Saturday, September 28, 2013

Welfare Cookies and A Reflection on Poverty

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


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


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

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