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Giving MIL Special Christmas Cookie Recipe

I generally give out recipes when asked but a unique situation has arisen. Before Christmas I found a cookie recipe that is special b/c it is a traditional Christmas cookie for my nationality (and my nationality is different from my in-laws). It is not a family recipe - but my mother does remember her grandmother making this special type of cookie.

We always get together with my in-laws for Christmas and my MIL always makes a nice variety of cookies...I always bring something to contribute but generally I feel like I could have skipped bringing my stuff b/c it didn't seem to go over very well (recipes from my childhood).

Well this year it was different. The only homemade cookies I brought were the nationality cookies and they were a hit! Especially with my FIL (who tends to be picky and prefer what his wife makes). I don't make a lot of cookies throughout the year and I've been thinking I'd like these to be my "special" cookies that I can bring at Christmas time and know that they are going to be unique and enjoyed.

But today my MIL emailed me and again mentioned how much she liked the cookies and could I give her the recipe b/c my FIL wants her to make them.

So do I go ahead and give her the recipe? This means that the cookies will no longer be special Christmas cookies that I can bring to our family Christmas get together.

Incidentally my MIL does have her own special Christmas cookie recipe that she ONLY makes at Christmas. I know one time I asked for the recipe (via email) and I never got a reply. My MIL and I get along well and I don't think she'll be offended if I say no - I just don't know if I'm being foolish since it really is only a cookie recipe. And if I refuse - how can I go about it in a gracious way without seeming petty?

Thank you!

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  1. I'd say go ahead and share! What a lovely entry point for your in-laws to learn to appreciate the cooking of your ethnic background! It perhaps makes the cookies more special then, rather than less?


    1. i think you should consider giving her the recipe with a handwritten card talking about how it is a traditional and nationally/ethnically special recipe. you can write about your own and your mother's memories of relatives making the cookies for special occasions. your mil may not be oblivious to the "specialness" of these cookies, & the fact that the family loves them may be prompting her to add them to her own cookie repertoire not to make them less special, but to be more inclusive of you and your family traditions as they become blended with her own-- asking for the recipe can be seen as a lovely gesture of acceptance and welcome on mil's part, imo! if she does not know the significance of your recipe, and just wants the "yummy factor," a thoughtfully written note will make it more clear, and a much more personal and special gift from you to her. i would be surprised if she still didn't ask you to make and bring "your" special cookies to holiday gatherings in future.

      or you could ask to trade the recipe for mil's "secret" christmas cookie recipe-- then she can demur if she'd like, and in that case you get to keep your special cookie recipe, or if she shares, then you get the recipe you want-- win-win for you! :)

      1 Reply
      1. re: soupkitten

        Great answer all the way around especially the trade!

      2. It could still be special for you if you only make it for Christmas and it doesn't matter how often your in-laws make it. And, even if they only have it at Christmas, that doesn't mean it'll be a special Christmas cookie for them. I think I put this along the lines of saving special china or dishes for a special occasion. Life is only so long, why not enjoy more often what you do enjoy?

        If you refuse, I'd do the same as your MIL and say it's a special recipe. If she's done the same, she'll understand, especially if you have a good relationship.

        1. "I know one time I asked for the recipe (via email) and I never got a reply."

          So propose a trade...I'll show you mine if you show me yours :)

          2 Replies
          1. Why don't you become your FIL's 'supplier'? Rather than sending the recipe, send along a batch of the cookies. If you feel you have to respond to her email, simply say something like "Oh, I'm thrilled he likes the special cookies I discovered! It really means a lot that he likes the cookies that I made! I'm putting a batch in the mail now!"

            1 Reply
            1. My policy is and always will be: If someone asks for a recipe, I give it to them.

              3 Replies
              1. re: pikawicca

                Obviously. I had no idea people were so territorial about such things. If the OP's mother in law is determined enough, she'll find the recipe on her own - just as the OP did. Whereas if the OP gives it to her, it will always be "edi5girls' cookie recipe."

                1. re: small h

                  No it won't. It'll be her own recipe or "that recipe my DIL won't share with me!" I can't imagine ruining a family relationship over cookie recipes.

                  1. re: PeterL

                    I think you may have misunderstood what I wrote, which was that if the OP freely gives the recipe, it will remain the OP's recipe. Or maybe you understood me perfectly but disagree, in which case please disregard my attempt at clarification.

              2. Dying to know what kind of cookies you made myself :)
                I would give the recipe. That said I totally understand how you feel. But I think for me it would be one of those situations where I would work through my feelings and give up the recipe in the spiritof generosity, then be happy that my FIL would get to enjoy them more often. I have a friend "Charlotte" who gives out special recipes labelled as "Charlotte's Chicken Surprise" for example and that does remind me where the recipe came from in a positive way.

                4 Replies
                1. re: julesrules

                  When someone I know gives me a recipe, I always think of them while I'm making it. Even ones from more than 30 years ago. I always hope others feel the same way about mine.

                  1. re: coll

                    I always think of my mother's friend, Mrs. Robertson, whenever I make her Ribs and Beans. She gave it to my mom almost 50 years ago, so that's a lot of remembering.

                    1. re: pikawicca

                      My sister has one like this from a friend that we refer to as "Gaye's friend Shirley's mother's meatballs". That's the only name I know it by.

                      1. re: mnosyne

                        Love it. We have "Mrs Edith Kosnophal's sand cookies",always and ever that.

                  1. Thank you for all the advice. My dh had already told me to go ahead and give out the recipe - but I wanted to check with you all first :) The main reason I was hesitant to share is that I feel like the cookie recipe will no longer be something unique that I can bring to the Christmas gathering where my MIL already prepares most of the goodies herself. But I'm convinced I ought to go ahead and send her the recipe. The cookie recipe is really not fancy at all - Swedish Pepparkakor...(with lots of zested orange peel and cardamom...trimmed with royal icing) - but still delicious.

                    It is interesting how favorite family recipes sometimes do not go over well with folks outside of the family (I grew up in Canada but my heritage is quite mixed with Swedish/Scottish and Polish/Ukrainian). One of my all time favorite desserts is butter tarts (which seem more common in Canada than the USA) - and yet I have not had anyone "warm up" to them whenever I've made them :)

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: edi5girls

                      Pepparkakor are good stuff.... Here is a crazy idea.. how about giving your MIL the recipe without the orange zest part? "Plain" Pepparkakor are very tasty in their own right....that way you can keep your unique cookies..and your MIL can have her recipe too.

                      I grew up in Canada..can't say I ever liked butter tarts (or Nanaimo bars). I also don't skate or ski, or watch hockey. I try to keep all that quiet, I think just one of those is grounds for loosing my Canadian citizenship ;-)

                      1. re: gnomatic

                        (for some reason can't reply to the last post) I've known people who do this, share a recipe but omit or change some ingredient, so that when the recipient makes it, it's never "as good as" theirs.

                        And with all due respect to the OP, there is no "my" cookie recipe in this case. The OP "found" it, it is not an original creation. And given that the OP would not have the recipe had no one else shared it, I think it's only fitting to pay it forward.

                        The only time I've not shared a recipe was when it was in relation to something that I was selling, as was the case with my cakes for a while. And even that, I shared with close friends and family, just not the casual person.

                        1. re: gnomatic

                          IMHO, definitely "a crazy idea"! Either share "the" recipe or don't, but don't incite bad feelings by "omitting" a key ingredient! MIL will know it's different which probably wouldn't promote family harmony.

                          1. re: gnomatic

                            gnomatic - I hope you at least like beer, otherwise you might really be in trouble.

                          2. re: edi5girls

                            If you haven't already, can you share it but tell her you'd love to bring it again for Christmas next year?

                          3. I so hear you on this!!! Maybe I need to get a better life but I LOVE that I have a few cookies that I am "known" for and know that people look forward to having me bring them to an event. I am very generous about supplying them to whomever asks, but they are "my" cookies!!! With me, maybe its an ego thing.......

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: cookiesforall

                              I pass out recipes freely and usually hear back that they tried it but couldn't make it as good. There's so much more to baking than just the recipe.

                              1. re: cookiesforall

                                It's family. As others have said, you want to cause even a small rift over a recipe? Do you have in-laws?!? :)

                                1. re: cookiesforall

                                  I guess I'm not that good a cook :) but if anyone asks me for a recipe I''m so flattered I'm more than happy to share!

                                2. I think that if you truly didn't want to give her the recipe you wouldn't have asked people on Chowhound for help. So you can either say "I'll share mine if you share yours" or just send her the recipe. Just because she has the recipe it doesn't mean that hers will taste like yours, or that you can no longer bring them to Xmas. My mom has a gingerbread cookie that she has been making for people for years, even after giving them the recipe, because they can't bake them like she can.

                                  If you have a good relationship with your MIL why rock the boat?

                                  1. edi5, how about baking both cookie recipes together?! Create a new memory.

                                    I had a similar encounter when I was first married with my MIL who made a number of dishes my husband loved and I could not replicate. MIL held those tricks of the trade pretty tight until one day (& at the time I was baking cheesecakes for a restaurant) she gave in after I made her a cheesecake. A chocolate-caramel cheesecake with hazelnut syrup. It was our trading point. In exchange for a few of her recipe tips, I made her that cheesecake for every occasion she asked for it.

                                    Come to think of it ... I'm still making it .... :)

                                    1. If you really don't want to share it, just tell her that it's all in your head, but next time you make it you will try to remember to write it down. Hopefully she forgets about it since it will likely be a year before you make it again.

                                      Sure, it's a lie, but I understand the enjoyment of being able to contribute something that people love.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: Azizeh

                                        I don't understand the enjoyment of of lying to people we love.

                                      2. share it! what a lovely gesture she made to ask you--I'd send a tin of the cookies if they travel, and include a nicely written note and the recipe on a separate card. Maybe even make the recipe and take progress photos so she can see what the steps look like (I'm doing this for my nieces who are learning to help in the kitchen but are far away--sshhh! it's a surprise) and illustrate a nice letter with the photos, or put it on a cd she can watch on the computer.

                                        How often are we given chances like this?? Not very....

                                        1. My husband didn't like his mother and I didn't like his mother. But if she'd asked for a recipe, I wouldn't have hesitated.

                                          1. As I am still thinking about this (for which I thank the OP, 'cause I like to think about things), I wanted to offer up this recent pro-sharing article, written by Le Bernardin's pastry chef.


                                            1 Reply
                                            1. could you just make her a really vague version of it ("pinch" or "dash" vs. specific ingredients), and then she may just give up the whole idea, thinking you must have some sort of magic touch

                                              1. There's a generousity of spirit about sharing recipes that unites all of us who love good food. Unless there is more to this - and it is not about sharing a cookie recipe but some other family dynamics - give her the recipe. It is a C-O-O-K-I-E and she is family. Taking the high road makes for a good life trip.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: Sherri

                                                  well said. The generosity of sharing the recipe will be appreciated far more than any "specialness" of only you being able to make it. In fact, quite the opposite.

                                                2. I always think there are nuances to most recipes that make them unique to the person who prepares them. One recipe that is like that is the recipe for toll house cookies on the back of the Nestle chocolate chip bag. Look at how many different ways that can turn out.

                                                  1. hi edi5, not read remarks yet myself so if this is repeat, forgive please.

                                                    .........i'm getting to this late. go with your heart and your first thought on this question you have. it'll be the right thing to do.

                                                    as someone else also mentioned [secrets are often kept] meaning leaving one of the ingredients out. that way, the individual gets the recipe but yours are always better.
                                                    it's up to you if you want to give the complete recipe or not.

                                                    for instance a coworker and I were discussing our ideas for Christmas cookies last year.
                                                    she asked me what kind I made and I did the same with her.
                                                    I answered first as she also asked me questions like what do you add that is so special to your triple chocolate chip cookies or how do you make your butterscotch and bourbon cookies or tell me how much butter in relation to sugar and flour you use for your Scottish shortbread cookies. And I did all she asked, willingly and happy to do so.
                                                    then it was her turn to tell me what kind she made and how she made them.
                                                    she told me vague names of cookies or made up names of cookies and said she never gives out her secrets because her cookies are so famously delicious and sought after.
                                                    they're highly praised as is she for her masterpieces.
                                                    can you imagine how kicked in the teeth I felt?

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: iL Divo

                                                      The cookie discussion has given you some valuable information about your coworker. Use it to your advantage.

                                                      1. re: Sherri

                                                        oh Sherri, I was frothed! Outraged and sooo annoyed.
                                                        my business is easy for one reason at least, I don't have to ever work with her if I don't want to.
                                                        I don't want to [simply because her character] discovered during our discussion, is not plumb at best. thanks Sherri