The cookie lady

  • Assorted Christmas Cookies, a Cranberry Pecan Sour Cream Cake and an Applesauce Cake made by Martha Thompson. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Assorted Christmas Cookies and cake in a lovely holiday box by Martha Thompson. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Assorted Christmas Cookies by Martha Thompson. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

For the Recorder
Published: 12/23/2019 8:54:23 AM

Martha Thompson, of Shelburne, has been baking all her life.

Her specialty is Christmas baking — particularly Christmas cookies.

“I baked with my mother. Every Christmas she did many, many, many cookies. I learned at her side,” Thompson said. “Then, when I had my kids, they helped out with every part of it. Decorating was the most fun, of course. And now my daughter is teaching her son and stepdaughter to bake. My nieces enter in. It’s a family affair.”

Thompson is self-employed. She gardens and designs gardens and can thus make her own schedule, particularly at this time of year when snow turns gardens into dreams rather than workplaces. She tries to get much of her baking done on weekends to encourage “grown kids” to participate.

She begins working on cookies and cakes in earnest a few days before Christmas.

“I have a dough-making day for the most part,” she told me. “I try to get the big mess out of the way, and then I move on from there. It depends on who’s here whether I have help or do it myself, which I don’t mind at all. But it’s fun to have kids who are grown-up or grandkids to help out.

“And then I box up a lot of cookies that I give away to friends, family, sometimes the post lady. Then I’m done.”

She and her family members make at least six different types of cookies each holiday season and sometimes as many as 10 types.

She enjoys cooking with others. “We chat the whole time — Irish background, so we tell stories. Unfortunately, our singing voices are not something that we share often or together,” she said.

Currently, one of her favorite helpers in the kitchen is her two-year-old grandson. “He loves to sit on the counter and help,” she informed me. “He holds my hands when I crack the eggs, and that’s fun. I’ll measure things and let him dump them in the bowl. A little stirring. We just have fun with it all. No expectations for gorgeous cookies. That’s how my kids grew up. We’d make gingerbread men and have a free for all. We’re pretty free form.”

Thompson saves boxes all year to use for her cookie presentations. She particularly likes card boxes with clear tops, although she also sometimes buys small cookie boxes.

“I tie them up nicely with ribbon and some pine cones,” she said of her boxes.

She prefers to bake small cookies, in part because smaller cookies enable everyone to taste more than one kind of cookie and in part because smaller cookies seem to be a little less messy to eat than larger ones.

In addition to baking cookies, Thompson and family members make cakes every year, both as gifts and to take to family functions. Gatherings of her clan can have as many as 35 people, “family and friends and wandering souls,” so cakes are always welcome.

Her two favorite holiday cakes are her mother’s cranberry-nut pound cake and her grandmother’s applesauce cake. “I made the applesauce cake last week, and it took me back to my childhood,” she announced. “It’s very old fashioned.”

With family members due to arrive from several different locations, Thompson looks forward to an extended holiday.

“We’ll have Christmas Eve, and Christmas on Christmas and then the Christmas after Christmas when everybody’s here,” she predicted. “They all like to bake. We’ll probably do some baking on Christmas night or the next morning.”

Personally, I wish I could smell Martha Thompson’s kitchen on Christmas morning. I’ll be with my own family, of course, but she has shared a couple of her favorite recipes so we can all enjoy the aromas in our own kitchens.

Happy holidays to all.

Christmas Butter Cookies

This is Martha Thompson’s go-to sugar cookie recipe. It comes from food writer and holiday maven Susan Branch.

2 cups (1 pound) softened butter

1-1/2 cups sugar

4 egg yolks

2 teaspoons vanilla

4-1/2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

colored sugar, chopped nuts, or whatever you want to use for decorations

Cream the butter and the sugar. Add the egg yolks and the vanilla. Sift in the flour and the salt. Martha Thompson notes, “It is a very stiff dough. That’s why it rolls into the logs so easily.”

Roll the dough into logs that are about 1 foot long and 1 to 2 inches in diameter. Roll the sides of the logs in colored sugar, chopped nuts, crystallized ginger, cranberries, or whatever strikes your fancy. You may also leave them plain and decorate them after baking.

Wrap the logs in parchment, and refrigerate them for at least 2 hours and up to a week.

When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment. Cut the logs into small disks, and place the disks on the prepared cookie sheets.

Bake the cookies for 8 to 10 minutes, or until they are “a little bit brown on the edge, so they’re just kind of golden on the bottom.” Martha Thompson knows when they are done by smelling them in the oven, but she encourages frequent visual checking. “Remain vigilant in the kitchen,” she cautions.

Makes 6 to 10 dozen cookies, depending on size.

Cranberry-Pecan Pound Cake

This festive, seasonal recipe dates from the 1970s. Thompson suggests making it in a traditional Bundt pan rather than a fancy one with too many nooks and crannies so it will come out of the pan easily.

1 cup pecans, divided

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, melted and cooled

3 cups sugar

5 eggs

a generous splash of vanilla

1-1/2 cups sour cream

6 ounces or more dried cranberries

3 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

confectioner’s sugar as needed for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease your Bundt pan “really well.”

Chop 3/4 cup of the pecans roughly, and set them aside. Chop the remaining 1/4 cup very finely, and dust the prepared pan with them.

Beat together the butter and the sugar for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and beat well. Blend in the vanilla and the sour cream.

Toss the dried cranberries in a little bit of the flour, and then stir the remaining flour into the butter mixture, followed by the baking soda, the salt, the floured cranberries, and the remaining chopped pecans.

Pour the batter into the Bundt pan. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let the cake cool for 10 to 15 minutes in the pan; then invert it onto a rack to cool completely. Dust with confectioner’s sugar. Serves a crowd.

My Mother’s Applesauce Cake

The mother in the title here is actually Martha Thompson’s grandmother; the recipe was recorded by Thompson’s mother.

For the cake:

3/4 cup chopped dates

2 cups flour

1-1/2 cups sugar

1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda

3/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon each cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and allspice

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature.

1-1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce

2 eggs

3/4 cup seedless raisins

3/4 cup golden raisins

3/4 cup currants

3/4 cup chopped nuts (Thompson uses walnuts)

For the icing:

3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) butter, softened

1 pound confectioner’s sugar

3 to 4 tablespoons orange juice

1 to 2 tablespoons orange zest

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease 2 standard loaf pans and line them with parchment paper.

Roll the dates in a small amount of the flour. Set them aside. Sift together the remaining flour, the sugar, the baking soda, the salt, and the spices. Add the butter and the applesauce, and beat for 2 minutes. Add the eggs, and beat for another 2 minutes. Stir in the dates, the raisins, the currants, and the nuts.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans. Bake the loaves for 1 to 1-1/2 hours, or until they are firm. Cool the cakes thoroughly; then beat together the icing ingredients and spread the icing on top of the loaves. Makes 2 loaves.

Tinky Weisblat is the award-winning author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy,” and “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” Visit her website,

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