Elizabeth W. (Biddy) Ruffner (Grandma) was a brilliant kitchen tactician who could feed an army during a week-long encampment. Family members at holiday celebrations and summer visits enjoyed a varied menu that emerged from her freezer(s) and cupboards.
Not many women would host a backyard lunch for thirty guests on the day one of her daughters got married at 3:30 PM, but she did. And made it look easy.
But at no time were her skills more appreciated than during Christmas Cookie season. Starting in October (we think), she began the baking. Then, as the holiday drew near, the cookies were transferred to the “magic” closet, just beyond the door to the den, where the inefficient heating system rendered it cool enough to keep cookies fresh but not so cold they were frozen. Foil wrapping paper lined the inside of the louvered door, making a whoosh sound when you opened it. On the shelves were more than a dozen containers, each with a single variety, ready for the moment of replenishment. If you were lucky, it fell to you to go to the closet with the golden opportunity to weight the selection with your personal favorites.
The Christmas Cookie plate sat on the dining room table all day, and you couldn’t get anywhere in that house without passing through the dining room. Favorites named include snicker doodles, peanut butter blossoms, M&M cookies, Snappy Turtles, Pam’s Cookies (cream wafers), apricot bars, thumbprint cookies, peanut butter balls and Mexican Wedding Cakes
If Grandma’s Cookie Plate had been in use during the days of social media, no doubt we would have more pictures of it. This is only known picture, seen here in the foreground, with John and Clare in the background.
Cookie-baking wasn’t a group activity. But at least some of her granddaughters were schooled by the master. Elizabeth remembers that “we made snakes out of cookie dough then bent them into shapes like butterflies or flowers. And then we crushed different colored lollipops with a hammer and sprinkled the ‘stained glass’ inside the shapes and then baked them until the sugar melted into glass. Though not specifically for Christmas, the cookies were festive!” That must be what is happening in this picture taken in Baltimore.
Her grandchildren also enjoyed her cookies and her rapt attention at tea parties. As Elizabeth recalled at her memorial service, she could sit down at a table with tiny dishes and turn a ten-minute visit into a very special occasion. Here she hosts her mother and Elizabeth at a three-generation celebration.
One activity did “require” the assistance of her daughters—the making of the Christmas fruitcake! Rebecca remembers the “flour and the mess we would make tossing the ingredients in the white baby tub.”
Grandma favored Fannie Farmer as her go-to cookbook but her personal collection of clippings and cards was stapled into garden club desk calendars and annotated with reviews and modifications. She used cross-references and citations to give credit where credit was due.
Her thoroughness was the hallmark of all that she did and that was so apparent at Christmas Cookie time. We who follow can only marvel at her talent—and capture a few memories in the kitchen.