The Deep Freeze


One day long ago, when my brothers and I were young, my parents purchased a large deep freeze. Oddly, it was the “junior” size but was long enough and deep enough that if we had filled it with water we could have swam in it. That, of course, was what we would like to have done with it, but unfortunately, the parents prevailed.

We anticipated its arrival as if it were a long-awaited Christmas present. I don’t know why we thought of this as such a big deal, but I remember its delivery as if it had happened yesterday. The truck pulled in, the men got out and somehow they managed to wrestle it (in parts, I think) into the basement “freezer room”. That is true. We actually had a “freezer room” located in our dark, dingy basement. The freezer filled about half of the space, and the rest of the room was taken up by some storage units that held — of course — empty freezer boxes.

Our summers were spent stringing beans, shelling peas, cutting corn off the cob, cutting up strawberries for freezer jam, and freezing whatever else grew in our massive garden.

Before the days of the Schwann’s man coming to the door with deliveries, my mother ordered frozen meat from some mysterious source. Large boxes filled with breaded veal patties — my favorite — would arrive, be labled and trundled off to the freezer room. By the end of the summer, the freezer was filled to the brim with food to keep our family of seven fed for many months. Along the way, our mother — the master meal planner of them all — would bake an assortment of cookies that would be stored in tins in the freezer.

No open cookie jars in our house — if we needed a snack, we could have saltines or fruit. No cookies whenever we wanted them. Or at least that’s what our mother thought. Little did she know that we were sneaking to the basement to snitch a cookie from her frozen stockpile. Until, of course, the day that she retrieved a tin for one of her “club” meetings and upon opening the tin, discovered it only half full. That usually produced one of her threats to lock up the freezer. We knew she was kidding, but still…it worried us.

Along the way, my mother discovered 7-layer cookies — a very simple recipe involving 7 ingredients that produced the most wonderful — but definitely unhealthy — concoction. Oddly, the recipe contains the one ingredient that we hated — coconut. Fortunately, the coconut was nearly indistinguishable in taste because of the richness of the other ingredients. Butter-saturated graham cracker crumbs, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, walnuts and sweetened, condensed milk made mincemeat of the coconut.

Still, I could eat them only if they were frozen, so I learned to sneak quietly to the basement for one when she was teaching piano in another part of the house. The plinking of the keys usually drowned out the squeaking of the old wooden basement steps.

Sadly, sometime in my youth, my mother discovered that she had a family predisposition to high cholesterol that she unerringly passed on to most of my brothers and me. Unfortunately, that was the demise of the 7-layer cookies. Not one of those seven ingredients appeared on the surgeon general’s list of okay foods. Especially not coconut.

Years later, I resurrected that recipe for one of my daughters’ school functions. Since my kids and husband share my dislike for coconut, we made them without the coconut so they technically had to be retitled “6-Layer Cookies”. Lo and behold, no one missed the coconut; the cookies passed the test and became an all-time favorite. Unfortunately, my own cholesterol remains a medically and dietary unsolvable problem so they’re not consumed on a regular basis.

Recently, though, my mother unearthed her recipe and the two of us agreed it was time to share it with the rest of the world — high cholesterol counts notwithstanding.

We recommend ditching the coconut. And if you use dark chocolate chips and walnuts, at least you’ll have included a smidgeon of antioxidants which, as we we now know, makes chocoholic tendencies acceptable.

7-Layer Cookies
1/2 c. butter or margarine
1 c. graham cracker crumbs
1 c. coconut (optional)
6 oz. semi-sweet (or dark) chocolate chips
6 oz. butterscotch chips
15 ounce can sweetened condensed milk (MUST USE THIS)
1 1/2 c. finely chopped nuts (walnuts taste best)
Melt the butter in 9x15x2-inch pan. Spread graham cracker crumbs over the melted butter. Sprinkle coconut (or not), chocolate and butterscotch chips over evenly. Drizzle the sweetened condensed milk evenly over all, and top with nuts. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Cut into squares immediately. Yields 3 doz.

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5 responses to “The Deep Freeze

  1. Nicely done, Mary. I remember the freezer’s arrival. I think we remember these things because they were special events, unlike today, for our children, when we want something, we buy it now. Back then, we watched our parents save money for months before ordering a new freezer, washer, dryer, or even toaster. Sometimes I think we should imitate our parents even if we already have the money stashed away. Among other things, it might eliminate the need for more frequent yard sales. As for 7-layer cookies, I tasted the coconut; give me Molasses Crinkles.

  2. Lori Scheer (Miami, FL)

    Mary,
    I’m totally going to try these soon….even with the coconut (must be my tropical blood). Thanks for posting!
    Lori

    • Pannabecker Steiner Mary

      Maybe that’s the clue to liking coconut. I always thought my family was strange since we never liked it. And I married someone who also doesn’t like coconut. Go figure.

  3. You know what’s strange? My grandma had a similar recipe, except she used saltines on the bottom of the pan instead of graham cracker crumbs. It always turned out like a homemade toffee. Maybe with this ingredient you could have bent the rules as a kid!

  4. the memory i have of that freezer is the smell of dried bananas, which would make me sick but the nostalgic quality makes that memory “smell” okay…

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