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The Crazy Lady & The Christmas Cookies

While I was planning this month’s edition, I really wanted to include an article about our family’s traditional holiday recipes. You know---the recipes that are passed down from generation to generation. I came to the conclusion that it was impossible–we don’t have any passed down recipes.

It isn’t that my family didn’t have special ethnic foods around the holidays. My grandmother was an immigrant from Czechoslovakia, and when she came to America she brought all the old European recipes with her. While she was alive, she made halupkies, perogies, benekies, and other European favorites.

The problem is that when she went to Heaven, so did the family recipes. She disproved the theory that you can’t take things with you, because she took the family recipes! Now around the holidays, the daughters, granddaughters, and great-granddaughters are left trying to figure out how to make these recipes. You hear people joking about “leaving things out of recipes” but when it happens to you it doesn’t seem so funny. It seems crazy!

Take for example, perogies. I remember as a little girl going to large family dinners on Christmas Eve. All of my Aunts and their families would be there and we would eat fried fish and perogies.

My grandmother was known for her delicious perogies. They were so good that people would pay her to make them. She would make dozens and dozens of perogies.

Do you know where I got my recipe for perogies? I Googled it.

I don’t have grandma’s recipe. No, I have a recipe from some guy at It is crazy! It’s like Mrs. Field’s grandchildren Googling to find out how to make chocolate chip cookies or Orville Redenbacher’s family searching the web to find out how to make gourmet popcorn!

How to make a good beneki also seems to be an elusive mystery. In case you don’t know what a beneki is, it’s a sweet cookie filled with walnuts. It’s sort of like a nut roll in a cookie. Anyway, they are delicious and every year at this time, we crave them. However, no one has the recipe–which came as a surprise to everyone.

You see, everyone thought they had the beneki recipe. We all remember helping make the benekis. We would help roll the dough, spread the filling, and bake the cookies. However, no one actually helped make the dough. Grandma always did that herself.

Now, none of us know how to make it. Everyone has a different recipe and no one has the right one. One recipe makes the cookie dough too runny and the cookies get really flat and hard. They almost bond with the cookie sheet and you have to chisel them off with a spatula. They resemble a fried canoli more than a light, fluffy beneki.

Another recipe makes them too puffy and the cookies grow too large while they bake and all the walnut filling comes out. There’s no happy medium!

I love these cookies, but I hate baking them. It is so frustrating without a proper recipe! I swear there are times when I am trying to make them that I want to throw the dough across the room and give up! (Let’s just say it isn’t “Praise Jesus” that wants to pop out of my mouth.)

A few years ago, my Mom and I came to the point that we realized we did not have a good beneki recipe. Still, we wanted the cookies. That started our search for a new recipe. My Dad got a recipe from a woman at work, but her recipe was too salty. It tasted more like a pretzel than a cookie. Then my Mom came up with the idea to call one of my Grandma’s friends who also made benekis. It wouldn’t be the same recipe, but it should be a good recipe.

So I called. I told her who I was and who my grandma was and that I was having a difficult time with the beneki recipe. I asked if she could help.

She agreed, but said I would have to wait until she talked to her brother because he was the beneki maker. She gave me her recipe, but told me not to use it until she talked to her brother.

When I spoke to her again, her brother was there and the two of them battled back and forth about the correct way to make a beneki. It was like the golden days of radio listening to 2 senior citizens argue back and forth each insisting that they had the right recipe. (You’d have thought they would have settled on the recipe before they returned my call, but well, that didn’t happen.)

While they argued the woman handed the phone to her middle-aged single son and told me to talk to him.

Okay, now things were just getting weird! Clearly this guy knew nothing about baking, leaving me to believe that we were quickly abandoning the concept of searching for my grandma’s recipe and embarking on a search to find her son a wife. I didn't want the recipe that badly! Obviously, we needed to get this telephone call back on point: How were they coming with the recipe?

Well, eventually, they gave me the recipe, including complete preparation directions. They were a big help, but the cookies still aren’t right.

So the search for a beneki recipe continues. If anyone out there knows how to make a good beneki or has the recipe, send it to me. PLEASE! I’m begging you! I can’t take one more year of flopped cookies.

In the meantime, the holidays will come and my family will nostalgically crave benekis.

Again, we will try to make them, and again I will want to throw the dough across the room. As I chisel the flat cookies away from the cookie sheet, I will think of my grandmother and wonder, “Why? Why couldn’t you give us the right recipe?” And the holiday tradition of these cookies making me crazy will continue. Maybe I should try again!

Merry Christmas and May All Your Christmas Cookies Turn Out Right!

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