Judging from the number of cards for ice box cookies in her recipe boxes, I think that my mother and her friends must have really loved them. Actually, they seemed to like just about any kind of cookie, but simple ones like drop cookies were obvious favorites, and ice box cookies were a close second.
Mary Emily Libbey may well have shared my mother’s enthusiasm for a cookie dough that you can stir up, put in the refrigerator and use to bake fresh cookies every morning. I first tasted these cookies at a Christmas open house hosted by Lorraine and Chris many years ago. Lorraine got the recipe from her mother-in-law, Mary Emily Libbey, whom Jerri and I met at one of those holiday extravaganzas when Chris’s mother was visiting.
Mary Emily was celebrating Christmas in Wisconsin, 1,300 miles from her home in Westborough, Massachusetts, where Chris grew up. I wish I had known more about her when we met, as she was an impressive lady. Besides helping Chris’s father make lollipops to sell on his milk and egg route, she started the first food shelf in Westborough when she was seventy years old. Her concern for others manifests itself in Chris and Lorraine’s community service today.
Chris and Lorraine met and married when he was a student in Springfield, Massachusetts. His choice of a bride who was a stranger from a city sixty miles away meant that it took a long time before Mary Emily decided to trust her daughter-in-law with the recipe for Fruit Slices.
Finally, seventeen years after Lorraine had been welcomed into the Libbey family, Mary Emily shared her recipe for Fruit Slices. This year Lorraine gave me the recipe and permission to share it with anyone who likes a delicious icebox cookie. My mother would have loved them, and I think you will too.
Here is Mary Emily’s recipe for a cookie that is perfect for giving at Christmas or enjoying and sharing anytime.
1 cup salted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp. salt
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts
2 cups candied cherries
Put the butter and sugar into a mixing bowl and allow the butter to soften while you cut the cherries in half and coarsely chop the nuts.
Cream the sugar into the butter. Beat the egg and vanilla into the creamed sugar until you have a smooth batter, then sift the flour by thirds into the batter. Mix in the fruit and nuts after two-thirds of the flour is added. Stir well between additions and make sure that all the flour is incorporated into the batter. The dough will be very stiff. If necessary, you can add a tiny bit of water if the egg was not large enough to provide all the moisture needed.
Tear three or four fourteen-inch pieces of wax paper from a roll and put them near your work surface. Put a quarter of the dough on a sheet of wax paper and press it into an oblong shape. Wrap the dough in the paper and form it into a log by rolling it on the work surface. When the log is about ten inches long, place the log seam side down in a baking pan.
Make the other logs the same way and put the pan in an unheated room or refrigerator for at least three hours. When the logs are hard, they are ready to cut into cookies.
Preheat the oven to 325º and use a serrated knife to cut the logs into thin slices about a sixth of an inch in thickness. Place the slices a half-inch apart on ungreased baking sheets and bake the cookies ten to thirteen minutes until they just barely begin to brown on the edges.
Cool the cookies on wax paper and store them in a sealed container.
NOTES: Lorraine noted that she sometimes uses a combination of a half teaspoon of vanilla and a half teaspoon of another flavoring. Almond would probably make a delicious variant.
Mary Emily’s recipe called for pecan or walnut halves, but I agree with Lorraine that coarsely chopping the nuts makes sense.
Lorraine says that she now substitutes fruitcake mix for the cherries because she likes the different colors in the mixed fruit. I prefer the cherries, both for appearance and flavor.
Chris told me that the cookies I made were thicker than the ones he remembered his mother making and Lorraine said that they were thicker than hers. Both Chris and Lorraine said that the flavor was fine, but that the cookies were not as crisp as Mary Emily’s. If you want cookies like Chris and Lorraine remember, try making the slices an eighth of an inch thick.
Finally, Lorraine’s emailed recipe ended with this comment: “Enjoy – you are the only one I have shared this recipe with. We were married in ’67 and I did not get this recipe until ’84!!!!!”