Friday, February 8, 2013

Aunt Ka's Chocolate Macaroons

by Sheila Connolly

My father's parents both came from Ireland (they met in New York), along with many of their siblings.  They all arrived in New York in the late 1890s or early 1900s, and the women found work, without exception, as domestic servants.  My grandfather, so I'm told, drove a horse-drawn milk truck, and he met my grandmother at the kitchen door at the house where she was working.

The Lawless Sisters: my grandmother
is on the left, Ka on the right
Several of these women never married but stayed "in service" until they retired or could no longer work.  My grandmother was one of the exceptions:  she worked for several years, and then when she and my grandfather married, they moved to Syracuse where she had a sister who had married a local contractor. She had her first child—my father—when she was 39.

When my grandmother arrived in this country, she brought along her youngest sister Katherine, known as Ka.  Poor Ka was only a year old when her mother died, so she was raised by an aunt in Ireland.  She spent most of her adult life working for a family in Darien, then New Canaan, Connecticut. (There's a family mystery there: apparently she married a man named Ryan, but it didn't work out and nobody ever mentioned him again, although she kept the name Ryan and a divorce was unlikely.) 

A decade or more ago I discovered that my father had somehow held on to the sum and total of what Ka had left:  a small suitcase with a few family pictures, and a spiral bound booklet—with recipes. It's not really long enough to be considered a cookbook.  If this were fiction, I'd tell you that it was filled with either treasured family recipes from Ireland or wonderful concoctions with which she wowed her employers for a couple of decades. 

Not so.  What I'm guessing is that it's a record of her employer's favorites (this was Charlotte Heyl of Wahackme Road in New Canaan): vegetable soup (with two tablespoons of sugar?), "Spanish rice" (with a half cup of sugar??), cheeze (sic) balls, made with "1 roll snappy cheeze (sic)," French dressing (with "4 heaping teaspoons sugar (perhaps more)…Shake like everything!", scrambled eggs, macaroni and cheeze (sic), chocolate pudding, and so on.  At best it's a snapshot of conservative foods from the nicer suburbs. At worst…they're awful recipes.

It was a challenge to decide which of these recipes to prepare, but in the end I settled for what are called


Butter size of an egg (half a stick?)
2 squares Baker's chocolate (I assume that back then it was all unsweetened)

Melt together over hot water.

Add one cup sugar and mix thoroughly.

Add 2 unbeaten eggs

Sift together 1 cup flour, 1 tsp baking powder, and 1/4 tsp salt and beat in.  Add 1 tsp vanilla

Is this a handful?
Add 3 handfulls chopped nuts (I used walnuts) and 1/2 pound pecans. (A lot of nuts!)

All the nuts, chopped

Bake in a 325 oven for 10-12 minutes.

Okay, as you can see there are a few issues with this recipe.  Like, what size egg?  (I'll admit I always wanted to use a recipe with that measurement, though.)  And "handfuls" of nuts?  You may also note that there is no description of how to form these so-called macaroons.  On a greased baking sheet?  Large or small dollops?

I opted for using a Silpat, and making each cookie about one tablespoon of dough. The baking temperature and time worked. I let them cool briefly before I put them on a rack.  This recipe made 2 1/2 dozen cookies.  Basically they taste like very nutty brownies, but they're good.

P.S.  nobody ever said my relatives were good cooks!

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  1. As always, Sheila, your Irish tales enchant. Must be in the blood. :) The way your grandparents met is adorable, and that spiral bound book of your great aunt Ka's recipes, bless her heart, odd as they are, must have been a trip to read through. "Shake like everything!" -- LOL. Reminds me of some of the funny notes I've seen on recipes from my own older relatives. "Butter the size of an egg" is a new one on me, but I think you did very well in the translation. And the macaroons (aka nutty brownie drops) look like they'd go great with a big glass of moo juice!

    Congrats on the success of BURIED IN A BOG, already a bestseller (W00T)! And stay safe this weekend. We're now at blizzard status here in NYC, too, so batten down up there in MA and stay warm!

    ~ Cleo

    1. Moo juice? Maybe, but I'd prefer a good cup of coffee.

      Nice detective work, Sheila. I look forward to mucking about in your "bog." Congratulations on its success!

  2. Fascinating story Sheila, and the recipes are hysterical. I guess the boss had a sweet tooth:).

    Still waiting anxiously for my copy of BURIED IN A BOG (or is it Buried in a Blizzard?)

  3. Like the sound of BURIED IN A BOG. And thank you for giving me the link, Cleo, so I could read this story. So romantic.

  4. I love hearing about the wonderful stories from your family and this recipe is so easy, even for me.

    And I'm glad you mentioned the Silpat because I didn't know what the thing was called.

  5. I can attest that the cookies stay moist after baking (those few that are left). And the Silpat was actually a gift to my daughter, but when she moved out I kind of adopted it.

  6. Sheila, what fun to find these kinds of items. I found a box of my mother's letters to her grandmother and in them she recounted how she learned to cook (after college) and she detailed the wonderful green J-ello that she made. She turned to be a fabulous cook...but she needed time to learn. I still have many of her handwritten recipe cards. Love them. History.

    Daryl / Avery

  7. What a wonderful story, Sheila. Isn't it fascinating how so many unpleasant things wound up mysteries in order to save face? I'm sure divorce wasn't even an option for poor Ka.

    Her macaroons look great!