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These old-fashioned Oatmeal Lace Cookies are like an autumn day in Vermont: golden, crisp and fleeting.
Mrs. Appleyard is the nom de plume (or “nom de spoon”) that Louise Andrews Kent adopted when she started writing cookbooks in 1941, after moving to the Green Mountain State. Her home in Kents Corner still stands, and the miniature dollhouse rooms she crafted (with tiny cats peering in tiny windows, and tiny boots drying by make-believe fires) are enshrined in the Kent Tavern Museum, a historic gem.
Her recipes are old-fashioned and a bit dated — steamed graham pudding, chicken with currant jelly, horehound candy — but her writing is as sharp and funny today as it was back then. Green beans, ripening suddenly in the garden, “must be dealt with like small children in a tantrum: Kindly, firmly and at once.” Plum pudding, she intoned, “is not especially improved by being dropped.”
An apple orchard in bloom resembles “Degas dancing girls in tulle and pearls with arms reaching up to the sky.” A small hayfield surrounded by hardwood trees looks, during foliage season, “like a room with old tapestries on the walls.” She noticed how pastures in autumn are “lion-colored” and the “Air Force blue” of the winter sky.
Kent died in 1968, but her legacy lives on, particularly in her Oatmeal Lace Cookies, which taste, inexplicably, like a brisk autumn day: golden and crisp and fleeting.
They were also, until recently, practically impossible to make, unless you were trained by Mrs. Appleyard herself. Janet Ancel recalls watching her grandmother closely as she “waved” the pans of baked cookies to cool them, “more than three but no longer than seven” minutes. “We learned to tell by feel when the cookies could be popped off the pan,” Ancel says. Miss the moment, and the cookies had to be scraped off as crumbs.
A few years ago, a stroke of genius led Ancel to line the cookie sheets with baking parchment. Now, she says, “They are the easiest thing in the world.”
“If Mrs. Appleyard is remembered by posterity, it will be for these cookies,” opined Kent, who routinely wrote about herself in the third person. I may not be “posterity,” but I honor her memory with every mouthful.
Oatmeal Lace Cookies
Yield: about 4 dozen (“minus any that were wheedled out of you and the ones you ate yourself to be sure you were doing it right,” according to Mrs. Appleyard)
2¼ cups uncooked rolled oats (not quick-cooking or instant)
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
2¼ cups light brown sugar
2 sticks butter
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Position one rack in the lower third of the oven and one in the upper third. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line several cookie sheets with baking parchment.
In a large bowl, stir together oats, flour, salt and sugar. In a small pot, melt butter until hot but not bubbling. Stir butter into oat mixture until well blended and the sugar is melted. Stir in the slightly beaten egg and vanilla.
Push batter off the end of a spoon onto the prepared pans in small (1½-inch diameter) blobs, 3 inches apart. Do not smooth them down. (“They will attend to that themselves” as they spread, Mrs. Appleyard wrote.) Plan on baking only 6 to 8 cookies per pan.
Bake 2 pans at a time for 6 to 8 minutes, rotating pans from top to bottom of the oven about halfway through. Set on the counter to cool for a minute or two, then gently lift the cookies off the parchment with a metal spatula, or peel off with your fingers. Gently lay cookies flat on a cooling rack. Repeat (making sure the pans are cool) until all batter is baked. Cool cookies thoroughly and store in an airtight container between layers of wax paper. (“They will keep crisp as long as there are any left. Mrs. Appleyard says she kept some once for almost two days.”)
VARIATION: In his book “Simple Cooking” (Viking Penguin, 1987), food historian John Thorne suggests several modifications to this recipe: Toast the oats in a cast-iron skillet set in the preheated oven for 3 to 4 minutes; reduce flour to 2 tablespoons; and add ¼ teaspoon ground ginger to the recipe. Thorne calls “Mrs. Appleyard’s Year” (Houghton Mifflin, 1941), from which this recipe is slightly adapted, “one of the few good New England cookbooks published” in the 20th century.
Marialisa Calta is a syndicated food writer who lives in Calais, not far from Mrs. Appleyard’s home.MORE IN Food & Dining
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