While eating a piece of a cookie, I smell my mom’s hands and I hear the joyful sounds of children celebrating Eid.
Eid cookies are considered one of the most popular Syrian desserts. They are a type of short bread biscuit prepared on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. These cookies are a special symbol of celebration and an expression of joy. A house that does not smell of cookie roasting is considered a house that is not visited by Eid. Social Syrian customs were carried out by refraining from preparing the Eid cookies in the event of death or grief in the family.
After I emigrated to Canada and separated from my family, I lost a large part of the Eid rituals. In Canada, making and eating the cookies is like a link that connects me to my family and reminds me of the flavor of the cookie dough mixed by my mother’s hands. While eating a piece of a cookie, I smell my mom’s hands and I hear the joyful sounds of children celebrating Eid. I recall my mother’s conversations with her neighbors and how each of the ladies explained her experience and her magical recipe for special cookies.
Out of all the stories that I still remember, Hayat ’s story stands out. Hayat was my best childhood neighbor and her story was reminiscent of earlier years in her childhood where electricity or electrical tools were not available yet.
Hayat said: I remember how my family used to prepare cookies where my mother would roast the sesame first and then toss the spices for the cookie -fennel, anise, mahlab, and a little bit of nutmeg- with a mortar or manual coffee grinder. In the next step, she sifts the flour into a large bowl made of wood that was called Qasaa’h, and adds the ghee, sugar, and spices mentioned previously, sesame, black seed (also called blessing seeds) and yeast; which was part of the bread dough that was stored for later use in bread making. To complete the formation of the cookie dough, my mother would add water and knead and rub until the dough sticks well. All of this was done under close supervision and follow-up from my grandmother until the kneading was complete. My grandmother never knew the scales, and everything she added to cookie dough was based on her intuition and experience accumulated over the generations.
After the cookie dough was formed, my mother would invite the village girls to join in by shaping and baking the cookies. Since electricity was not yet secured in the village in the 1960s, the cookies were cooked in an oven called at the time tannour, a type of clay open oven in which bread and pastries were roasted and firewood was used as a source of fuel.
After roasting the cookies, my mother used to put them in a large bowl made of reeds, which was called Naqaa’l, and she would sit to check each cookie piece if some dirt was stuck on them from the wall of the oven.
Even now, Eid cookies are of particular interest to many Syrians and are linked to many family memories. But the cookies-making ritual and its importance to the new generation has changed due to the availability of many varieties of sweets and pastries. In addition to that, technological progress and the availability of electrical machines made the job of preparing the Eid cookies much easier, as every housewife used electrical tools to shape and grill cookies on their own and without the need for anyone’s help.
The method of preparing Eid cookies has changed, but what has not changed is the flavor and taste of these cookies, as the secret of that is some special spices mixed with children’s laughter and the joy of the Eid celebration.
written by Hayat Ayzouki & Rana Mustafa