Do you have a favorite Christmas cookie or candy? It’s that holy grail recipe you bring out each year right? Perhaps it’s not a favorite with your kids but YOU know that it’s special. As a child we’d make the most unique cookie every Christmas.
My childhood was spent in Africa born in Nigeria. My time in the kitchen began early, tied on my mom’s back with a piece of local cloth. My love of ingredients swirled in pans and shared with friends began at this early age. We had limited resources and lots of imagination creating USA treats with local ingredients. Sometimes those dishes worked out. BUT one unique christmas cookie required actual made in America items.
As for many expatriates living overseas, we’d spend the bulk of our time in Africa, taking one year in the USA before heading back to that beautiful continent. My parents would load large barrels (yes, barrels) that would be sent via boat to our home. The missionaries called these “loads.” We’d fly as a family to our home in Africa and patiently wait 6-9 months for the container to arrive.
It was always a momentous day when our loads showed up. A huge truck would be seen coming down the road as us children ran skipping and screaming alongside it, beside ourselves with excitement for the treasures within.
Buried in the midst of clothes and towels were chocolate chips and marshmallows; prized possessions. (Lest you think toilet paper rationing was just a 2020 panic buy phenomenon, I grew up longing for the USA comfort soft TP. In Africa, the toilet paper was scratchy sandpaper.)
My mom would tuck away these special treats she had purchased for holiday events in our large closet. A huge dehumidifier would hum 24 hours/day, collecting gallons of water from the tropical rainforest air. My sisters and I knew that the goodies were in this closet. However we never took down the boxes to sneak tastes; we all knew that the resources were limited and if we stole some pieces there would be none for Christmas.
The week of Christmas, my mom would pull out the colored mini marshmallows and bag of chocolate chips. She’d have one of the young men who worked tending our tropical garden of a yard cut open a coconut and we’d shred the meat. Together we’d melt the chocolate morsels, mix in the marshmallows, form a log and roll it in that fresh coconut. Placed on tinfoil, this candy would be put in the fridge.
Christmas Eve would arrive and with it, those delectable yet unique church window cookies. Sliced in pieces, the colors would shine like stained glass windows. Each bite was savored.
Each year I pull out these ingredients and make a batch. As often happens in adulthood, the taste of a childhood treat changes. My kids are not huge coconut fans. Well, I thought so until this Christmas when I asked Desta to make the candies with me.
As she stirred the chocolate, I told her this story.
I love that food transports us to the world of memory. It’s often not the food you are eating but the memory you are tasting.
I’d encourage you to think about one or two foods that you had as a child. Resurrect that recipe and take some time to make it. Maybe share it with your family members or simply enjoy it for yourself. While you prepare and eat it, tell yourself the story. Remember the feelings you had as a child. Don’t forget the journey that brought you to where you are.
For me, the Church Window Cookie represents celebration, family, and Christmas. I knew my mom planned and saved this for us because she loved to celebrate and remember her Ohio home. I love that this memory carries on to this day because of the simple act of putting together three ingredients.
Recipe for Church Window Cookies
- 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
- 1 package (10 ounces) pastel miniature marshmallows
- 2 cups flaked coconut
- In a large saucepan, melt chocolate chips over low heat; stir until smooth. Cool slightly. Stir in marshmallows.
- Divide mixture into three portions; place each portion on a piece of waxed paper. Using waxed paper, shape each into a 10-in.-long roll; roll in coconut. Wrap tightly in waxed paper; refrigerate 2 hours or until firm. Cut crosswise into 1/2-in. slices.