For over 20 years, almond graham cracker cookies have been a mainstay at Laity Lodge. Each Friday or Saturday at lunch, they appear on an abundant platter on the side of the buffet line. The cookies are an unassuming sweet—simple glazed graham crackers topped in toasted almonds. But their appearance belies an astonishing complexity, careful harmony, and uncertain history.
Those who have tasted the cracker cookies know that despite their humble appearance, there’s something special about them. They’re caramelly sweet, but slightly salty and toasty. They have a soft chew, but the crackers and almonds are crisp. It’s hard to eat just one. It’s common to overhear agreements to split “just one more.”
Ask Executive Chef Ryan Hernandez, and he’ll happily provide the recipe. Usually he starts by simply telling you, because it involves only four ingredients: graham crackers, butter, sugar, and almonds. Both Ryan’s verbal instructions and the printed version he’ll send you home with are based on a handwritten, copy-of-a-copy-of-a-copy recipe titled, “Mary’s Graham Cracker Cookie.” The recipe reads in neat, slanting cursive:
Line a cookie sheet with foil. Separate graham crackers & place on foil.
2 sticks butter – pure
½ cup sugar
Boil 2 minutes only.
Pour over crackers. Sprinkle 4 oz. of almonds over, then bake at 350° for 8 minutes only.
But simplicity can be deceiving. Ryan once tried to import the cracker cookies into Laity Lodge Youth Camp when he was the food services manager there. The endeavor “was frustrating,” says Ryan, adding that “the oral tradition of the recipe” was vital to making the cookies right. The Lodge cooks set him straight: the butter needed to be salted.
So where does this recipe originate? Who was Mary?
If you happen to own one of the 3,000 copies of the 1998 recipe compilation A Taste of Laity Lodge, you’ll find a strikingly similar recipe on page 202. Unlike the written recipe, it uses two jelly roll pans, advocates for only one minute of boiling, and specifies the amount of graham crackers—one box. It was submitted by Mary Jane Scott, a senior accounting assistant with the H. E. Butt Foundation. However, Mary Jane got her recipe from her mother.
If you ask long-time Lodge cooks Luz Lopez or Donna Scott where the recipe came from, they’ll cite Margaret “Margie” Perry, who ran the kitchen until her death in 1994—and who also apparently sometimes was called “Mary.” The handwritten recipe may be in her script. It could also be that of her friend and hostess at Laity Lodge, Mary Kalbfleisch.
Whoever penned the recipe, Margie’s mark upon the culinary history here is apparent. Cook Luz Lopez speaks fondly of Margie; another cook, Donna Scott, remembers a plaque commemorating her that has since been hidden by a pegboard and filing cabinet. Little else can be found about Margie, but a memoriam in an employee newsletter reads: “Margie was instrumental in making the dining room experience an integral part of the retreat process … Margie served more than food. She served care and concern for others. She served love on a platter.”