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Baking Grandma's Christmas cookies

Jeannie Borremans said she feels a connection to her MorMor every time she makes peppernuts and there is a connection between food and the people we love.
Zoey Mia Maxim table neutral copy
Jody Swanson's children, Zoey Mae, Mia Eva, and Maxim Olivier helped out with the Christmas baking this year. Here they sit with a traditional Metis meal and a tray of sables de Kokum. Photo supplied

Grandmas bake the best cookies and Christmastime is no exception.

This year, many of us won’t be able to enjoy traditional Christmas activities. There won’t be festive trays of baking set out on tables, there won’t be the flurry of activity or the stamping of boots and an overcrowded porch patchy with puddles of melted snow. There might not even be snow. But many of us will still grasp onto our traditions and bake cookies of our own.

“The kitchen was always a huge baking hub, starting in early December, and the eating usually commenced about the week before and ended a week after in January,” said Jody Swanson.

Swanson’s family is Métis and sharing food with family and the wider community is an important part of her culture.

Her mother, Yvonne (or Kokum, meaning "grandmother"), would host large gatherings of 40 to 50 at their cabin on the lake. She would make huge batches of shortbread at Christmas time.

“She would put them in baking tins with parchment paper and even freeze them ahead of time. And then that way, she would always have large batches ready for friends and family when they came over,” said Swanson.

Her Kokum’s shortbread recipe is called Sables de Kokum. The recipe travelled from 1800s Saskatchewan into Alberta from her Cree father’s family.

Yvonne took that recipe and mixed it with a recipe from a cornstarch box that had been featured on the back since the 1940s, said Swanson.

“She was always, you know, making her own recipes and dusting them up,” said Swanson.

Swanson said that’s why her mother’s cookies were special.

“She always had these fantastic melt-in-your-mouth shortbread cookies that nobody could really 100 per cent replicate, because of how she did it, you know, mixing a couple of recipes together and adding a few things in,” Swanson explained.

Swanson’s children are making their version of the shortbread cookies this year; they won’t be able to visit their Kokum, but they will be able to bring her cookies.

Jeannie Borremans' MorMor (Danish for mom’s mom) insisted on teaching her how to make Danish food when she was growing up.

“She used to invite me over for dinner once a week, and she would make me come at like four so I could cook it with her,” said Borremans.

Borremans has carried on a few of the family’s Danish traditions, but she has a particular soft spot for peppernuts.

Peppernuts (Pebernodder in Danish) are a spiced round sugar cookie. She makes these cookies every Christmas with her own children.

“I can feel (MorMor) saying, ‘Oh, those are a little bit too big,’ and, ‘Oh make sure you're not overcooking them.’ She’s just always in my head helping me out,” said Borremans. “It always just makes me smile thinking about her every time we eat them, and every time we make them.”

Her grandmother immigrated to Canada after her honeymoon and never went back to Denmark. Borremans thinks that is why she felt it was important to pass on Danish cooking traditions to her children and grandchildren.

At one point, her MorMor was a baker at a Hotel in Jasper and she would make around 200 pies a day. Borremans said she was skilled at baking and very skilled at making peppernuts.

“Basically, you're making little balls – she was a tiny woman, but she could make like four at a time. And she's like, ‘Look, you're not doing it fast enough. Look how many items I made,’” Borremans laughed.

Borremans said she catches herself saying the same things to her own children, but at this point, she can only make two peppernut balls at a time.

Normally, Borremans and her kids would make large batches of peppernuts for friends and classmates to try. This year, they only made a small batch of the cookies.

Borremans said she feels a connection to her MorMor every time she makes peppernuts and there is a connection between food and the people we love.

“Just in making the food that we know we would typically share together, it's still kind of bringing us together in a way. It's like it just transcends time, doesn't it? Like the food’s just bringing you back to a certain memory or a certain person or someone that's made it for you before,” she said. “Which is, I think, just super important in the times that we're living in right now.”