This is an archived post from “The Aroma of Bread,” and was first published 20 Dec 2015.
It was a Saturday before Christmas, maybe in 1988 or 89, and Gary and I had headed out to Hollandtown to get some work done for Holland Veal. Walking into the house we were greeted by the wonderful smell of cookies baking. The smell of Christmas at Butch and Marie’s.
Entering the warm and wonderful smelling kitchen, we found Butch sitting at the kitchen table preparing the cookie tins for filling while Marie was working at the counter. They were relaxed, content in their companionship and conversation.
What makes this memory stick is not the relationship of my in-laws (that was constant) but how Butch was prepping the cookie tins. While I would just rip off a piece of waxed paper and stuff it in between layers, he was sitting at the table with pencil and scissors at hand, tracing and cutting each waxed paper round to fit perfectly inside the tin. He did this every year for Marie, and each year each tin was a perfect presentation of cookies.
The recipe that I am sharing today is a family favorite – for both my family and the Fassbenders. Marie and I made them for our families each year, but with one difference, the chocolate. Toffee Squares are a wonderful crunch of toffee flavored cookie topped by chocolate.
My recipe from an old Betty Crocker Cooky Book uses the heat of the “just out of the oven” cookie to melt the squares of Hershey bar that you quickly place on the cookie, then spread out. I shared this quick and easy way of adding the chocolate with Marie one year, but she “stubbornly” continued to melt chocolate in a bowl over boiling water. Either way, the cookies didn’t last long in either home.
Updated Addition: In November 2021 I unpacked a box of Marie’s old cookbooks and sat down with all of the loose pages to determine in which book they belonged. In the pile was a tattered book that Marie had stapled back together, and in this book dated November 1953, I found her Toffee Square recipe. It is pictured below with a transcription of her much smudged notes.
This is an archived post from “The Aroma of Bread,” and was first published 22 Jan 2013.
As we mark the year anniversary of my mother-in-law’s death on the 15th, and as we pack the rest of the Christmas decorations away for another year, our thoughts turn to ham.
That’s right, ham. Ham that was put in the oven to slow roast around 4:00 p.m. Christmas Eve, and to be eaten on Marie’s freshly made buns following Midnight Mass. Midnight Mass that really was held at midnight. The aroma of the ham filled the air, and created such a sense of anticipation for ten year old Gary, that he was as excited about eating the ham sandwiches as he was about attending his first Midnight Mass.
The year that Gary was in 5th grade he announced that he intended to go to Midnight Mass with his dad and his brother’s Dick and Dennis. He remembers his mother’s disappointment that he would not be attending morning Mass with her and five year old Dan, but he was determined to go. His big brother Dennis had been going for years, as he was only in first grade the first time that he attended Midnight Mass as the carrier of the baby Jesus.
Christmas Eve in the Fassbender household was not the big event in those days as it was in later years. There was just too much to do. The tree was up and decorated, but there was still last minute cleaning and preparation that needed to be taken care of as Butch and Marie planned for all the guests (sometimes as many as 100), that would stop by on Christmas day. Presents also needed to be retrieved from their hiding places and placed around the tree. Midnight Mass and those much anticipated sandwiches were still hours in the future.
So shortly before midnight, the Fassbender men headed to Mass where the St. Francis Men’s Choir made the evening magical. Nothing said Christmas more than waiting in anticipation, a little chilly in the darkened church, for those first notes to come floating out of the choir loft. Arriving home around 1:00 a.m., Marie was waiting for them with the kitchen table set for the much anticipated snack. The family sat down to their ham sandwiches, a few pieces of homemade candy, and then it was off to bed.
Christmas morning started early, as people would begin arriving as early as 10:00 a.m. The neighborhood kids and their dads, most likely booted out of the house so the women could prepare dinner, would start floating in to see what the family had received for Christmas. Marie would be busy getting Christmas dinner ready, which in those days was turkey, dressing, and all the rest of the side dishes, but Butch would be ready to greet their friends and neighbors and share a little cheer. As people floated in and out of the house, Marie with the help of her parents, Walter and Belle Campbell, would work to hold the dinner until there was a break in the ringing doorbell. It was not uncommon for dinner, once planned on being eaten at 12:30, to not be eaten until 3:00 p.m. or later.
Christmas more than any other time of the year exemplified Marie’s desire to welcome, serve, and enjoy the company of her family and friends. Ham sandwich anyone?