Holiday Best contest: Family tradition takes first place

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

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It all started with a simple cookie -- a cornmeal cookie. Add some cranberries, some chocolate chips and seven generations of Southern Irish cooking and you have the winner of the Southeast Missourian and SHE magazine's 2007 Holiday Best contest.

Who would have thought to put cranberries, chocolate chips and cornmeal together in one cookie?

Angie Holtzhouser and her granddaughter Ellie Potter, that's who. The team -- dubbed "Ruben's Girls" by Holtzhouser after her great-great-great grandfather -- took Grandpa Ruben and Grandma Francis's cornmeal cookie recipe and decided cranberries would taste pretty good.

"Then my granddaughter decided that chocolate chips make anything better," Holtzhouser said of 12-year-old Ellie.

Ellie has been in the kitchen with her grandmother since before she could eat anything they made.

"When she was born I started setting her carrier on the island," Holtzhouser said. "She adds a little touch of something to almost everything I do."

Ellie said she loves to bake and the cornmeal cookie was a favorite recipe of hers. The chocolate chips were not only her idea, they're her favorite part. Her first memory of the kitchen was being 2 years old and sitting on the counter helping her grandmother make a cake. Ten years later, Ellie still loves to bake -- anything, she said.

The cornmeal recipe is an old family tradition the two girls tweaked until they found the perfect combination.

"As they come to me, that's one of my favorite things is experimenting with recipes," Holtzhouser said.

"It's like art," she said. "You start with nothing. You look at the recipe, when you finish you've really got something that you've created and then you want to share that."

She said that with experimentation, you should start small by changing little things until "you get a feel for the recipe."

She said she likes the cornmeal cookie recipe because it is so versatile. For a thinner cookie, add another tablespoon of cream. The cornmeal keeps them crispy while the white syrup in the recipe will keep them moist and soft -- a unique feature in a cookie, she said. You can add raisins, nuts, chocolate, cranberries or try something new.

"Not all cookies adapt to different kinds of additives," she said.

One piece of advice she gives -- and follows -- is "You never, ever serve anything to anyone when you haven't tasted it."


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