Cultural Heritage Recipe Box – Family Memories

By December 25, 2020Blog
Four women in a room decorated for Christmas, circa early 1990s.

Grandma Rocky’s house—Grandma (sitting), Aunt Nancy, Pam’s sister Kim and Pam

By Brianna Horan, Manager of Tourism & Visitor Experience

Cultural Heritage Recipe Box: Family Memories

Baking up a batch of cookies or twisting up cake and cream into a jelly roll has a powerful way of recapturing the magic of childhood holiday celebrations—even as the years go by and wisdom begins to outweigh wonderment. It’s often the only time of year that certain treasured recipes make an appearance, bringing with them memories of days gone by and the loved ones who made them for us. But not everyone is a baker, and—at a time of year that often brings as much chaos as it does cheer—not everyone has hours to spend in the kitchen.

That’s where professional and home bakers come in, delivering special recipes and the sweet sentiments that go along with them. Brookline resident Pam Howell is a talented home baker who has enjoyed making baked goods for her family and friends for years and for all occasions, using her trusted family recipes (like the Potato Chip Cookies recipe below) and her own twists on flavors (like her recent creation, goat cheese thumbprints with homemade apricot jam).

Pam’s hobby brings as much joy to her as to the people she shares it with. After she got married years ago, she affectionately started referring to the labors of her love as Cain’s Cookies and Treats to keep a connection with her maiden name. After being laid off from her (non-baking related) job this year due to the pandemic, Pam found herself in the kitchen even more often. As the fall and winter holidays approached, she started to take requests from friends to make cookie trays, pumpkin rolls, cocoa and cookie kits, and other seasonal specialties. “It has been a blessing to do something I hold so dear and be able to share it with others during this time,” Pam says.

With plenty of positive feedback from her family and friends, Pam has resolved to lay the groundwork in the new year to officially start a business. In the meantime, she always welcomes the opportunity to chat about baking and her cookies and treats, and invites you to email her at CainsCookiesandTreats@gmail.com. Along with her favorite cookie recipe, Pam has also shared the memories of Christmases spent with family that baking brings back for her. Pittsburghers will also appreciate her description of journeying “over two bridges and through a tunnel” to visit her Grandma Rocky in the North Side.

From the kitchen of Pam Howell—Cain’s Cookies and Treats

“My Grandma Rocky’s Potato Chip Cookies are a must have on our Christmas cookie trays. There are several staples and family favorites—Mom’s Cream Cheese Cookies, Buckeyes, Caramel Cups, and Grandma’s French Cream Cups—but nothing takes me back to childhood quite like the Potato Chip Cookies.

“Grandma Rocky is my maternal grandmother. Her name was Dorothy Hlovchiec, but we couldn’t say Grandma Hlovchiec when we were kids, and they had a big fluffy dog named Rocky. So she will forever be Grandma Rocky to me. Gram was Ukrainian. I know this is a Cultural recipe box but to be honest I never thought much about that, past the potato pancakes and Haluski. Grandma lived in the North Side and we lived in the South Hills so I suppose I think more about the culture of North Side when I think of Gram. It was a different world over therewe went through the tunnel and crossed two rivers to get there. It was always a thrill on the way home when the Bayer clock would be lit up on Mt. Washington, and if there was a concert at Three Rivers Stadium we could catch a listen to as we passed.

 “Grandma’s house was one of those big old houses with lots of scary corners when it was dark, but for the holidays it was always well lit. We would sit in the large dining room at their big wooden table and eat. To be perfectly honest I can’t tell you what we ever ate for dinner. But I can tell you everything on the table when it was time for snacks—which was really dessert. Grandma would bring out all the Crisco containers full of cookies. I’d take the plastic lid off, remove the foil, and get my first heavenly whiff of Grandma’s cookies. I had many favorites and I would often, if not always, leave with a tummy ache, but it was worth it. The Potato Chip Cookies are special because as I have gotten older, memories fade but biting into those cookies takes me back to Grandma’s house. Watching her cook in her carpeted kitchen as I would sit at the bench at the table. There was a TV and radio in the kitchen, and always a giant tub of lard on the stove. The cabinets were pink and from my seat at the table I could see out the back door. Past the yard was an alley, a magical place to a suburban kid. Sometimes we’d sit on the front porcha big stone porch overlooking Hodgekiss Street. From the corner of the porch I could see the street light. I would watch it change colors for extended periods of time while Grandma and Aunt Nancy would sit on their aluminum porch chairs. The cookies bring back all of those memories. I’m sure things weren’t perfect there, but from the eyes of a child it was a magical and unique place. Grandma’s Potato Chip Cookies are unique—I don’t believe I have ever seen them on a cookie table. Maybe that is why they seem so special. Something my family can pass on and keep family traditions alive. Enjoy and have a blessed Christmas.” – Pam Howell

Yellow cookies sprinkled with powered sugar.

A batch of Grandma Rocky’s Potato Chip Cookies freshly dusted with powdered sugar.

Grandma Rocky’s Potato Chip Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. softened butter
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups salted ridged potato chips

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Cream together butter, sugar and vanilla.

Blend the flour into the creamed mixture a little at a time.

Crush potato chips by hand (measure after crushing).

Add potato chips to the mixture.

Bake 10 –12 minutes on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar when cool.

Makes about 5 dozen cookies.