I‘m at an age when I may be guilty of idealizing my youth in a kind of “the good old days” filter that blocks out any unpleasant memories of political or cultural unease. Of course, I wasn’t aware of any such issues, at least not in a way that was meaningful: I had a privileged upbringing. We weren’t rich by the American standard – not by any stretch of the imagination- but I didn’t worry about when and if my next meal would arrive. We ate a lot of soup beans and cornbread, but we ate. And life got better, and there were more cookies and cakes, and always love.
So whenever I’m asked to write about cookies I find that I often write the same kind of column. Cookies make me think of my grandmother and the smells of her kitchen and all the love and good stuff that goes along with those memories. As I write, I can almost always count on a few tears, too– some coming of good memory, others of remorse and loss.
But these cookies are not like other cookies. Sure, they are – I mean they smell good and I know that they evoke potent memories for Mahasti, memories of her mother’s frantic holiday baking which always included special thumbprint cookies made with homemade jam. But these sweets are treats made for the Iranian New Year – a spectacular celebration called Nowruz: literally translated as “a new day”.
It’s a holiday that begins at the exact moment that the vernal equinox begins, precisely when the sun crosses the equator. So it varies in terms of calendar time, but it’s a major celebration that’s about 3000 years old.
Like many nations of ancient pedigree, Persian culture is spread across the globe, and despite what you may think you know about Iran and Iranians, the people and culture are diverse especially among the millions living outside the border of Iran. But in the midst of theses differences, Nowruz, a secular holiday, is a common denominator among people of varied world views. It’s a symbol of the one great truth that binds all people on earth: we are on earth, we live under the sun, and we are all subject to its rise and fall. And whether great or small, each of us lives within the cycles of birth and death.
Like all celebrations of the new year, spring festivals, and even harvest rites, Nowruz is optimistic: This year will be a good year, this sowing will yield a good crop, this child will live in peace.
Hope is the root of so many treats: we bake to celebrate, and cookies are as much a celebration of the goodness and sweetness of the earth as they are an indulgence shared by our mothers (and fathers, too). So perhaps your mother didn’t bake like mad for Nowruz, but someone in your past, even if it was just you, hoped that life would get better, that you would live without worry and discord. Finding a time to forget what divides you from your neighbor and, instead, celebrating what you share, what is common to you and them, whoever “them” may be, is a valuable part of countless celebrations around the world. It’s also a good way to live with less worry and discord.
A good start is to bake some cookies, and share them. With everyone.
My Mom’s Thumbprint Cookies
1/2 Cup Butter, softened
1/4 Cup Light Brown Sugar
1 Egg, separated
1 Cup All Purpose Flour
½ – 2 cups Nuts, chopped
Jelly or Jam.
Cream the butter and sugar, until light and fluffy. Add egg yolk and mix until smooth and creamy. Add flour and mix until all the flour is mixed in. Scoop 1 Tablespoon portions and roll into balls. Dip the cookie balls into the egg white then roll them in the chopped nuts.
Place the cookies on a cookie sheet 1 inch apart. Make an indent with your thumb in the center of the cookie. Bake in 350-degree oven for 5 minutes remove from oven and re-indent the centers again if necessary. Bake for 10 -12 minutes more. Allow cookies to cool then fill the center with your favorite Jam or Jelly.
Makes 11 cookies.