While I was growing up, my mom was the cook of the house, and her most-used cookbook was one which might be familiar to others of you from back in the day: the red-and-white checkered Better Homes & Gardens New Cook Book containing recipes ranging from the everyday to the elevated. Over the years she made our family many recipes from this book; I remember the most often-used ones were on pages splattered with batter and sauce, threatening to slip from the metal rings after being turned so many times.
One recipe which got a lot of use and became quite faded over the years was one we knew well: "Chocolate Chippers." It was a chocolate chip cookie recipe which could be made either into bars (which was the way my mom usually made it) or into individual cookies. We loved those cookies—they were a real favorite.
My dad bought me an updated copy of the Better Homes & Gardens cookbook for Christmas during my last year of college. The following year, when Carl and I got our first apartment, I made a promise to myself that I would choose some of my favorite foods—starting with chocolate chip cookies and pizza—and deliberately work through recipes until I could make each one exactly to my taste, from scratch. In our new and tiny kitchen, I cracked open the cookbook and looked up certain favorites. I was surprised to see that “Chocolate Chippers” had been replaced by a more typical “Chocolate Chip Cookies” recipe. The ratios and some of the ingredients were different than I was used to, and when I tried the new recipe it just didn’t seem right. I was now on a mission.
While it seems quite a simple now, this was the first recipe I ever modified by myself, a bold step on the way toward culinary development and freedom. I made and we ate a lot of cookies on the way to to-me-perfection—no complaints from Carl along the way!
Once I found my favorite ingredient combination, I wrote it on a recipe card and put it in our metal box of “Happy Recipes.” Now preserved in a plastic sheet protector, this card, like my mom’s cookbook page, is faded and stained and hard to read. You’d think I would have the recipe memorized by now, but I still need the card on the counter when I break out the mixer. My boys love the cookies, and because my son Carl prefers butterscotch chips to chocolate ones, I divide the batter in half when I make it for them, so each can have his stash. (I tend to double the recipe first.)
My chocolate chunk cookies have found their way to many gatherings of friends and family and students and employees over the years, and I always love sharing them.
When the COVID-19 pandemic effects hit in March of this year, Allegro was thrust into uncertainty along with the rest of the industry, along with the rest of the world. From day to day, we didn’t know whether our production and sales would be allowed to proceed or if we would be shut down. So much hung on the proclamation of whether or not we would be deemed an “essential business” in Pennsylvania. Our family’s livelihood hung in the balance, as did the jobs of our business, vineyard, winery, and sales employees. Adrenaline would course through my system each time Carl would come up to the house from the winery with the latest update. It was a scary time.
After weeks of twists and turns, we came to find a bit more peace and balance. Our business was deemed essential. We scaled back on our employees but kept our wonderful core full-time team employed. Like everyone, we hunkered down and tried to make the best of a “new normal” which still never quite felt settled.
Like many others, I have found it hard to sleep and hard to keep my brain from turning to mush through these strange months. When I’m too tired or unfocused to work, I’ve learned to take myself to the kitchen and to just start cooking or baking. The task of feeding myself and others is tangible, doable. After our son’s college turned to online learning, he returned home to the tribe and I expanded my repertoire for the family of once-again four. Those four coming together at the end of the day to eat supper together is the hub of our spinning wheel.
As I started baking more, it occurred to us to share these efforts more with the Allegro family as well. We’ve been so grateful to our employees for their dedication and care, a big part of what has sustained the business through unpredictable days. From week to week, I’ll bake muffins or brownies or cookies and send little surprise packages to those working in the wineries and vineyards. It seems like a simple thing, but these days—especially these days—connection and kindness are essential, too.
The first days of our little distribution of sweets to our employees, there was no question of what would be in the bags: chocolate chunk cookies. They are big and beloved, and to me they taste of everything from childhood to adulthood to motherhood to community. And brown sugar. And chocolate. Yum.