adult’s (very average) level of arm strength. A kid might really need to give it a little elbow grease. And parents, if you are actively seeking a way to wear out your kid, here’s a tip: don’t soften the butter all that much prior to assembly.
The Aggression Cookies came out chewy and tasted just sweet enough, the perfect after school snack. And even for those who might be skeptical of oatmeal cookies, can we at least agree they’re better than Sylvia Burmeister’s Ants on a Log submission?