A couple of weeks ago, I was at a church dinner and ended up sitting with my uncle Bob Bollas. Uncle Bob casually mentioned that he had some of his mother's cookbooks if I ever wanted to use them for a Tribune Cooks story.
Believe it or not, though I've done recipes from my maternal grandmother, my mother-in-law and my mom, it hadn't occurred to me that my dad's side of the family wasn't represented. So about a week ago, I talked to my uncle Jerry Sweet (most people outside the family know him as Bob Sweet) and wound up borrowing five old notebooks that my grandma Bollas had copied recipes in years ago.
Now for a bit of family history. My paternal grandparents were William and Mary Sweet. They had six children: Connie Sweet Noonan, Bill Sweet, Mike Sweet, Jim Sweet, Jerry "Bob" Sweet and my dad, Albert Sweet. My grandma Sweet died of complications of childbirth a few days after my dad was born, and shortly thereafter, her children were taken in by some of her sisters. Nicholas and Anna Bollas adopted Uncle Mike, Uncle Jim, Uncle Jerry and my dad, though they already had two grown sons, my Uncle Jim Bollas and my Uncle Bob Bollas.
Tribune Chronicle photos / Mary Beth Wyko
A plate of Grandma Bollas’ Chocolate Chips is shown. A?casual discussion with my uncle led to a treasure trove of new recipes for me to try in my grandma’s cookbooks. BELOW:?A page from my grandma’s cookbook shows the handwritten recipe for chocolate chip cookies.
I never knew my Grandpa Bollas since he died long before I was born, and my Grandma Bollas died when I was 2. So in addition to trying out a family recipe that I hadn't known about, I set out to learn a bit more about my dad's side of the family.
According to Uncle Bob Bollas, Grandma Bollas learned a lot about baking from a neighbor, Mrs. Evans. "She was a wonderful baker, and she taught my mom to bake," Uncle Bob said. At the time, Mrs. Evans was the only one in the neighborhood with a radio, so Uncle Bob and my Uncle Jim Bollas would listen to baseball games on the radio while the women were in the kitchen.
"She did most of her baking in the afternoons," Uncle Bob said. "She tried to have the cookies done by the time [my dad and uncles] got home from St. Mary's [School]."
Grandma Bollas' Chocolate Chips
1 cup butter or margarine
2 cups brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup sour milk
3 1/2 cups sifted flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Cream butter and brown sugar together. Add eggs and sour milk. Mix in flour, baking soda and salt. Add chocolate chips and nuts, if using. Chill dough for one hour.
Drop by spoonfuls onto an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown at edges.
Yield: 5 dozen
"She used to make a lot of oatmeal cookies," Uncle Jim Sweet told me.
"We had cookies in the house all the time," Uncle Bob said. "I think she baked once or twice a week at least."
The numerous cookie recipes in Grandma Bollas' cookbooks attest to that. Many of her recipes for cookies and cakes called for fruit, which, according to my uncles, was readily available.
"We used to have a cherry tree in our neighbor's yard," Uncle Jerry said, recalling that there was an apple tree in the yard of their home on Niles Road in Warren.
But cookies weren't the only sweet treat to come from Grandma Bollas' kitchen.
"She used to make homemade doughnuts," Uncle Jerry said. "She used to do that all from scratch."
When I asked my uncles about their favorite recipe that their mother would make, all three of them mentioned her soft chocolate chip cookies. According to Uncle Jerry, although Grandma Bollas readily shared her recipe, not everyone could reproduce the results. I guess I have the right touch, because my uncles agreed that my cookies tasted just like their mom used to make.
As usual, I made the cookies gluten-free by substituting Bob's Red Mill All-Purpose GF Baking Flour and added a teaspoon of xanthan gum. To get sour milk, I added two teaspoons lemon juice to the milk.