If there’s a recipe that carries on the warm, sweet love of a mother who is gone, it probably begins with a cup of sugar and half a cup of oleo. It certainly must include eggs and vanilla, flour and salt. It is baked in the oven at 350 degrees, allowed to cool before frosting and eaten with appreciation for generations to come.
Yes, this recipe is for “Mom’s Christmas Cookies.” It is to be remembered, shared and revered. It is engraved in stone at Cascade Cemetery in Cascade on the back of the grave marker for Maxine Menster.
“My dad and I, when she died (Sept. 26, 1994, at age 68), were thinking of something specific to her,” says daughter Jane Menster of rural Bernard. “It was her cookies.”
Handed down through generations, this recipe was never a secret, never something Maxine would only share “over my dead body,” as some people who come across the grave marker might think.
“Absolutely not,” Jane says. “Mom was a very generous person. This was a sentimental thing between my father and I.”
“What a neat thing to put on a stone,” agrees Charlie Becker, a friend and executive director of Camp Courageous in nearby rural Monticello. “She was a super sweet lady. She raised a great family. She was as good as they come.”
In fact, a photo of Maxine and John “Jack” Menster hangs in Becker’s office.
In 1994 the couple donated a 240-acre farm with a 28-acre lake in south-central Iowa to the year-round recreational and respite care facility, which serves individuals with disabilities. The camp, which operates on donations, sold raffle tickets at $100 each for the farm, then valued at $200,000. The raffle raised about $900,000, with some of that used to build the Menster Cabin residence hall.
“She looks over me every day,” Becker says with affection about Maxine’s picture, “to make sure I’m doing my job well.”
As a friend, Becker remembers visiting the Menster home when it had been prepared for the holidays, how it was filled with the aroma of evergreen, burning candles and freshly baked cookies.
“Over every surface — the counters, the tables, the chairs — there were cookies everywhere,” he says. “She loved to bake.”
These sugar cookies are a Christmas tradition passed down through time, says Jane, one of five Menster children (one is deceased). In fact, a decades-old photograph shows a family Christmas tree decorated with the cookies.
“I make them every year,” Jane says. “Last year it wasn’t until the day before Christmas. I can’t go a year without making them.”
Now, anyone who sees Maxine Menster’s recipe on her gravestone (or in the accompanying photograph) can join in this family tradition. They can make “Mom’s Christmas Cookies” with sugar and oleo, eggs and vanilla, and, of course, that everlasting pinch of love.
"Mom’s Christmas Cookies"
--- 1 cup sugar
--- 1/2 cup oleo
--- 2 beaten eggs
--- 1 tsp. vanilla
--- 3 cups flour
--- 3 tsp. baking powder
--- 1 tsp. salt
Add alternately with 1 cup cream. Chill and roll out with flour. Bake in a 350-degree oven, and frost.
Source: Menster family