Alicia Elkort’s Poetic Memoir Of Our Grandparents – “Apricot Preserves”
My grandmother used to make these amazing cookies for special occasions. They are called Franz Joseph Cookies and supposedly took their name from the famous Emperor of Austria. I’m not really sure the back story on how my grandma got this recipe but it was a family favorite and one that had great pomp and circumstance around the making of the cookies. She resisted giving the recipe to anyone for many years and finally when she was well into her late 80s, she gave me the recipe. When I make them, I use her gifted and typed recipe that is yellowed and stained with cooking splatters. I posted the recipe for these wonderful cookies several years ago. Feel free to bake them and make sure to tell grandma thanks! (The photo on that page is her in her kitchen when she was in her 80s, still cooking up a storm.)
Recently my sister, an extremely talented and published poet, wrote a poem about the making of these cookies. It was published by Red Paint Hill Publishing in the anthology, “Mother is a Verb,” released May 2014. The poem poignantly evokes the memory of these cookies and of my grandmother and I hope you will enjoy reading this poem as much as I do.
All summer, I sleep on a foldaway
in my grandparents’ living room,
against the open window,
the torn mesh screen
patterning the trees
outside. At night,
wisps of jasmine and honeysuckle,
fall asleep to the dewy patter of crickets.
Lightly grease two cookie sheets.
Grandma wakes me,
a brush of lips
on the crown
of my head.
I stretch my body long
to the scent of eggs,
toast and oranges.
By six a.m. we’re in
the old Dodge Dart
with blue plaid seats,
windows rolled down,
Grandma and Grandpa
in the front seat,
bookends to my little self
lodged between them,
the cool air beginning to warm.
Grate hazel nuts finely and set aside.
As we drive the empty freeway,
I take my grandfather’s hand.
Los Angeles disappears,
replaced by wheat colored hills,
cow-dotted pastures, horses,
fences, then row
of trees that fly by like a memory.
Grandpa turns onto a dirt road,
tires churning, crunching gravel,
the released whisper of each tiny
rock a hello and a welcome. We
park underneath an olive tree,
approach the foreman of the orchard.
He hands us a large cardboard box.
Grandpa counts out five one-dollar bills.
Whatever fits in the box will belong to us.
I climb ladders, scramble up rough-barked
trunks, reach across leaves and pluck
apricots from their branches,
slipping the furry globes into the box,
taking something I won’t have to share.
Sift flour, cinnamon and cocoa together.
An apricot with the blush of red
makes especially good jam.
I fill my cardboard box
only with apricots
with the blush of red.
What doesn’t fit, I stuff
into my shorts and jacket
when no one is looking.
Blend groundnuts into mixture.
On the drive home,
the remnants of peanut butter and jelly
on hand made whole-wheat bread
surround me as I lay across the backseat,
my hair drifting into the box of apricots
nestled on the floor.
I grab an apricot,
slowly chew the moist flesh,
throw the pit out the open window
and reach for another
until I fall asleep to the rhythm
of the susurrant engine.
When cookies are cool, turn one half of them
upside down and spread ½ tsp apricot jam on each.
Later that night, Grandma
leans into the sugared
dough, her hair hidden
beneath a red bandana,
hands covered in flour.
Place another cookie on top and squeeze together lightly.
I look over at my grandfather
reading on the couch, his thick
hair parted on the side, combed
into a wave across his brow. In a quiet
voice, Grandma tells me she had
other suitors, but Grandpa was the most
handsome. He looks up, smiles at Grandma,
turns to me, rolls his eyes, then laughs.
During the week,
he repairs washing machines. At night,
every night, he reads National Geographic.
Dip tops of cookie sandwiches in chocolate.
I lean into the dough,
touch my grandmother’s hands—
I love the feel of the soft fleshy parts
soft as the skin of an apricot,
soft as kindness.
Press a whole blanched almond into the top of each cookie. Then enjoy.
When the cookies
come out of the oven,
we three sit at the table
lit by candles, cleared
of the remnants of dinner.
We sip black tea
while eating cookies,
the wafers made of hazelnuts,
topped with chocolate and almonds,
all held together with apricot jam.
Years later, when
my grandmother is dying,
I take her hands and rub
the soft fleshy parts. I rub until
the moment blossoms
into the sweetness of jasmine
and the earthy oozing orchard
and the hot drive home
and the hazelnut dough
and the apricot jam
and the sweat of her perfect love.
Stefani Twyford is a personal historian sharing life stories, connecting generations and preserving legacies. To learn more, visit her web site, find her on Twitter as @stefanitwyford, visit the Legacy Multimedia Facebook Fan Page, or send her an e-mail.