Here in Arizona, we have incredible citrus all around us. The blossoms smell heavenly right now, perfuming the warming spring breeze.
On our little patch of ground, we have planted orange, Meyer lemon, Eureka lemon, Mandarin orange, and two lime trees but our trees are young because we have had to start from the ground up – literally. One of these days, I promise I will tell you all about the desert wasteland we purchased three years ago and have spent every moment since remodeling and cultivating into what is now pretty much my favorite place on earth.
Back to the trees; they are filled with blossoms and budding but not yet mature fruit. Soon. I just have to be patient. Sadly, patience is not my super power so I am grateful to our neighbors who are supplying me with more lemons than I know what to do with, presenting me with the challenge of coming up with all sorts of ways to use them.
Over the weekend, our citrus supplying neighbors invited us over for cocktails and a tour of some recent renovations to their home. It is hard to get me out of the yard these days (just ask my son who was on a desperate hunt for a pair of clean socks this morning) so I needed to find something quick, easy and of course, “lemony” to take to them (after all it is their lemons I’m having so much fun with).
In my quest to use every last precious lemon, I have been looking for new recipes. I have a lot of good ones already but my curiosity led me to browse through the numerous “fundraising” cookbooks I have; you know the ones – spiral binders, put out by churches and booster clubs, lots of jello salad recipes.
Those are the ones.
Just to be clear, I am not knocking Jello salad, I am simply using it as a descriptive example. The fact that Mrs. Mabel Johnson or Mrs. Thelma Thompson thought it was the best dish in her arsenal, worthy of immortality, preserved for all time between the color coded pages of the “Best of fill in the blank Church’s” cookbook is none of my concern.
All joking aside, these little books really do have some “best of” recipes. Good basic recipes that offer considerable opportunity to fine tune, tweak and make your own. In the “Favorite Recipes from St. James” cookbook circa 1984, which was my Great Aunt Helen’s Episcopal church in Tigard Oregon, I found this lovely little Lemon Yogurt Cookie recipe.
After tweaking the recipe a bit, I baked up a batch of what turned out to be a soft and moist cookie that has a delightful cakey texture, more like a soft scone than a cookie.
I am IN LOVE with this recipe.
Because I am in love with this recipe, naturally, I just had to see which sweet church lady submitted it. I doesn’t matter that I would have no idea who she was, it would just be fun to imagine her, cheek dusted with flour, humming softly as she lovingly placed each cookie on a rack to cool and then turned her attention to one of the other four dishes she was working on for the church potluck the next day.
Scanning down the page, I found the lovely woman’s name at the bottom of the recipe. My great-aunt Helen. It was her recipe. What? Out of all of the recipes in the book, I chose hers. I kid you not. I was a little take aback.
The best part about this story is not the fact that up to this point I hadn’t noticed her name on the page, Helen LeFebre right there in front of me, and baked on oblivious to the fact that I was making a family recipe. No, the best part is that Helen LeFebre did not cook or bake. Never. Not ever. I have absolutely no memory of her doing anything in the kitchen beyond making tea.
Aunt Helen was more of the “let’s do lunch” type of lady and certainly never made five dishes for the church potluck. Actually, she would have been the lady who placed the tin of Danish Butter Cookies amid the Jello salads and countless hot dishes.
In all honesty, this is probably the reaction you would have gotten from her had you asked “these are delicious, did you make them?”
Her life’s passion was not for the domestic. She was a teacher, studied at Berkley and spent nearly thirty years (1950-1978) in the Philipines as a missionary for the Episcopal Church, serving as a Medical Librarian for St. Luke’s hospital, training local women in her field.
She never married or had children. Her heart was always in the Philipines and with the Filipino people.
I can’t tell you how blessed I feel to have landed on this recipe. This little book was pretty much single-handedly created from the recipes of Alice Thornton and June Boone. Whoever they were. Sweet little 5 dishes for the potluck ladies I am sure. But I was led to one of the two recipes submitted by my great-aunt who didn’t cook. And it was fabulous. And I got to spend the morning thinking about her, writing about her, remembering her.
I have no idea where she got this recipe. But I am most grateful that she submitted it and that 29 years later, it fell into my hands when I opened a small little paper cookbook looking for a lemon recipe.
Great Aunt Helen’s Lemon Yogurt Cookies
- 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 1/2 tsp. soda
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 cup (2 sticks) butter
- 1 Tbsp. lemon zest
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup lemon yogurt – I used lemon flavored Greek yogurt
- 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice (originally called for 1 tsp. lemon extract)
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and set aside.
In a large bowl or bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the sugar, butter and lemon zest until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until well incorporated. Add the lemon yogurt and lemon juice and mix well. Add in the flour mixture in thirds, incorporating well after each addition.
Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls two inches apart on prepared cookie sheet (greased or covered with a Silpat matt or parchment paper).
Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until just a light golden brown around edges.
Makes 4 dozen cookies.
The recipe did not originally call for a glaze but I decided to add one, which turned out to be a really good decision. It added a lot to the flavor to the cookies, upped the intensity of the lemon flavor and made them just a little bit more finished and special.
For the glaze …
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 6 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
- 2 tsp. lemon zest
Mix until smooth and drizzle over cookies.
I feel like I have discovered treasure with these little cookies and I am so happy to share them and my great-aunt Helen with you.
I hope you will try them. They would be a wonderful Easter treat and will be on my Easter buffet. Alas, there will be no Jello salad.
What an incredible story! I am putting this on my bucket list for baking, I must confess, I am more like your great aunt Helen when it comes to baking and cooking. A remarkable lady…
I am so honored to have made your baking bucket list! I love that we are all so different and have hearts that are pulled in unique directions, it makes life far more interesting. You are indeed very much like my great aunt Helen, a remarkable lady!
Some of my favorite recipes are from an old church cookbook that my mother has. These cookies look delicious!
Hi Elise and thanks for stopping by. The church cookbooks are great! I am looking forward to visiting your site; if the name “Paint Chips & Frosting” is any indication, I think we just may have a few things in common.
great story and gorgeous biscuits (or cookies) 🙂
Thank you!! “Biscuit” is exactly how my son described them. He loves scones and agreed that these were definitely a scone cookie. 🙂
Love this post! Your Aunt Helen must have lived life so fully– even if she wasn’t a avid cook! Great to hear her story. And add me to the list of people who have a shelf of old church cookbooks. They’re full of well loved recipes that are asking to be reworked and reloved. I have some lemons from friends and can make these cookies next Monday for my ladies who come every week. Thanks Danielle!
Thanks Rhonda. She did have an amazing and full life. Those little church cookbooks are the best! I look forward to hearing how the cookies turn out for you, so glad you are going to try them.
These cookies sound so delicious; I have a weakness for anything lemon. But what really captivated me in this post is your story of your aunt and the incredible coincidence of you making for recipe without even realizing it. Your aunt sounds like an amazing, inspirational lady and I loved how you wrote about her. Thank you for sharing this story and the photos.
Thank you!! It was such a crazy thing that I did not notice it was my aunt’s recipe until I had finished making the cookies. I was in such a hurry to get them done in order to get over to the neighbors but still, her name was right there. I think it was just meant to be a very special blessing. And it was. She was an amazing lady.
Dani, I am so jealous that you’ve got your own lemon tree…I love lemon. Have not started to bake cookies because I am quite afraid of heaty food but your looks really smooth and creamy. Maybe I should try. 🙂
Lemon is one of my all time favorite flavors and we are very blessed to have them growing right in our back yard. Follow your own cooking intuition and make what you like. For me, it is all about moderation. It is always nice to just have a couple and share the rest so you don’t have too much temptation around the house. 🙂
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