How Sugar Cookies May Be the Key to Fewer Divorces
I vividly remember the first time I drove to the rural town of New Plymouth, Idaho. My husband, Ross, had touted the “fun” of irrigating corn fields and I was intrigued, deciding to spend the day learning this farming rite of passage. As I took the exit, there was no traffic. And what I really mean is that there were no cars. Anywhere.
As a fascinating side note, the city describes itself, via a large sign, as having the “World’s Largest Horseshoe.” Don’t get too excited though (I may or may not have gotten too excited). I learned that the horseshoe is actually the shape of the town itself. Somewhat disappointed, I started to doubt the claim of “World’s Largest” but I couldn’t think of one bigger so I moved on.
As I drove towards his family’s home, I saw fields for miles. Everything was green with shallow rolling hills of wheat, corn, and alfalfa (I can say that now but then, I had no idea what was growing other than “green/tall/weedy-looking stuff”). The houses were simple; the parked cars were trucks and/or farm equipment. There weren’t any stoplights. And I loved it. New Plymouth felt like home and, fast forward about six years, that is exactly what it would become. Yes, my home is the World’s Largest Horseshoe and don’t you question it.
I cherish stories about the County history. My mother-in-law, Kay, having been born and raised in Payette (New Plymouth’s neighbor to the North), indulged me in these history lessons. She even gifted me a new (old) cookbook sold by Maudie’s Café, a small, family-owned and -operated restaurant loved by locals since the 1950s. Immediately, I loved the cookbook and its title, Any Bride Can Cook. The recipes are simple, made using common household ingredients with clear, concise instructions. Even the cookbook itself is small, a 5×7 notepad really; easy to throw in your purse and take to the store on a shopping trip.
I wanted to learn more about Maudie Owens, this sweetheart of Payette, whose patrons left happy, full, and always coming back for more. My quest led me to Kathy Dodson, Maudie’s granddaughter who, fortuitously, just happened to have opened a new bar in Payette. My immediate impression of Kathy was that she was kind, helpful, and passionate about her family’s history and deep connection to Payette County.
We met in her bar, Thurstons, an old gas station that has been converted into a cozy three-room bar with a spacious patio out front. Kathy was easy to talk to and enjoyed reminiscing about her childhood. The first surprise was learning that Maudie was not the only cook and, in fact, rarely cooked at the restaurant. She did, however, always cook at home. Maudie’s husband, Bert, was the cook at Maudie’s and rarely cooked at home; an arrangement that worked perfectly for them.
Bert’s story is fascinating. With no formal training, he started managing a small lunch and pool hall in Weiser (Idaho) when he was 19. It was there that he realized his natural gift for cooking, even if it was just burgers. Bert would later volunteer to serve in the Army during World War II and, while stationed near Spokane (WA), he threw tea parties for the General’s wife. In the 1930’s, he met Maudie and two ventured into the world of restaurants, first opening The Owens Café in Ontario (Oregon) and later Maudie’s Café on Main Street in Payette.
Maudie’s Café immediately developed a loyal local following. That following expanded when Robert Fulghum wrote his #1 New York Times bestselling book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten: Uncommon Thoughts on Common Things (2004). He chronicled his experience at Maudie’s and how the Chicken Fried Steak was, not only worth “five stars and a bouquet,” but how it single-handedly seemed to restore his faith in humanity.
Fulghum wrote, “I get tired of hearing it’s a crummy world and that people are no damned good. What kind of talk is that? I know a place in Payette, Idaho, where a cook and a waitress and a manager put everything they’ve got into laying a chicken–fried steak on you.” That was Bert and Maudie. And that was the epitome of Maudie’s Café. Sadly, Maudie’s closed its doors long before I came to the community but, lucky for me (and you), the recipes live on.
I decided to try out Maudie’s recipe for sugar cookies. I noticed that there were two recipes: Sugar Cookies and Maudie’s Sugar Cookies. When I asked Kathy about it, she said that she was sure Bert and Maudie could not agree on which one was better so they put both in the book, although it isn’t clear whose recipe belongs to whom. It’s not clear if Maudie’s refers to Maudie (herself) or to the Café, where Bert did all of the cooking. I love that the mystery of the better recipe author remains forever unknown.
Maudie’s Sugar Cookies
2 cups sugar
1 cup shortening
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon lemon extract
2 ½ teaspoons Clabber Girl baking powder
3 ½ cups sifted flour
Grated rind of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons milk
Cream shortening, sugar and ½ cup of the flour together; add beaten eggs, flavor, salt, nutmeg and lemon rind. Mix thoroughly. Add milk, mix. Sift in rest of the flour and baking powder together, mix until well blended. Roll out on a floured board ¼ inch thick, sprinkle with sugar and cut with round cooky cutter. Place 1 inch apart on a cooky sheet. Bake in hot oven 400 degrees F. for 8 minutes. Makes 3 dozen, 3 inch cookies.
The sign of a good sugar cookie is that it doesn’t need anything else. No frosting. No icing. No required milk for dunking. I found that in this recipe. The lemon is bright against the sweetness of the sugary crunch from the cookie. The texture is soft and chewy. Maudie’s recipe is easy-to-follow, made with simple ingredients, and has, undoubtedly, withstood the test of time.
In the cookbook’s Preface, Maudie writes, “If all brides were good cooks, I am sure there would be fewer divorces.” Surely, like a good chicken-fried steak, this sugar cookie recipe will make the man in your life very happy. I know it makes Ross happy when he returns from irrigating corn and it makes me happy because I get to be inside cooking and not out irrigating corn. Thanks for the recipe, Maudie. Or should I say Bert?
Credits: New Plymouth Sign courtesy of www.roadsideamerica.com/tip/9384.
All other vintage Maudie’s photos courtesy of Kathy Dodson. Visit her at Thurston’s (Payette). (https://www.facebook.com/LoveyandThurstons/)
A special thank you is owed to Kathy for spending time sitting down with me discussing her family history and sharing old photos. Thanks, Kathy, for all you do.