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5 Delicious Sweet Recipes From My Dear Grandmother's Journal

I grew up watching and helping my mother make homemade cookies. They were always in our school lunch boxes. Here, I share some family faves.

My grandmother's recipe journal

My grandmother's recipe journal

Vintage Dessert Recipes

Here is a sneak preview of the recipes in this article.

  1. Aunt Alvina's cookies
  2. Spice squares
  3. Hickory nut gems
  4. Rocks (cookies)
  5. Oatmeal cookies

We typically share our baked goods with friends and neighbors and get feedback to describe the recipes for you. Each of these recipes got hearty approval from all of our taste-testers.

1. Aunt Alvina's Cookies

Named after my great aunt Alvina from the paternal side of my family, we are happy to have discovered, taste-tested, and happily give a thumbs up to this cookie recipe.


  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped
  • 1 cup dates, pitted and chopped
  • 1/2 cup brandy or wine (I used brandy)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1½ to 3 cups of flour so you can drop from a spoon. Must not run when baking, and if so, use more flour. (I used 3 cups)


There were no directions with this old-time recipe, so this is how I proceeded.

  1. Cream the butter with the sugar.
  2. Add the eggs and blend.
  3. Continue to add the wet and dry ingredients and after well combined, drop a rounded teaspoon full of the batter onto a greased cookie sheet.
  4. I baked the cookies for about 10 minutes in a 350ºF oven and, when nicely browned on the bottom, transferred them to a rack to cool.

These are soft cookies. The unbaked dough even had a frosting-like consistency. These made about five dozen cookies, and they are delicious! We will be repeating this recipe in the future.

2. Spice Squares

This recipe is truly a cake; one could slice it how one wishes to present it. I expected it to be a cookie consistency because of the directions, which directed people to cut it into bars. It is tasty! No name was attached to this recipe, but the instructions were carefully handwritten.


For the cake:

  • 1½ cups of sifted enriched flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3/4 cup sour milk or buttermilk

For the topping:

  • 1 egg white
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup chopped nuts (I used pecans )


  1. Sift together the following: flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and cloves.
  2. Cream the shortening and 3/4 cup of brown sugar until light and fluffy.
  3. Add the egg yolk and vanilla to the shortening and brown sugar mixture and beat together well.
  4. Add the flour mixture to the creamed mixture alternating with 3/4 cup of sour milk or buttermilk (I used buttermilk).
  5. Spread into greased 7-inch by 11-inch pan.
  6. Beat the egg white until stiff for the topping.
  7. Gradually add the 1/4 cup of brown sugar and mix well.
  8. Spread onto the batter.
  9. Sprinkle with the chopped nuts.
  10. Bake in a 375ºF oven for 30 minutes.
  11. When cool, cut into bars. This recipe yields about 22 bars, one by three inches.

3. Hickory Nut Gems


  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1½ cup flour, not sifted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup chopped nuts


  1. Cream the butter and sugar together.
  2. Add the sour cream, egg, and vanilla and combine.
  3. Add the dry ingredients and mix well.
  4. Drop by teaspoons on greased cookie sheets.
  5. Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 to 15 minutes.

Given the name of these cookies, hickory nuts were probably an original ingredient, perhaps from someone's trees. I substituted chopped pecans as hickory nuts are not a usual ingredient in our grocery stores. Probably any chopped nut would work. These soft cookies tasted similar to butter cookies with added nuts, which makes sense given the ingredients. There was no name attached to this recipe.

4. "Rocks" (Cookies)

The following cookie recipe was labeled "Mother," meaning that it was from my great-grandmother, who had died when my grandmother and her siblings were very young. When my grandmother hand-wrote these recipes in her journal, I am sure each one from her mother held a special meaning.


  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 1 cup butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 1½ cups chopped raisins
  • 3 tablespoons cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda dissolved in a little boiling water
  • 3 cups flour


As per other recipes in this old journal, there were no further instructions except "Drop on buttered tins." Here is what I did.

  1. Cream the softened butter with the sugar.
  2. Add the eggs, mixing well.
  3. Add the cinnamon, baking soda, and flour. At this point, the batter becomes pretty stiff. I manually mixed the nuts and raisins into it, stirring until combined.
  4. Drop the batter by rounded teaspoon onto a greased baking sheet.
  5. Bake in a 350ºF oven for 9 minutes. Anywhere from 8 to 10 minutes should work. Just watch that first baking sheet carefully to determine the best timing.

These rocks are delicious! What a unique name for a cookie! The recipe makes about five dozen. Anyone liking cinnamon is sure to like these cookies. The batter is dark because of so much cinnamon in it. I am speculating that any number of spice combinations might also work. Perhaps a little cinnamon combined with some ginger or allspice would also work? Worth experimenting!

5. Oatmeal Cookies

This oatmeal cookie recipe may be the most interesting because of the examination sheet upon which I found it. This loose sheet was with the other bound pages inside my grandmother's recipe journal. I have no idea how old this recipe is, but there might be some doctors still alive who would remember the days when notes regarding a patient were taken on a piece of paper measuring approximately 5¼ by 8¼ inches?

This examination blank had some room at the top for the "Name, Street, City, Phone, and Referred By." The "History and Remarks" had only 10 lines for notes regarding a patient's condition. Of course, more could probably have been written on the blank back of this page. Still, this is laughable compared to the pages and pages of information that a prospective patient has to fill out before ever seeing a doctor in this day and age.

My grandfather had managed what was, at the time, the tallest commercial building in downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin, many years ago. Many occupants were doctors and dentists, and my grandfather often had lunch with them on different occasions. Did he taste these oatmeal cookies, and did he request the recipe? Is that why it was on this examination blank? No one is left alive to answer that question, so this is mere speculation.


  • 3/4 cup shortening
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 cups Quaker oats


  1. Place shortening, sugars, egg, water, and vanilla in a bowl and beat.
  2. Sift together the flour, salt, and baking soda.
  3. Add the oats to the dry ingredients.
  4. Mix the dry ingredients into the wet ones and combine them.
  5. Drop by teaspoon on a greased (baking) sheet
  6. Bake 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes.

For variations of these cookies you can add chopped nuts, chocolate chips, raisins, or coconut. I added chopped nuts and baked these cookies for 15 minutes. Of course, it all depends upon each person's oven. These are thin and crisp cookies that freeze well. They are delicious and have become a favorite in our home.

"Grandmothers can always be counted on to produce sweets, cookies, and candies that seem to taste nicer from her than from anyone else."

— Elizabeth Faye

© 2010 Peggy Woods