An Old Family Recipe

by Richard M. Romney

Editorial Associate

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    Anyone who has shipped cookies to a missionary can appreciate the anxiety Cheryl Martell, 19, and her mother felt while preparing for the California State Fair. They knew they would need to transport boxes and boxes of delicate cakes, breads, and pastries, as well as dozens of cookies, from their home in Thousand Oaks, California, to the fair grounds in Sacramento, 360 miles away. It would be disastrous to have even one of the items damaged, and yet everything had to arrive quickly so it could be judged while still fresh.

    Air travel, obviously, would be the fastest transportation. But both Cheryl and her mother had nightmares of a baggage compartment splattered with frosting and breaded with brownie crumbs. Car or bus travel offered little alternative. Jostling bumps and sun beating through windows would reduce skillfully crafted cream puffs into gobs of goo.

    It was Brother Martell who finally solved the problem. He called officials at the airline and explained what was going on. For half fare, they agreed to let the Martells have two extra seats for boxes of baked goods. The family finished the baking, wrapped each cake, cookie, or loaf separately, and then stored individual bundles carefully in styrofoam ice chests and cardboard boxes. When passengers boarded the plane that day, the two front seats were stacked high with containers strapped carefully in place with extended seat belts. In the next two seats sat Sister Martell and Cheryl, cautiously guarding their cargo.

    The baked goods arrived safely at the fair, despite a racing taxi ride across town, and the Martells weren’t disappointed when the ribbons were taped on displays the next day. Mom amassed 23 ribbons, including 12 first places; Cheryl won a first- and a second-place ribbon; and younger sister Debbie, 11, took first in two categories and second in one.

    It was a typical event for the Martells. Their baking has been winning prizes for years, and family adventures, whether at the fairs, on a camping trip, or just around the house, are almost daily occurrences. Since Sister Martell started entering baked goods in state and county fairs seven years ago, she’s won more than 300 ribbons. But she’s not alone. The children (Cheryl; Bob, 15; Dave, 13; and Debbie—one-year-old Steve still specializes in eating, not cooking) have won more than 100 ribbons, including some for candies and crafts. Even Dad has one victory, a second place in pastry, to his credit. Sometimes the children outperform Mom. For example, at the last state fair, Cheryl and Debbie received higher awards than their mother in four categories, and both of them used recipes from cookbooks she wrote!

    The Martell’s home, naturally, reflects their interest in cooking. Rows and rows of ribbons fan out on a board Brother Martell built to display the awards. Hundreds of cookbooks, collected from all over the world, line an entire wall in the small room Sister Martell uses as a library. Antique baking utensils and trays (many of them given as birthday and Christmas presents) adorn the five-oven kitchen, and the freezer is stocked with carefully wrapped samples of prize-winning goodies. (The Martells freeze or give away most of what they bake, but the best examples of some batches are preserved in the deep freeze so Sister Martell can use them in demonstrations or exhibits. She teaches classes in cooking and tests ovens for a manufacturing firm.) Throughout the pantry, signs tacked on trays and plates of freshly baked breads and cookies warn, “Do not eat!” “Sometimes that leads us on a treasure hunt,” David said, “hoping we’ll find something without a sign.”

    Check in on the Martells, especially around fair time, and they’re liable to be shelling nuts or washing raisins, which they buy in bulk. “Sometimes on Saturdays we’ll spend several hours together cracking nuts or cleaning and packaging raisins so Mom can use them in her baking,” Cheryl said. “One time we packaged 30 pounds of raisins in one day.”

    She also explained another family project, her mother’s cookbooks. “She writes them, my dad prints them, and we all put them together and bind them. Sometimes we spend an entire night working on them.” When the books are first printed, Debbie says, “We work three hours a day on them until we get them done.”

    Stop by another time, and someone will be washing the dishes (everybody helps), or Dave will be walking in from the porch with a lemon he just picked in the backyard. Debbie might be creaming peanut butter as a base for a surprise batch of cookies for a friend, as her mother lends advice, while Cheryl juices oranges and Bob tends Steve, who’s crawling on the living room couch. Brother Martell smiles and tells stories or wrestles with Dave while he waits for his turn in the kitchen.

    Listening closely, a visitor might hear Sister Martell sharing one or more of the following baking tips:

    —It’s hard to tell when dark-colored cookies are done. Alternate them on the same cookie sheet with light-colored cookies of the same shape and size. Both types will usually be done at the same time.

    —Want white almonds instead of brown ones? Blanch them. This means placing them in cold water, bringing it to a boil, soaking the nuts until the skins wrinkle, draining the pan, covering them again with cold water, then slipping skins off between fingers.

    —Put nuts in a heavy plastic bag before crushing them with a rolling pin. It makes less mess and keeps them together.

    —Read the recipe completely before beginning. Then premeasure all ingredients (then all that’s necessary is to add them at the proper time) and let them come to room temperature before mixing, unless the recipe directs otherwise. Adding chilled ingredients to a bread recipe will slow rising time.

    —Use butter, margarine, or shortening to grease bread pans. Don’t use oil. It will be absorbed by the bread and will cause loaves to stick to the pans.

    —Large juice cans or small soup cans with one end neatly removed can be used for bread pans. They will make exciting shapes and sizes, and round slices.

    —To discover proper baking time for cookies, bake one or two as a test batch before baking a whole sheet.

    —A lemon will yield nearly double the juice if it is heated before juicing.

    —It isn’t necessary to grease the whole cookie sheet. Just grease it in rows where you intend to drop the cookies. This makes cleanup easier.

    Soon the air will be saturated with aromas, and the conversation crowded with plans and ideas for the next fair, or for a Scouting trip (during which Bob and Dave’s cooking skills will be a real asset to the troop), or for a way to fellowship nonmember neighbors.

    The same conversations are likely to resurface on Monday nights when the Martells gather for home evening. One of the family members presents a lesson, others a short entertainment presentation (just about everyone plays a musical instrument of some sort, from kazoo to drums, and Debbie and Dave are fond of magic shows). Grandmother and Grandfather, who live part of the year in rooms added on the back of the house, join in the fun. Prayer and a father’s message offer a serious moment’s reflection, and then, of course, refreshments are served. Their quality, no matter who makes them, is just about guaranteed.

    As each thought is pondered, as each amusement is applauded, the visitor comes to a realization. The delight of being with the Martells centers on the fact that they themselves enjoy being together as a family. Baking for the fair and winning prizes, like magic shows and stories, are secondary to love at home, and that seems to provide the proper recipe for a strong family.

    Don’t Be a Crumb! Mail Cookies Carefully

    Everybody loves to get “care” packages from home, especially college students, missionaries, and servicemen and women. But nobody likes to open the box and find nothing but crumbs inside. The Martells have learned to properly protect baked goods they entrust to the postal service, and they offer the following suggestions for those who want to share goodies with loved ones far away from home:

    1. Begin with cookies that can stand a few hard knocks. Soft drop cookies, or bars and squares containing fruits and nuts, are recommended. Cookies made with honey travel well because honey acts as a natural preservative.

    2. Use a sturdy box, tightly covered plastic food container, or covered metal container (a shortening can, for example). Metal is best for long distance mailing. Line boxes with wax paper, foil, or plastic wrap, with a cushion of crumpled wax paper or paper towels on the bottom.

    3. Put thin cookies in pairs, back to back, with waxed paper between. Pairing them up gives them extra strength. Wrap them in plastic wrap, foil, or waxed paper, taping the ends to seal out air. Thicker cookies wrap better individually.

    4. Place heaviest cookies at the bottom, then arrange layers with cushioning material in between. Top off the container with another layer of padding and seal securely with tape. This helps insure freshness.

    5. Wrap the box or container in heavy brown paper and tie it securely. Follow specific packaging rules available at the post office. Using a non-smearing marker, label the front with both a mailing and a return address, and make sure to write the words “perishable—food” on the wrapping.

    Baked goods made with the following recipes have all won prizes for the Martells at state and county fairs. They are reprinted here from cookbooks published by the family.

    Hidden Mint Cookies

    1/4 cup butter

    1/4 cup shortening

    1/2 cup sugar

    1/4 cup brown sugar

    1 egg

    1 tablespoon water

    1 teaspoon vanilla

    1 1/2 cups, plus 2 tablespoons flour

    1/2 teaspoon soda

    1/4 teaspoon salt

    Approximately 3 dozen chocolate mint patties

    Cream butter, shortening, and sugars. Stir in egg, water, and vanilla. Beat well. Sift flour, soda, and salt; stir into sugar mixture. Chill dough. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Shape cookies by enclosing each chocolate mint pattie in about one rounded tablespoon of dough. Place cookies about two inches apart on greased baking sheet. Bake 8 to 10 minutes, or until no imprint remains when cookies are touched lightly. Makes about three dozen cookies.

    Blue Ribbon Cream Puffs


    1 cup water

    1/2 cup butter

    1/4 teaspoon salt

    1 cup sifted flour

    4 large eggs


    3 ounces soft cream cheese

    1/3 cup sifted confectioner’s sugar

    2 cups whipped cream


    In medium saucepan, slowly bring water with butter and salt to boiling. Remove from heat. With wooden spoon, beat in flour all at once. Return to low heat; continue beating until mixture forms a ball and leaves side of pan. Remove from heat. Beat in eggs, one at a time, beating vigorously after each addition until mixture is smooth. Continue beating until dough is shiny and satiny and breaks in strands (this takes about 8–10 minutes). Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart, onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, then for about 20 minutes at 375 degrees, until puffed and golden brown. They should sound hollow when tapped with fingertips. Cool completely on a wire rack, away from drafts. With a sharp knife, cut off tops. Remove any pieces of soft dough inside.


    Mix ingredients listed above and fill shells. Replace tops. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

    Prize Poppy Seed Rolls

    1 package dry yeast

    1/4 cup warm water

    1/4 cup sugar

    1/4 cup shortening

    1 teaspoon salt

    1 cup scalded milk

    1 beaten egg

    3 1/2 to 4 cups sifted flour

    1 tablespoon poppy seeds

    2 tablespoons soft butter

    1/2 cup powdered American cheese


    1 egg yolk

    2 teaspoons water

    Soften dry yeast in warm water. In large bowl, combine sugar, shortening, and salt; stir in hot milk; cool to lukewarm. Add softened yeast, egg, and 2 cups flour; beat well. Stir in poppy seeds. Gradually add remaining flour or enough to make a soft dough. Place in greased bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place until size doubles /about 1 1/2 hours. Punch down dough, turn it out on a lightly floured board, and knead until smooth and elastic /about 5 minutes. Roll half the dough into a 16-by-18-inch rectangle, about 1/4 of an inch thick. Brush with 1 tablespoon soft butter. Sprinkle with half of the powdered cheese. Beginning with the long side of the rectangle, roll it up like a jelly roll and seal the seam. Cut into 12 slices, each about 1 1/4 inches wide. Place each roll, cut side down, in a greased muffin cup, first giving the bottom of each roll a little poke in the center, to add height and make a more attractive shape. Repeat the above process with the remaining dough. Cover and let rolls rise in a warm place until they have almost doubled in size /about 45 minutes. Brush with egg yolk glaze and sprinkle with additional poppy seeds. Bake at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until done. Cool slightly before removing from pan. Makes 24 rolls.

    “Fortune” Cookies

    1/4 cup sifted cake flour

    2 1/2 tablespoons sugar

    1 tablespoon cornstarch

    Dash of salt

    2 tablespoons oil

    1 egg white

    1 tablespoon water

    8 “fortunes” on slips of paper

    Stir together dry ingredients. Add cooking oil and egg white; stir until smooth. Add water and mix thoroughly. Make one cookie at a time. On a lightly greased skillet or griddle pour one tablespoon of the batter. Spread it into a 3 1/2-inch circle. Cook over low heat until lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Turn with a wide spatula and cook one minute longer. Working quickly, place cookie on hot pad, put fortune on center, fold cookie in half, then fold again over the edge of a bowl. Place cookies in muffin pan to cool after shaping. Makes 8 cookies.

    No-bake Missionary Health Cookies (Peanut Butter Gems)

    1/2 cup peanut butter

    1/2 cup honey

    3/4 cup non-fat powdered milk

    3/4 cup wheat germ

    1/2 cup raisins or currants

    Fine, unsweetened coconut or crushed peanuts

    Blend peanut butter and honey. Stir in dry milk and wheat germ. Add raisins. Shape mixture into balls and roll in coconut or crushed peanuts. Store in refrigerator.

    Michelangelo’s Sugar Cookies


    1 cup shortening

    1 1/2 cups sugar

    2 egg whites, slightly beaten

    1 teaspoon vanilla

    2 1/2 cups flour

    1/2 teaspoon salt

    1/2 teaspoon baking powder

    Egg yolk paint:

    1 egg yolk

    1 teaspoon water

    Food coloring

    Cream shortening. Add sugar to it gradually. Beat until fluffy. Add egg whites and vanilla and beat well. Sift together dry ingredients and stir into creamed mixture. Wrap and chill for several hours or overnight. Roll dough, a small portion at a time, to 1/4-inch thickness. Using favorite cutters or patterns, cut cookies. Lift them with a broad metal spatula to a lightly greased cookie sheet. (The colder the dough, the easier it will be to lift them.) Mix egg yolk paint ingredients and brush it on with clean watercolor brushes. Bake at 350 degrees for about 8 minutes or until cookies are very light golden around the edges.

    Illustrated by Virginia Kuettel

    Photos by Richard M. Romney