How I learned to bake cookies

In 1980, the year Kim and I got engaged, I started baking cookies with my future mother-in-law, Sylvia Olson who was an excellent baker. Syl owned a miniature store in Santa Barbara called "Sylvia's Memories in Miniature". We always told her that she should open up a bakery, but she never did.

anna olsonSyl was taught how to bake in the early 1940's by her Swedish mother-in-law, Anna Olson. My favorite cookie in the whole world, if I had to pick one, is the peanut butter cookie that came from Anna, whom I never met, as she died in the 1960's. I can still picture Syl piecing together the three yellowed scraps of paper with the original handwritten recipe on it.

My father in law, Melvin Olson, was the General Manager at the Jesuit Noviciate in Santa Barbara from the mid 70's, until he died in 1988.

Mel would bring home industrial sized sheets of parchment paper that Chef Veane, gave him. Veane told Mel that using parchment to line the baking sheets with was the professional "bakers secret".  If it was good enough for professional bakers, it was good enough for the Olson's! We cut our parchment sheets with scissors to fit a home sized baking pan.

The Olson family tradition (which my sisters-in-law, Jackie and Beth, still continue to do) is to bake about 12 different kinds of cookies and give them away to friends, relatives, co-workers, etc.

For at least 8 hours a day for three days, we would have a production line of dough rolling, slicing, chopping nuts, sprinkling, baking, and finally transferring the cookies to the cooling racks. It was like being in the cookie army!

It's a lot of work, but worth it. After I came on to the scene my husband "retired" from active cookie duty, but maintained his post as "chief cookie taste tester". Once we moved to Maryland, I continued the tradition, and now our daughter, Stephanie, helps with the cookie parade. We have three "professional taste testers": Dad, David and Sean.

syl and melSyl and Mel were separated after 48 years of marriage, when Mel died suddenly three days before Christmas in 1988.  

Sylvia lived another 18 years, but missing Mel every day. She died in June 2006 at the age of 85.

Syl and Mel, together again, forever.

"Thanks Syl, for teaching me how to bake, and for passing down the love of your favorite holiday, Christmas. Rest in Peace, until we meet again."

"I wish...."   "They know".