Many of us have some sort of Valentine's Day tradition, whether it's something as elaborate as making dinner reservations at a fancy restaurant, or as simple as telling your sweetie you love him or her without having to be reminded it's Feb. 14.
Edie Klebacha and her family have been marking the holiday celebrating romance and love in a low-key way for more than 50 years — by baking cookies.
Not just any cookie, mind you. But one for which the recipe was carefully clipped from the newspaper when the mother of three herself was just a child, and then handed down over the generations.
What makes the cutout cookies so special, Klebacha says, is that they're not the sweet sugar cookie everyone expects. Rather, the miniature hearts are made with a simple, no-nonsense oatmeal batter that bakes into a crispy-crunchy biscuit.
"It just tastes good, and with the oatmeal, I think it's a little more nutritious," she says.
A cookie that's good for you is exactly what The Quaker Oats Co. intended when it introduced its first in a series of cookie recipes on cereal packages in 1908. The inaugural Oat Cakes recipe had just three ingredients: a half pound of butter, three cups of oats and two eggs to bind everything together.
In 1935, the company expanded its offerings with a sweet, refrigerator-style cookie it called Crisp Oatmeal Cookies on the Quaker Oats package.
The recipe Klebacha learned to make with her German mother when she was growing up in Wilkinsburg, and took with her when she got married, dates at least to 1958. That's the year Bertha Paolina cut it out of The Pittsburgh Press on Sunday, Feb. 2, and tucked it into a manila file folder for safe keeping.
She passed the recipe onto her older daughter when she got married, who now bakes the cookies with her own two daughters.
The oatmeal treats are such a huge part of the family's Valentine food tradition that everyone starts thinking about the cookies weeks ahead in January. And don't even think about using the recipe at Christmas.
"I don't think we've ever made them for any other holiday," she says.
While the recipe clipping didn't have an author, it appeared on the same page as an advertisement for Great Western Cereal Co.'s Mother Oats, which Quaker acquired in 1911. Since the ad heralded the oats "as a new kind of breakfast and timely new recipe," it's probably safe to assume the food company provided it to Press food editor Josephine Gibson as a way to boost sales. (Or what we today call an "advertorial.")
Or maybe it was just that the iced cookies — a favorite of baby boomers because they were no-nonsense — paired so nicely with the paper's other Valentine's Day ads, including one for nylon-reinforced BVD boxer shorts in a heart pattern "for that Valentine Guy" worth spending 89 cents on.
Keeping with tradition, Klebacha still uses a treasured heart-shaped metal cookie cutter with the green handle and scalloped edge that her mother used for so many years. Her granddaughters, meanwhile, have inherited the aprons that her mother made by hand from scraps of material depicting flowers and the cowboy hat-wearing cartoon character, Quick Draw McGraw.
"Personally, I look forward to it every year, because I love the taste of the cookies," she says.
"I could sit down and eat an entire tray," she says.
To My Valentine Oatmeal Cookies
The original recipe, published in The Pittsburgh Press on Feb. 2, 1958, gave props to Mother's Oats for adding "protein, nourishment and nutlike flavor" to the cookies.
I iced some of the cookies with a glossy vanilla glaze and decorated others with heart-shaped sprinkles and colored sugar. But they're quite delectable completely naked. They were a hit at an office potluck.
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (12 tablespoons) butter or margarine, softened
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup quick or old-fashioned oats, uncooked
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl, and whisk to combine.
In separate bowl, cream together softened butter with sugar. Add milk, egg and vanilla, and stir to combine. Add flour mixture, and beat until well blended, about 2 minutes. (I used my stand mixer outfitted with a flat paddle.) Stir in rolled oats.
Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut into heart shapes.
Bake on greased cookie sheets for 10 to 12 minutes, or until just golden, or a little longer if you like a crispy cookie.
When cool, decorate with tinted confectioners' sugar icing.
Makes about 3 1/2 dozen cookies.
— The Pittsburgh Press