Baking up new memories

#CoronavirusBaking #SocialDistancingCookies #QuarantineCakes #IsolationLoaves

These might be some common hashtags you’re seeing on your various social media channels. During this time of COVID-19 isolation, many people are diving back into a pastime they may not have had time for previously – baking. This is a time of uncertainty where we may feel little control over how our days are spent – working from home, homeschooling the children, combined with mounds of housework and cooking while most of us are home 24/7. It can be calming to do something basic where you feel like you’re in control of your environment, and baking fits the bill.

Baking is one of those activities that many people are taking up to pass the time or find some calm during this storm. Baking always fills my mind with memories of my childhood. One of my grandmas loved to sew while my other grandma loved to bake. Any time we went to my ‘baking grandma’s’ house you could find her baking or pulling something out of the oven that was just freshly baked – chocolate cakes, angel food cake, or an assortment of cookies. Baking with her meant time to ask questions about her and my grandpa’s childhood or stories about the family. Grandma usually steered the conversation toward my grandpa’s Norwegian family while we were making lefsa for the holidays or special cookies to take to my dad. When she passed away many years ago, I asked if I could have her set of mixing bowls. They are simple dishes that I use for Grandmas disheseverything from mixing up salads to serving our vegetables to baking. Each time I take them out for use I say a little ‘hi grandma’ as a way to remember her and all that I learned about family and baking with her.

Early in their marriage my grandpa and grandma had a farm but sadly it was lost during a tough economic time. Without farmers, all this baking wouldn’t be possible as we need them to raise or produce the ingredients we need.

As a way of honoring farmers and others in agriculture production, and the ingredients they provide, here is one of my favorite recipes from my grandmother.

Grandma Sampson’s Sour Cream Sugar Cookies

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Photo courtesy


Cookie Ingredients

4 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
1 cup shortening
½ cup sour cream
4 cups flour
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 tbsp vanilla

Frosting Ingredients

1 stick of butter
½ box of powdered sugar
Little bit of cream


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl (either by hand or with a mixer), mix the butter and sugar together. Add the eggs, vanilla, sour cream. Add the dry ingredients (baking soda, baking powder, flour) until combined.
  3. Drop spoonfuls onto a baking pan.
  4. Bake the cookies for about 10 minutes.
  5. While the cookies are baking, combine the ingredients for your frosting.
  6. Remove cookies to cool on a baking rack.
  7. Frost cookies when they’re cool and decorate.

These are thicker–almost cake-like–cookies that are soft and sweet to eat, and one of my favorite cookies to make with my grandma.

But, where do the ingredients come from?

Egg yolks – Egg yolks are a major source of vitamins and minerals. It contains all of the pixaby -- egg-1467336_640egg’s fat and cholesterol, and almost half of the protein. Did you know the color of the yolk is determined by the makeup of the chicken’s feed, but it doesn’t affect the nutritional value of the egg? You can learn more about egg yolk differences in a past blog post. 

Sugar – Sugar used in North America and Europe is sugar-beet-3662944_640most often white and is either made from beet sugar or cane sugar. Sugar beets are a root crop that is best suited for cooler climates. They’re larger than the beets you’ll see at the store. Cane sugar is a perennial grass that is grown by farmers in tropical climates. Learn more about beet sugar in this video. 

Shortening – While shortening and butter are terms used interchangeably in recipes crisco-6_Large600_ID-2481303sometimes, they’re actually different ingredients. Shortening refers to all fats and oils, more specifically in recipes it usually refers to hydrogenated vegetable oil shortening such as Crisco. And most vegetable oil is actually made from soybeans. Shortening is 100 percent fat, unlike butter which is 80 percent butterfat, plus 18 percent water and 1-2 percent milk solids. 

Sour Cream – You might think sour cream should be relegated to topping off a baked Sour-Cream-Regular-AEpotato or used in creamy chip dip mixtures. But sour cream is actually the secret ingredient to my grandma’s sugar cookies. It makes the cookies tender and soft for this cake-like cookie. Sour cream is a dairy product that is made by fermenting regular cream with specific kinds of lactic acid bacteria. 

Flour – Flour is a powder made by grinding raw grains, roots, beans, nuts, or seeds. The earliest evidence of making flour dates back to 6000 B.C. In the late 1800s, the first steam mill was built in England. Learn about how flour is made today in this video. Most flour today is made from grinding wheat berries (seeds). Wheat is a grass. Wheat flour works well for baking and is what this recipe uses.

Baking Powder – This powder is used to increase the volume and lighten the texture of baked goods. It works by releasing carbon dioxide gas into a batter or dough through an acid-base reaction, causing bubbles in the wet mixture to expand which leavens the mixture. 

Baking Soda – Sodium bicarbonate is commonly known as baking soda. In baking, it is primarily used as a leavening agent. It helps expand the batter and forms the characteristic texture and grain in cakes and other baking products. 

Salt – Salt is processed in three main ways: 1) processed from salt mines, 2) evaporation of seawater (sea salt), or 3) through mineral-rich spring water in shallow pools. Annually, around 200 million tonnes of salt are produced each year but only about six percent of that is used for human consumption. 

Vanilla – Vanilla is an orchid that grows as a vine and thrives best in hot, humid vanilla-2519484_640climates. It’s native to Mexico but is widely grown throughout the tropics with Indonesia and Madagascar as the world’s largest producers. Learn more about the discovery of vanilla and how it’s produced today in this video.


I think during these stressful times with COVID-19, that it may be one of the reasons people are back to the basics of baking. Time to reflect…connect with the past…and make new memories.


Want to bring the science of baking into your classroom or home, or learn more about different ingredients farmers produce? We have many resources available for you on our website to use. Here are just a few.

Lesson Plans

Lending Library

  • Kits such as Countdown to Hatch, Farm a Month
  • Books such as a Day on our Dairy Farm, Clarabelle Making Milk and So Much More, Hooray for Dairy Farming, Celebrate Wheat
  • DVDs such as Hooray for Dairy Farming, Dairy Farming for Kids, Modern Marvels: Eggs 


Additional Learning Resources

A brief history of baking
The science behind why everyone is suddenly baking bread
Stress Baking More Than Usual?
Sugar Beet Harvest in America’s Heartland
Cookie Chemistry
This is Where Your Salt Comes From
What’s the Difference Between Table Salt and Sea Salt?
HowStuffWorks – Dry Salt Mining
Want some inspiration (or a chance to ogle some delicious looking pastries)? Check out this bakery in France


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