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WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 6, 2006
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Martha Schoel has plenty of assistance making her English Toffee Cookies. With her are grandchildren, from left, Sara Charles Kirkes, Julia Schoel, Cameron Kirkes, Clara Kirkes, Georgia Schoel, Murphy Schoel and Jessi Schoel.
Daily photo by John Godbey
Martha Schoel has plenty of assistance making her English Toffee Cookies. With her are grandchildren, from left, Sara Charles Kirkes, Julia Schoel, Cameron Kirkes, Clara Kirkes, Georgia Schoel, Murphy Schoel and Jessi Schoel.

Her favorite things
English Toffee Cookies, grandchildren rate high on Martha Schoel's list

By Patrice Stewart
pstewart@decaturdaily.com 340-2446

Toffee cookies, teaching grandchildren to cook, historic districts — these are some of Martha Schoel's favorite things.

When it's time to make her favorite holiday treat, English Toffee Cookies, her home in Decatur's Albany neighborhood fills with her seven Decatur grandchildren ranging in age from 2 to 11, all dressed in matching red Christmas sweaters she bought them. Her two oldest grandsons live out of state, but they'll get shirts, too, so everyone will match for the family Christmas pictures.

From left, Sara Charles Kirkes, Julia Schoel and Cameron Kirkes find grandmother Martha Schoel's English Toffee Cookie dough finger-licking good.
Daily photo by John Godbey
From left, Sara Charles Kirkes, Julia Schoel and Cameron Kirkes find grandmother Martha Schoel's English Toffee Cookie dough finger-licking good.
Some of the children came to help mix and measure, some to lick the spoon and some to sample the finished goodies. One got out the eggs to make her own snack with Grandmother's instructions. And Schoel's Jack Russell terrier, Lady Grey, knows to stay close to the children and lick up their dropped crumbs.

Schoel got started on her toffee cookies early this year, because she plans to take some to Westminster Presbyterian Church as her contribution to the refreshments for the Historic Decatur Christmas Tour on Saturday. Her cookies and other goodies can be sampled from 4 to 7 p.m., when refreshments will be served to those touring houses.

Sometimes she makes gingersnaps with the grandchildren, and she shares her recipe for that. "This one is quick, easy and good," said Schoel, who moved to Decatur in 2003.

But English Toffee Cookies at Christmastime are a long-standing tradition at her house, wherever she is living.

"I've made these for every Christmas celebration since 1961, when I was a bride of three months living in bare basics student housing at Northington Campus in Tuscaloosa," she recalled.

"I was 20 years old and a senior at The University of Alabama, and I knew nothing about cooking. Determined to learn, a friend and I spent
an entire day baking, and this recipe was our
favorite."

Now she invites the grandchildren over for these baking sessions. But first, they get a chance to pick up the pecans needed for the recipe and be paid a penny per pecan. "Jessi usually picks up more than anybody, and Cameron usually picks them out of the shell," Schoel said.

'Teaching children to cook would be my dream job," said Schoel. "I don't think anyone will pay me to do that, but it's the best part of having grandchildren.

Granddaughter Murphy, the oldest of the Decatur clan, helped Schoel make the dressing at Thanksgiving. "She cooks with me all the time, and she'll tell you I take the easy way," said Schoel. Now her daughter and daughter-in-law are asking for classes on making her type of dressing to go with turkey.

Susan Schoel Kirkes recalls that her mother was always making something, whether it was "Methyl Monster Pies" (a child's version of lemon) or "Mud Puddles" (chocolate oatmeal cookies), chocolate chip cookies, pound cakes or Mississippi Mud Cake.

"She taught us so much about life by cooking with us. My best friend's mom used to send her over to our house to cook with us, too. And now, my friends send their kids over to cook with me, and when I have children in the house, I feel I need to make something."

Daughter-in-law Susie Schoel likes the toffee cookies because "they make the kitchen smell good." She said it's a popular place with her four girls — including a set of twins — because her mother-in-law keeps every child's favorite soft drink or juice, along with cabinets and drawers full of sippy cups, pacifiers and other necessities.

Schoel's renovated kitchen with large island countertop was a family affair, too: son Scott Schoel designed it for her, and son-in-law Steve Kirkes built it.

When Schoel is not working on cookies and other sweets, she has a few appetizer spreads and soups that are her favorites to make, both at holiday time and for her dinner club.

One is Shrimp Spread, which she said men seem to like, and another is She Crab Soup. She uses cooked, peeled and diced small shrimp for the easy-to-make-ahead spread and serves it with crackers.

Schoel likes to serve the She Crab Soup before her Christmas dinner. It can be served with dry sherry on the side so a teaspoon can be added to each bowl, if desired. It is best made with fresh blue crabmeat. "I'd caution against using fake crabmeat or frozen crabmeat," she said.

Here are her favorite cookie, soup and spread recipes:

English Toffee Cookies

1 cup butter

1 cup sugar

1 egg yolk

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 cups cake flour

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup pecans, chopped

1 egg white, beaten until frothy

Cream butter and sugar and add egg yolk. Add sifted dry ingredients and mix. Add vanilla and 1/2 cup nuts and mix well. Press into greased 9x13-inch pan. Spread egg white over dough. Sprinkle with remaining nuts and press the nuts lightly into the dough.

Bake in a preheated 350-degree for about 25 minutes. Cut while warm.

Gingersnaps

1 cup sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ginger

1/2 teaspoon cloves

3/4 cup shortening

1/4 cup molasses

1 egg, slightly beaten

Sugar

Combine first seven ingredients and stir lightly. Cut in shortening until it resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in molasses and egg. Shape dough into 1-inch balls and roll in sugar. Place on ungreased cookie sheet and flatten slightly. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes.

Shrimp Spread

16 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

Juice of 1 lemon

1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1 10-ounce jar green salad olives with pimentos, drained and diced

1 pound small shrimp, cooked, peeled and diced

Parsley sprigs or lemon curls for garnish

Cream the first four ingredients until smooth. Add the mayonnaise and mix well. Pat dry the olives and shrimp and fold into the cheese mixture.

Transfer the mixture to a serving container and cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate overnight. Garnish and serve with crackers.

She Crab Soup

2 tablespoons each of the following dried herbs: thyme, oregano, chives, basil

1 cup diced celery

1 large onion, diced

2 cups cooked rice

1 cup button mushrooms, chopped

1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce

2 whole bay leaves

2 quarts chicken stock

Combine above ingredients and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 45 minutes. Add:

2 10-ounce cans cream of mushroom soup

2 quarters heavy cream

1 quart milk

1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce

2 tablespoons lemon pepper

3 pints fresh blue crabmeat

Let cook for about 1 hour in a double boiler. Serve with dry sherry on the side (about 1 teaspoon sherry to a bowl of soup).

Note: This does not work well with imitation or frozen crabmeat.

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