In case you’re not familiar with the custom, “Comfort Boxes” are care packages that you send to someone who has just experienced a great loss. The box can be plan or flowery (like the kind you get in craft stores), depending on whether you mail it or deliver it in person. What’s important is what’s inside:
* A box of “Comfort Cookies” (recipe below)
* A box of really good herbal tea (for late-night sipping)
* A pretty china teacup (representing the fragility and beauty of life)
* A really good book or CD, appropriate to the situation (for the death of a pet, a copy of Life with Marley; the death of a mother of a large family might be Cheaper by the Dozen or The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio; the death of a spouse might be A Severe Mercy. Another favorite is the audio version of Anthony Destefano’s A Travel Guide to Heaven).
* Optional items, suited to that particular need: A pretty journal or box of notecards, a gift card for a favorite restaurant (for a night cooking is too great a challenge after the casseroles stop coming), a small box of chocolates, an aromatic candle. Anything that will pamper, soothe … and add a touch of beauty.
Comfort Boxes are a tangible reminder of love and concern, best sent after the initial flurry of the funeral. Anniversaries or other significant dates (birthdays, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s or Father’s Day) that first year can be especially hard, and a time when this expression of friendship can be greatly appreciated.
Now … for those cookies! Comfort Cookies are a little hard, a little bittersweet (kind of like memories), and their spicy aroma fills the senses (especially when warm, or dunked in tea). One recipe makes at least 5 dozen, so they are great for bringing to funeral lunches, too. (Sometimes I dunk one edge in chocolate as a decorative touch.)
1-1/2 C shortening
2 C granulated sugar (plus a small bag for coating)
1/2 C dark molasses
4 C flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp ginger
pinch of allspice
Combine dry ingredients (stir lightly with whisk). Cream shortening and sugar until fluffy, then beat in eggs. Add molasses and sifted ingredients. Chill 30 minutes, then roll in 1″ balls; roll in sugar. Place on cookie sheet 2″ apart. Bake 375 degrees 10-12 minutes, until set. (If you like them chewy, take them out while still soft in the center — let them cool on the sheet for a few minutes.) Makes about 5 dozen.
For small children, make “cookie lollipops” by inserting a popsicle stick before baking.