Grandmama had a stroke around 2003, I think, when she was in her early 80s. That first Christmas when she was unable to bake as she was accustomed to, my mama went over to help her. The next year my mama was sick with cancer and Grandmama's condition gradually worsened. In a matter of years, she was confined to a hospital bed in her living room. There were no more cookies. She passed away in 2010 at the age of 90, just three months after my sweet Papa George, her husband of over 70 years.
However, the story of Grandmama's cookies does not have a sad ending. The tradition continues on. Thanks to the magic of Facebook, my cousins and I happened to share pictures of us making Grandmama's cookies this year. I discovered that one cousin's wife has the original recipe. She makes the cookies every year for her family and used to take them to my grandparents every year up until they died. I had made M & M cookies in the past, but did not have the bonafide "Grandmama approved" recipe. I made one batch according to the original recipe and it tasted much like hers. Of course, being unable to leave a recipe alone, I made a second batch subbing half the shortening for butter. It turned out even better, I think. The butter adds a richer flavor and a bit of crispness while the shortening retains some of the chewiness. You can try it either way (and it doesn't have to be Christmas)!
I gave my brothers and dad some of Grandmama's cookies and for a while it seemed like old times. I was carried back to Grandmama and Papa's living room with it's little flickering gas heater. On Christmas Eve, after our meal of oyster stew, we sat in the living room and exchanged gifts. Grandmama got out of rocker and went in the "cold room" off the carport in their little pieced together house they had built themselves. She came out and handed out our cookies placed in Christmas bags. Discounting the many hours she had spent in the kitchen, she would again apologize. "It's not much, just some cookies. Some of them aren't very good," she'd say. We would smile, say our thanks and dig in right away. This is Christmas.
Grandmama Ovice's M & M Cookies
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
1 cup shortening (or ½ cup shortening, ½ cup butter, softened)
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2-1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cup M & M candies
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cream sugar, shortening and butter (if you go that route). Add eggs and vanilla and mix thoroughly. In a separate bowl, stir together salt, baking soda and unsifted flour. Add dry mixture to creamed mixture until just blended. Stir in candies. Drop by teaspoonfuls about one-inch apart on ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes until slightly browned around the edges. Makes about 3-4 dozen cookies depending on size. I like mine big and hearty!