Like most kids, I have a few warm cookie memories. My mother didn't make cookies often but when she did, they were memorable. She collected recipes from people whose cookies she enjoyed but, oddly, once she had them, she refused to share them with others, guarding them jealously as if she had invented them herself. It was one of her quirks.
In all the places we lived in our Navy life, we had Navy friends, but often we made civilian friends, too, friends who lived in the same house for decades on end and enjoyed a more settled life. In the early 1950s, my Dad was stationed at the Pentagon in Washington, DC and we lived in nearby Chevy Chase, Maryland. Our next door neighbor was a lovely older lady named Mrs. Brombacher. I was only about seven years old, so I had a little trouble with her long name, and I just called her Mrs. Brom. She didn't mind; in fact, I think she liked the nickname.
Mrs. Brom was a talented tole painter - I still have two small, cookie-sized trays that she painted. I found them many years later in my parents' house when we were clearing it out after my Dad died. Seeing the black trays with her distinctive monogram on the backs brought back powerful memories of her, and of her oatmeal cookies.
I found the trays again this week when I made her cookies and wanted to show you a picture - how perfect to stage the photo with one of her little trays. When I turned them over, looking for her signature, I even found a typed card glued to the back of one with my Mom's name on it. That reminded me that Mrs. Brom didn't paint to order - she painted when the mood struck her, so sometimes you had to express an interest and then await the result. I'm sure my Mom asked for these two trays and Mrs. Brom pasted the card on the back as they dried to remind her of whom she had made them for.
Her monogram also has the year '54 inside it, so I know just when she made these for my Mom, as we were leaving to be transferred to Pearl Harbor for Dad's next tour of duty.
Mrs. Brom's oatmeal cookies are not like the ones you find today, which resemble a whole meal more than a small treat. Hers are not heavy with flour, they are lacy and thin, the kind of cookies you'd imagine a '50s housewife would serve to her friends at a tea party.
I remember them being so crisp that they crumbled down the front of my shirt, but the ones I made this week were chewy, even days after they were made. I think the oil I used (canola instead of the Wesson oil called for in the original recipe) made the difference - next time, I plan to find some Wesson to confirm this observation. Or, it may have been the wet weather we are (finally) having.
In any case, dotted liberally with raisins and walnut pieces, they are my definition of the perfect oatmeal cookie. They are sweet, so the chunks of walnut help to tame the sweetness, and the pockets of moist raisins give a textural change of pace that rocks the cookie. Bumpy and homely, they are still my favorite cookie of all time.
When we moved to Hawaii that time, I was a Brownie scout for a while. Back then, we had a little song that we sang in rounds, "Make new friends but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold." That's how I feel about our civilian friends like Mrs. Brom. I never saw her again after we moved, but we kept in touch by mail, and I will always have the memory of her warm smile, her artistic talent, and her oatmeal cookies.
Mrs. Brombacher's Oatmeal Cookies
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup flour
2-1/2 cups quick oats
1 cup Wesson oil (I used canola)
1 teaspoon salt
1 scant teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup each (or more) nuts and raisins (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Beat eggs with oil until well mixed. Add vanilla and mix. Add dry ingredients and stir until evenly mixed (I use an electric beater for this first part, and only begin mixing with a spoon when I add the oats at the end, which make the dough too stiff for an electric mixer). Add raisins and nuts and stir until well incorporated.
Drop by Tablespoonful onto cookie sheets lined with parchment paper, about two inches apart, as they will spread. Bake for 10-15 minutes until cookies are a deep golden brown.
Let rest on cookie sheets for about 5 minutes so they harden a little, then remove with a spatula and cool on racks. Makes about 3 dozen.