Aunt Pauline’s Missouri Cookies

My regular blog readers have probably noticed that I’ve been pretty “quiet” over the past couple of weeks—no new blogs or recipes and only a few Facebook updates and “tweets.” Between the busy Hanukkah season and a terrible winter cold, I was exhausted. I was also dealing privately with a death in the family. Ever since I was born, I have associated this remarkable woman with Christmas and the holiday traditions of my childhood, so it’s a particularly difficult loss at this time of year. Today I’d like to tell you about my great aunt, Pauline Perozzi, and the holiday joy she inspired in the heart of our family.

As most of you know, I was not born Jewish. I wasn’t raised in any particular religion, but my mom’s side of the family has been Christian for as long as we can remember. My great aunt Pauline was a member of the local Catholic mission church; she was well known in the community as a warm, kind-hearted person. She was a member of the Farm Bureau for Women and the Red Hat Society. She played the organ and piano by ear. She was the type of person you were proud to call family; just the mention of her name brought a smile to everybody’s face. And, for about as long as anybody can remember, she has hosted our family’s Christmas Eve celebration.

It was from Aunt Pauline and her sister, my Grandma Carolyn (who we also lost recently), that I learned the importance of family holiday traditions. Pauline and Carolyn were born and raised near Big Springs, Nebraska. They were the great grandchildren of Swedish immigrants who moved to Nebraska in the late 1800’s. Pauline and Carolyn were farmer’s daughters; growing up they were taught how to can cherries and make noodles from scratch. When my Grandma Carolyn married her husband Robert, they moved to California and brought along Aunt Pauline, who was unmarried at the time. In this way, our family settled and planted roots in San Luis Obispo, California—the same town I was born in, and my mother before me.

Pauline and Carolyn (2nd and 3rd from left) with brothers and sisters

At the tender age of 21, my Aunt Pauline was already considered an “old maid schoolteacher” when she met her husband Dennis Perozzi in 1952. Uncle Dennis is a farmer who raises beef cattle on his peaceful ranch in the rolling countryside of San Luis Obispo. Aunt Pauline was well suited to farm life, and also to Uncle Dennis. They had four children together and lived happily married for 56 years.

Pauline and Dennis get married.

From the time I was born we celebrated Christmas in the same way, spending Christmas Eve at Aunt Pauline’s ranch and Christmas day with Grandma Carolyn. Christmas Eve at the ranch was a particularly unique gathering that brought our diverse and scattered family together to celebrate in a magnificent fashion. When I was fourteen years old, I wrote a column about the experience for our county newspaper. Here’s an excerpt:

Since before I can remember, the chain of events is the same. We meet Jake at the door, pet his hairy arthritic back, and coo to him lovingly. Jake is a good dog. Then in we tromp, chilled from walking through the wintery grass fields, to the fire-warmed Perozzi ranch house.

A stuffed cougar mounted above the Christmas tree seems to leer “Joy to the World” as we enter. The smell of boiling soup stock greets our anxious noses as welcomes are belted out from the group sitting around the dining room table. Hugs commence as my great aunt Pauline Perozzi passes out soup bowls. New additions to the family are coddled, the elders acknowledged respectfully, and dinner is happily devoured. My cousins and I head off to our own corner of the house while the adults talk about taxes and work and Christmas traffic.

 Christmas tree at the ranch.

The family piano is treated harshly as we experiment with “chopsticks” on the worn keys. When the piano becomes boring, we race to the hors d’oeuvre table and dare each other to try the jerky made with deer meat. We stuff ourselves with frosting and cake and cookies.

Just as things begin to die down and children begin to yawn, caroling commences. In off-key voices, we sing “Silent Night,” “Oh, Come All Ye Faithful,” and finally “Jingle Bells.” At the height of the merriment, in bursts Santa Claus (an uncle in costume) with an elf in tow. We older cousins, who have been sitting in the same lap at the same ranch house for years, act too cool for Santa until our name is called. Then, strutting up to the jolly man with anticipation in our hearts, we tell him whether we’ve been good or bad this year. No matter what we say, we get a candy cane and a present (which inevitably pleases us). Then comes the fun of watching screaming babies go through the torture of sitting on Santa’s lap… hilarious, because only a decade before, we had been afraid of him as well.

Me and my chubby cheeks, sitting on Santa’s lap, age 10

Eventually, with a jolly “Ho Ho Ho” and a toss of candy to the floor, Santa Claus leaves to bring other children presents around the world. We pounce on the candy greedily and let a few pieces melt in our mouths between yawns. We are anxious to return home to our warm beds and soft pillows. Christmas Eve is drawing to a close, and we must all return home to fall asleep… and then again to awaken, when Christmas morning’s sunlight opens our eyes. Waiting will be a tower of presents, wrapped to be unwrapped; and my family, as we celebrate life and love and Christmas joy.

Me with Aunt Pauline and Uncle Dennis, Christmas Eve 2008

Losing a matriarch like my Aunt Pauline or Grandma Carolyn leaves a gaping hole in the family structure. It can prove a daunting task to keep the holiday traditions alive after they’re gone, but carry on we must. Our holiday traditions are what make us special, give us our identity. They keep our children connected to their past from generation to generation. Part of the reason I was drawn to Judaism was this very emphasis on tradition. We say the Shabbat prayer and light the candles the same way our ancestors did thousands of years ago. It’s part of what keeps us connected to our history, to the essence of who we are.

Four generations celebrate Christmas. That’s me as a baby, my Grandma Carolyn holding me, my great grandma sitting in the rocking chair, and my mom.

For my mom’s birthday this year, I gave her a beautiful wooden nutcracker from Germany. I told her it’s because we are now the matriarchs of our family… we are responsible for carrying on the holiday traditions that my grandma and great aunt were so diligent about each year. The holidays will never look the same way they did when Aunt Pauline and Grandma Carolyn were alive. The landscape will change, different houses will play host, new decorations will adorn the mantle, new babies and children will open their gifts with breathless excitement. In interfaith families like mine, holidays will be celebrated in new ways thanks to a uniting of different religions and cultures. But one thing remains the same—the strength and love of family, and the ancestral bond that ties us together for every holiday to come.

Here is a gift from my family to yours, my Aunt Pauline’s recipe for Missouri Cookies. She made them every year for Christmas Eve. They were one of my favorite treats growing up, and they’re so easy to make—no baking required. I hope you have a chance to enjoy these delicious cookies with your family during the holiday season… Aunt Pauline would have wanted it that way.

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Aunt Pauline's Missouri Cookies


  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 tbsp cocoa
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • Dash of salt
  • 3/4 cup chunky peanut butter
  • 3 cups quick oats
Prep Time: 15 Minutes
Cook Time: 30 Minutes
Total Time: 45 Minutes
Servings: About 35 cookies
Kosher Key: Dairy
  • Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in sugar, cocoa, milk and salt. Turn up heat and bring mixture to a full rolling boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat.
  • Stir the chunky peanut butter and vanilla into the chocolate mixture.
  • Add quick oats to the pan; mix all ingredients together till well combined.
  • Form the mixture into small cookies (a heaping tablespoon of batter each) and lay them on wax or parchment paper to cool. Shape them like rough, flat haystacks-- they don't need to look perfect, that's part of the charm.
  • Cookies will set in 30-45 minutes.


Comments (45)Post a Comment

  1. Thank you for sharing this story. May you carry on all the traditions you have been fortunate enough to have. Blessings

  2. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    Thanks so much for your family story. I will make these cookies for my daughter in laws cookie exchange Xmas Eve. Iam Jewish and she comes from a BIG Catholic family also.
    I love your blog .

  3. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story. These cookies sound very similar to one of my childhood favorites, but my Mom calls them Love Pats. I am hosting our family’s Christmas Eve celebration this year, and I am going to make these and see if she recognizes them.

  4. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I admit I shed a few tears while reading it. This is a beautiful tribute to your Aunt Pauline, and I think I may try those cookies! Today I am missing my parents, my husband, several cousins and close friends, and all of those wonderful meals and traditions we shared together. It’s wonderful that you have both old and new traditions to pass on. God bless you.

  5. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    What a lovely story…………………………………… I guess we all have a similiar story to tell. We all have our traditions and as time goes by the Host/Hostess changes and new traditions are incorporated with the old, and on n on. Merry CHRISTmas to all and Happy Holidays as well.

  6. I was looking at the picture “at the ranch” and I have that same sofa! There’s no accounting for lack of taste! It was “inexpensive” and did the trick.

  7. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    Thank you for sharing your lovely family traditions. Regardless if we are Jewish, Catholic, Muslim etc…we all have traditions that create the fabric comprising family. Every important holiday brings loved ones together and tradition gives us the continuity and glue that keeps us together. Keep up your wonderful blog…I so enjoy it! Have a wonderful holiday….Georgette

  8. my condolences to your recent losses. Thank you for sharing your family story with us. It was a delight to read. I also grew up eating those cookies and haven’t had them in years. Thanks for sharing and I will be making them tomorrow. Shalom, Anna

  9. It is so hard to lose a family member around the holidays. Just remember as long as you remember them, they are not really gone. I like to think of the grandparents and parents on an extended holiday.

    Thank you for sharing your family traditions and your story. I love the blog.

  10. I have been making these for years but my sons always called them “cow pie” because I let them “flattened out” instead of rolling in to a ball. Sincerest condolences on your losses.

  11. I love your story, it is really beautiful how the holidays and our traditions bring all of us together and if we have to find words for this, to me would be Family and Love. Happy Holiday to all! <3

  12. What a beautiful tribute to your aunt and to your family. There is nothing more important than family. You honor yours!

    Condolences on your losses. But despite them, enjoy your traditions and have a very happy holidays!

  13. My grandmother also used to make cookies very much like those ones. Can’t remember what she called them, tho.

    Thank you for sharing your memories of holidays past. These traditions are so essential to family gatherings.

  14. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    I just finished reading this beautiful tribute. Thank you so much. I really enjoyed reading about your aunt. She was quite an amazing woman! I’m sorry for your loss. I hope you are feeling better now.

  15. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    Thank you. We have just lost my mother three years ago and have been afraid to even be at home for the holidays at all. It seemed like every tradition has been lost. We are now the generation who must go on but our grief is great. We put up our tree for the first time and made dinner too. Two of my childre are adopted and four grandchildren. For them we went on. I know how brave your family is being. I wish you love and tender memories. Sincerely, JoEllen Fortenberry

  16. Thank you for sharing your memories; they brought tears to my eyes and a lump in my throat. I am sorry for the loss of your aunt and grandmother. You are right that each generation carries on traditions of the one before who taught us the things their parents gave them by remembering their gifts of stories, food and sharing. Memories will live on in you and yours while those who came before can still share across the years because they are part every child born to their families. Thank you for sharing this recipe – I will make today.

  17. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    Thanks for sharing your story. It really resonated with me and I was sorry to hear about the loss of your great-aunt and your grandmother. They live on in you and your family traditions and your wonderful stories.

  18. I’m so glad this blog resonated with all of you; thank you for your kind messages. It was not an easy blog to write, but it helped me work through my feelings during this difficult time. I relate so much to what many of you have said; it’s so hard to move forward when you’ve lost somebody so special. But in spite of the sadness we feel, our loved ones would want us to continue living, loving, and celebrating the time we have here on Earth. Wishing you all peace and blessings in the new year. <3

  19. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    What a great website! My daughter is a recent convert to Judaism which is interesting since I am a Christian pastor!
    I am always looking for ways that we can connect our faiths and what better way than through food!

  20. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    That’s amazing right?
    how every family is unique! and have all this amazing traditions!
    I loved that you share this story with us :)
    I know your Aunt Pauline will be very happy to see how much you love and remember her :)

  21. Hi Tori,
    Loved your narrative about family. Thank you for sharing. I’d love to make the cookies… can I use old-fashioned oats instead of the quick ones? I only have that kind on hand. Thanks and Happy Hanukkah!

  22. My mother made these cookies for us when we were kids, and I still make them. We never knew why they were called Missouri cookies-any idea?

  23. As a fellow “Jew by choice,” I read your moving remembrance and felt so connected. Each of us carries the precious family traditions of our childhoods, blending them into the traditions of adulthood. May the memory of your grandmother and your Aunt Pauline be a blessing for you and for everyone who knew them.

  24. Thank you for sharing your memories. They brought tears to my eyes. My parents, Shoah survivors would hold a 2nd Thanksgiving Day meal on December 25th. They always believed we had so much to be thankful for. Some of the guests would be the same ones as at the November Thanksgiving Day, and some would be different. Often they were old friends, and some might be grad students who my dad invited. After dinner we would drive to LaJolla Shores beach to walk and talk until dark. I was married to a Catolic woman for 13 years and we celebrated with Mass and church, followed by presents and lasagna. After that I spent many Christmases in airports and on planes flying 2200 miles to pick up our son for a week at my home in Arkansas. Now I celebrate the season with my much better half and her daughter and grandson, and this year a new granddaughter in Michigan, perhaps visiting her friends and relatives. We could a crockpot of beef roast and pork roast together. All through the years, the common denominator was food. Even Sbarro’s in the Salt Lake City airport, and a steak at Chili’s in Spokane, both have good memories for me. Thank you for sharing your memories, and reminding me of mine. Here come the tears again. Larry

  25. I had been looking for this recipe!! I remember making these in Homemaking class(I won’t say how many years ago!) The story behind the recipe makes me cry, this is how our large extended family celebrates all the holidays and special occasions! This year due to health issues I won’t be going home to Texas to be with my family, so I’m going to make these cookies and pretend I’m there with them! P.S. We have a photo with four generations , too!!!! Thanks for this blog!!!!

  26. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    These cookies have a place in my family as well. My great grandma (born in North Dakota) made these a lot during the winter holidays as did my mother. We use to call them ‘boiled cookies’. Great story!

  27. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    Thank you so much for taking the time to honor your family and to share thier story with all of us. It was wonderful. I love these cookies, but in our neck of the woods they are called no bake cow pie cookies and the only diff I can see is that my recipe calls for rolled oats, which makes them chewy. I also add some shredded coconut and dark Choc chips at the last moment and drizzle the tops of the cookies with a little dark choc. These are one of my favorites…

  28. Love your blog! I’ve already tried a few of your recipes and they’ve been a hit in our home :) Tonight I tried the pan sear slamon with dill sauce-and my husband gobbled up 2 fillets!

    Q-can I use coconut oil for this recipe? In general I am not a big user of butter or margarine and usually bake with light olive oil or coconut oil.

  29. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    My 4 year old granddaughter and I spent the day together. We made your recipe for Missouri cookies. It was easy and fun to make together. She did all the measuring and of course ate all the crumbs. Thank you for sharing your wonderful story and yummy recipe.

  30. My maternal grandmother used to make these for family events, holidays and such. These were always part of my best memories of her. Thanks for posting the recipe. I’ll be making them soon.

  31. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    Just got back from visiting my daughter who is doing her residency in Missouri, ate some yummy shwarma there, which inspired me to do a search for a recipe – and wound up here! I got the exact same cookie recipe from a semi-rural Illinois’ library children’s program almost 30 years – except ours are called Cow Pies (because of the way they look). I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t like them, they were popular at 4-H fundraisers, and one man bought all that my kids and I made because his mom made them for him when he was a kid.

    Great site, can’t wait to try some of the recipes! From one shiksa to another, thanks!

  32. I read your lovely page and am 50 have ties to San Luis Obispo as well(went to Cal Poly, got married and 1st of 4 children were born there) I am from a German background and have grown up with this recipie as well. My Oma would make these and they have been handed down through our family as well. My granddaughter turns 1 tomorrow and we are making them for her party.
    Keep up your traditions!! They are important and help define us!

    1. So great to hear from you Daphne, happy you’re here! My father was a professor at Cal Poly for many years. Re: traditions, I couldn’t agree more. :)

  33. Thank you for your lovely story, Tori. I, too, have so many memories of my grandmothers’ baking, I just wish I had more recipes!

    Because of all our food sensitivities, I just made them dairy free (coconut oil + coconut milk), used gluten free oats, and sunflower butter (no peanuts allowed at school!). They are delicious. Thank you so much! Love your site!

  34. I also belong to The Red Hatters! I was looking for this recipe today & happened upon your site. It must be fate or something that I found you! I had this recipe a long time ago and cleaned out my kitchen and the recipe was gone. Thanks to you, I have it again. My mom used to make them for my sister & I. I’m taking care of my mom now. She is 88 and has dementia. Every little thing that brings back a memory for us is a blessing. Thanks!! Have a blessed Christmas!

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