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Monday, March 14, 2011

Welfare Cookies and A Reflection on Poverty





From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...Poverty has many faces. The most wrenching are, of course, those of hungry children whose empty eyes speak volumes without words. There are, however, other faces to which we have become enured or chosen not to see. My first encounter with real poverty came as a high school freshman. A service project took my class to Hull House, where we spent a year of Saturdays working with preschool children from the nearby Jane Addams Homes, one of Chicago's first housing projects. One of our tasks was to escort the children to and from the settlement house and those walks taught me a lot about attitude and the way it is worn. Some of the project poor wore masks of arrogance and indifference. Others, beaten down by circumstance, had given up the fight, and in surrender donned masks that were etched with weariness and a quiet despair. In both cases, the masks hid a gut-wrenching fear of tomorrow and what it might or not might bring. As newlyweds, Bob and I spent weeks hiking in Appalachia and learned that the uneducated can forever be kept poor. Housed in shacks, their reality was hidden by the masks of ignorance and pride they donned while rocking in their porch chairs. What was thought to be stupidity simply masked another type of fear. The Bronx was still burning when we moved to the East coast, and while not condoning what we saw, understood fully why it was happening. Sometimes poverty wears a mask of rage so fierce that it implodes and self-destructs. Over the years, we cast a wider net and our adventures led us to abject, numbing poverty of Cambodia and the stacked slums and filthy water of Kathmandu. On these trips, we've learned that despite a shared fate, climate and altitude can change the face of poverty. Those living at higher elevations seem more energetic than those begging on the valley floor, and not surprisingly, the faces of the religious poor are more serene than those of non-believers. Yesterday, I was re-introduced to the face of the working poor.

We've recently had heavy rains in Oregon. Despite the downpour, we decided to get out and drive along a really scenic stretch of the Siuslaw River. That put us on Highway 36, a route that is peppered with small dying mill towns and boarded and abandoned homes. We make this drive two or three times a year, and couldn't help but notice an increase in abandoned properties. Judging from the swings and basketball hoops in the yards, what was once a problem for the elderly has trickled down to the working poor who can no longer afford even these modest properties.

We stopped for some coffee. Two little guys, I'd guess them to be 8 to 10 years old, were riding bikes through puddles in the pockmarked parking lot. They were as clean as boys that age can ever be, but their clothes looked tired and were either hand-me-downs or thrift shop finds. What caught my eye was that one of them was riding a pink bicycle. He was remarkably sociable and told me the bike was new and that his dad was going to paint it for him when the weather broke. You would have been charmed by this child. Trust me. Born from another womb, he'd be fraternity president in another 10 years. Unfortunately, cream can't always rise to the top in our pasteurized, homogenized society. I hope the fates and furies will be kind to him. His mom clerked in the store and he insisted we try her cookies. She makes the cookies to supplement the family income. She calls it her egg money. The recipe actually belonged to her mother who found it on the back of a can of welfare peanut butter. The cookies are great, though I must admit I was so charmed by the company, my judgment might be impaired. I thought some of you might like to try them. All of the USDA recipes can be found here. Here's the version of the recipe that was used to make the cookies we had yesterday. I followed it exactly save for adding a teaspoon of vanilla to the ingredient list.



Welfare Peanut Butter Cookies...from the kitchen of One Perfect Bite, courtesy of the USDA

Ingredients:
2-1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup margarine, butter, or shortening
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs

Directions:

1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
2) Whisk flour, salt, and baking soda together in a medium bowl. Set aside.
3) Mix fat and peanut butter in the bowl of an electric stand mixer. Add both kinds of sugar. Mix well. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat well after each addition.
4) Stir flour mixture into peanut butter mixture.
5) Drop dough from a teaspoon on baking pan. Flatten with a fork.
6) Bake 10 to 15 minutes, or until lightly browned. Yield: 4 to 5 dozen cookies.

Your might also enjoy these recipes:
Top Chef Worthy Peanut Butter Cookies - Cookie Madness
Tuesday's with Dorie: Peanut Butter Crisscrosses - A Whisk and A Spoon
Honey Peanut Butter Cookies - Baking Bites
Big, Super Nutty Peanut Butter Cookies - The Culinary Chronicles
Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies - Within the Kitchen
Gluten Free Peanut Butter Cookies - The Baking Beauties
Over the Top Reese's Peanut Butter Cookies - Real Mom Kitchen
Peanut Butter Cookies with Ketchup - Cookie Madness
Oatmeal Peanut Butter Cookies - Gonna Want Seconds
Peanut Butter Chocolate Kiss Cookies - The Comfort of Cooking

This post is being linked to:
Smiling Sally - Blue Monday

80 comments :

Ginny said...

I love your stories, and was spellbound with this one of your impressions and travels, though sad. So the lady gave you the recipe?

That Girl said...

What a sweet story to remind us to be grateful for what we have.

Mickey said...

I too always know I can hear a wonderful story from you. I feel like I was there. I love your stories Mary.
mickey

Creating Amazing Meals said...

Wow, Mary. What an incredibly moving story.

Alessandra said...

You are right about education, it is the only thing that can really lift you from poverty. When I think of poverty I think of hard working people (like the mom who makes cookies) who hope for the better, but often struggle to get to the end of the month. They deserve to have their kids educated.

Sandra said...

Sweetest story and delicious looking cookies!

IndrÄ— said...

Ok, what is the differences in brown sugar? What does this "packed" mean? Like you can weight as much sugar as you need normally and that sugar is bad for this baking? We have here sugar like muscovado in both colors or demerara (http://www.moteris.lt/uploads/img/cane%20sugar%20-%20cukrus%20Demerara_7.jpg) (both made by DanSukker). So which one I need to use for these cookies?

Food, Fun and Life in the Charente said...

What a great story. Pity I do not like peanut butter as these sound simple enough to make. Diane

Ocean Breezes and Country Sneezes said...

As a teacher I've seen hungry children and it breaks my heart. I would have loved to have seen that little boy on his pink bike! He sounds like an amazing, confidant child. I hope he gets the guidance to direct him so he can become president of the fraternity! Sometimes the parents don't know how to help their kids because are too tired trying to make ends meet. Great recipe by the way!

Anna A. said...

I bet those boys were adorable. It's astonishing to recognize such bright kids, especially when they don't have much going for them. Love this recipe - I am thinking golden soft margarine all the way.

♥Sugar♥Plum♥Fairy♥ said...

Mary , u narrate and write so well the real stories of life and we can actually feel the emotions.
SO wonderful.
Gods blessings with education and opportunity is all that can lift from poverty , my humble thoughts that is.
Wonderful week to u mary.

Suman Singh said...

Wow..what a great and touching story..cookies look beautiful and delicious!

Priya said...

Wat a beautiful story,incredible...Cookies looks fantastic..

love lives in the kitchen said...

beautiful blog, pictures and recipes! i'm so glad to meet you!
have a sweet day,
justyna

Fabi said...

I adore these ones! The recipe I ususally do is Stephanie Jaworski's and it's delicious. Big hug from the cloudy Madrid.

Ana Rita said...

I must try this!!!!They look perfect!
Your writting is always full of inspiration...

Kisses,
Rita

Three-Cookies said...

Your perspective on poverty is interesting and definitely plausible. Its a pity that development agencies don't seem to realise and understand this. Interesting thought on altitude. I would have imagined the other way round since altitude affects breathing due to lower oxygen levels. Perhaps other factors are more dominant. Thanks for sharing your stories and thoughts.

Lizzy said...

What a beautifully written post, Mary...thanks for sharing. My youngest is going on a mission trip over spring break with some of his classmates...I hope his eyes are opened by this experience...

Tanna at The Brick Street Bungalow said...

Poignant and perfect. Thank you, Mary. Blessings ~ Tanna

Kim said...

Education is everything. I'm a teacher and I have to deal a bit with povertie... I love ready your stories Mary, these make me feel gratefull about all I have (and I'm not speaking about material stuffs).

Ryan said...

A beautiful post, Mary, and I'll be thinking of that sweet little boy all day. I have heard about the famed PB welfare cookies before but have never made them. Everyone says they are delicious. I must try them because I love PB!

Design Wine and Dine said...

Wow Mary, great story...so vivid...I feel like I was right there with you talking to the boy.

Thanks for sharing your day with us and reminding us to be gratful and to help...

Jenn said...

What a moving story...and such delicious looking cookies!!

Jeannie said...

That looks delicious, Mary and yes, that is a very timely remind to be grateful for what we have.

From the Kitchen said...

One of the highlights of my fall trip to Virginia is driving through the mountains of West Virginia. They are strikingly beautiful in the fall. When I pull off for a rest stop or a meal, I see the poverty that is rampant in that area. It certainly brings one quickly back to reality.
I hope the boy on the pink bicycle finds a mentor.

Best,
Bonnie

Parsley Sage said...

While its a very sad story, its a wonderful one to read. Thank you for taking the time to ask questions and to think about what you're seeing and experiencing. More people should do that.

And that's for the lovely recipe :)

Pondside said...

This post seems to strike a chord in all of us. I was at a meeting on the weekend and all who had grown up poor were asked to stand. Many said that they'd grown up poor but didn't now it at the time. Books, parents who passed on a positive outlook, education (sometimes one caring teacher) all made a difference.

Suzanne (You Made That?) said...

I really enjoyed this story and your writing style is wonderful. Thanks for sharing it with us.

Tasha said...

It is stories like this that are a good reminder of how blessed in life most of us truly are and how grateful we should be. Thank you for sharing this- along with the tasty sounding cookie recipe.

What's next said...

A wonderful reminder to be so thankful for a good education and all the blessings we have. My husband loves peanut butter cookies... I will make him these today.
have a wonderful week.
Cara

Lauren Hairston said...

Thank you for reminding your readers that most people who are going through hard times aren't just "getting what they deserve." It's so easy to forget that no matter how bad things may seem in a recession, there are others out there who are truly suffering. I hope that maybe someone will be encouraged to ask their congressmen not to end funding for education. I was lucky to grow up knowing I didn't have to worry about paying for college, but my husband would never have been able to go without government grants and loans. Now, he gets to have a career he loves. I want everyone to have that opportunity!

Nuts about food said...

A beautiful post that reminds us that hardship is not just on the other side of the Pacific right now. Sometimes we are so struck by the great tragedies that we forget to look closer for those in need.

Lucie said...

What ban inspiring story, Mary. A great way to illustrate that we should all try to see the good side of life, even when it's difficult. Plus, these cookies sound great!

crustabakes said...

what a heartwarming story! i would so like to buy these cookies for her and contribute to her bank of "egg money". I have nothing but warm wishes to the charming boy as well :)

tootie said...

Thank you for the recipe - and the reminder that we should be grateful for what we have because many are not as fortunate. I'm glad you bought her cookies!

A Bitchin' Kitchen said...

What a touching story. It makes me feel so grateful for everything that I've been blessed with and taken for granted on occasion.

- Maggie

chacha said...

Beautifully written and thought provoking.

paula MARIANA said...

Mary, unfortunately that is the sad reality all the poverty in the world and is the tendency to increase and it saddens me, even though there is sympathy and good heart of many people to help and change this.
Thanks for the delicious recipe of these cookies looks divine and delicious,

kisses and have a good week!!

PeggyR said...

I love peanut butter cookies!

Sushma Mallya said...

so perfect and so yum as well..

Cheryl said...

What an interesting story! and I love the cookie recipe!

Joanne said...

As part of our public health curriculum we often go to halfway houses or homeless shelters and it's always so tragic to see. You told this story so beautifully and those cookies look delicious.

Laural (bhealthier) said...

Wow, amazing story and post! I was really moved and especially because its so "close to home" for me with what I do each day at work.

You inspired me about what I do, thank you for the reminder.

Nina said...

What a beautiful post, Mary. Very moving story and the cookies look wonderful. Have a great week! xo

The Blonde Duck said...

You can never go wrong with PB.

Wendy Irene said...

This recipe reminds me of my childhood. It looks just like the recipe I used to make with my Mom. What a charming young man you met! I too hope the universe treats him very well.

Chiara said...

Thanks for sharing this great and touching story Mary!have a lovely day, blessings....

Julie said...

Beautifully written Mary. I can almost picture the little guy now, and taste the cookies myself.

teresa said...

such a sweet story, touching and heartbreaking at the same time. the cookies sound wonderful!

Gloria said...

Mary these cookies are amazing! bless to you dear, gloria

Sarah @ Modern Country Style said...

That's such a poignant statment about the boy with a pink bike and what a different future he'd have if he was 'from a different womb'. SO sad but probably so true.

Sarahx

JasmyneTea said...

Very poignant. It hits home, because I used to be a "welfare" kid myself when I lived with my mother, who is mentally ill. And the cookies are great too! :)

nanny said...

I love peanut butter cookies....and your story was very touching.

I hope you don't mind me using your chicken fried steak photo for sharing your recipe...... your pictures just pop from screen...I love the white background...do you photoshop it or use pure white when making picture?

Shug said...

A story that touches hearts...

The minute I saw the cookies, I had such a rush of joy in my heart. My mom passed away five years ago, but I never see or taste a peanut butter cookie without thinking of her...She loved to make peanut butter cookies and I always loved pressing the cookies with a fork..
Thank you for sharing..
Shug

StephenC said...

I don't know what you are best at, storytelling or cooking. Whatever it is, we love you it.

Plateful said...

That's such a touching tale, Mary, and so beautifully told. Millions of families are living in abject poverty and it's so sad!
Btw, the cookies look wonderful, tempts me to try out that recipe!

Helene said...

Growing up my parents did not have money. My dad had to work on the farm plus 1-2 jobs. I started babysitting at 11 so that I would never ask my parents for money. We survived and we still had a great time as a family. That's what is important in life.

Spicie Foodie said...

A lovely and sweet story. It's quite sad the rising poverty around the world. One can only hope for the best for those poverty stricken we cross paths with. The cookies look delicious. Thanks for sharing this with us.

Juliana said...

Oh Mary, such a touching story...and your peanut butter cookies look great. Love the pictures! Have a wonderful week ahead!

Nancy and Vijay said...

Thanks Mary for such a wonderful post :)

Country Dreaming said...

What a great story. Times are a changing for sure.Which is scary.
The cookies look delish!

Melinda

Lisa @ Dishes of Mrs. Fish said...

What an amazing back story. I teach third grade in a lower income school, so I experience stories like this often. I so often take for granted things like the lunch I packed, when I know some of my students weekly substance comes from the nonperishable snack pack that is sent home each week. Regardless of where there the recipe came from, these cookies look divine.

GLENDA CHILDERS said...

Beautiful post, Mary. I am impressed with a high school that helped their students see the real world.

And the cookies look great.

Fondly,
Glenda

Jennifer (Delicieux) said...

What a beautiful story. And your cookies look delicious.

tasteofbeirut said...

Very touching story and one I can relate to; I have met so many dirt poor folks during my time in the Middle East and was so affected by it; haunted is more the word. I think that all people ask is to have some dignity in their life. If that is taken from them, they have nothing. Sounds like this family, although poor, had some dignity and it was wonderful that you were able to purchase the cookies and write this post with your find. Great cookies, too, a classic.

Maria said...

That is a touching story Mary, thanks for sharing! These cookies look truly wonderful.

hobby baker said...

What a poignant story. It never hurts to be reminded of what we sometimes neglect to notice all around us. I think I'll pass this one along to friends and family. (And I do love PB cookies...)

Sue said...

So nice to have a touching story behind the cookies. They look great, by the way.

June said...

Lovely post Mary. You are really something you know!

Beverly said...

I am sitting at my desk in tears. Yours words speak volumes, and I pray that we can find a way to make this kind of poverty end. But, unfortunately it has been with so many for centuries.

Thank you for sharing this, Mary.

Cooking Creation said...

Mary, thank you for sharing that inspiring story. I look forward to trying these cookies out.

A little bit of everything said...

what a great story Mary. thanks for sharing it with us.
the cookies look so good, peanut butter, mmmm

Choclette said...

A lovely post Mary. I was really shocked to hear the other day that food parcels are becoming quite prevalent over here in the UK as more and more people cannot afford to eat! Your welfare cookies sound delicioius - I hope they bring in lots of egg money.

Carmie of the Single Nester said...

The simple pleasures of a cookie that many many people around the world do not get to indulge in.

Simply Life said...

I love this story! I'm a social worker and have been graced numerous times through work and travel by individuals who have truly humbled me. These cookies look delicious - I think she should sell them online; I think you'd have plenty of readers buying some from her :)

Aunt Snow said...

What a lovely post. I love your wide experience and compassion.

Kristy Sayer said...

Thank you so much for stopping by my blog and letting me discover yours! I love that every recipe has a story and I can't wait to read more!

Terry C said...

Thank you for writing this, and pointing out the difference education can make. One of my grandfathers didn't graduate from high school, but he was literate, worked hard, and encouraged both of his children who went on to higher education and both became teachers. My other grandfather graduated high school but during the Depression had to work for only 10 cents an hour. He was a farmer and also loved to read. He also wrote beautifully. Education was very important to him. Self-education can be a great thing, too. Louis L'Amour, the famous author, was largely self-educated. You would love his autobiography, "Education of a Wandering Man." There are more people out there like this little boy and his family than we are often aware of, and I appreciate you writing about it. Very thoughtful post.

Monica Jacobs said...

Thank you i was looking for this same cookie recipe but didn't know where to find it i used to make these same cookies for my girls and wanted to make them for my grandsons Thank You Jesus for leading me to this page.

Wendi said...

It's so refreshing it is to hear someone talk about the poor in such kind and sympathetic language. There is so little compassion and so much derision in our society toward low or no income people, as if they have chosen poverty. I just wanted to tell you, your words moved me as did your kindness. Plus I can't wait to try those cookies.

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