Scotch Shortbread

I love hearing about those small holiday traditions that families carry. Ones that aren’t necessarily common or unique, but ones that are held because it’s “family tradition”. For my family, they come about because it was how so-and-so did something and how we collectively remember that person. It’s how we hold them close to us, even if they’ve been gone for some time.

My childhood holidays always include my father’s cookies. He has some staples he makes each year and some new ones he’ll try. One that remains constant, and is “tradition”, is Scotch Shortbread. His mother made it for the holidays and he’d adopted the practice long before we lost her in 2011.

His mother was named Ella, but went by the nickname ‘Sally’. She was born in 1912 in Fraser, Colorado. Her mother died three days later. The extended family took to raising her, from her grandmother to her uncles. From everything I’ve ever heard, there were a lot of lean years. “We didn’t notice The Depression,” I once heard her remark. Implying they’d been scraping by before that, and knew what being hungry meant.

Grandma Sally, 1940

She married my grandfather in 1942 and they had three children. He was a rancher, she became a rancher’s wife. Or, perhaps more accurately, she also became a rancher – I know she worked just as hard. After retirement, the pair of them got a big truck and large camping trailer. They toured around the country. After my grandfather died, she traded it in for a smaller RV that was more manageable for one person. She eventually gave up the nomadic life and moved in with my uncle. She lived to be 98.

the last time I saw my grandmother, August 2009

I’m thinking about her in particular today as I make her Scotch Shortbread. The smell coming from the oven is sweet and buttery, warming my home with holiday vibes. I’m also thinking of my dad, who is traveling across country right now to visit. I am thankful to be able to share some Scotch Shortbread with him when he and my stepdad arrive.

Below is the magical recipe, original and in my grandmother’s handwriting. I can think of few things that contain so much love with so few ingredients.

Scotch Shortbread
9" pan

2 c flour
3/4 c powdered sugar
3/4 c cornstarch
1 c butter

Work together and pat out in pan about 3/4" thick.
300° until brown
(my father's handwriting adding "about 1 hr.")
  • Is it my grandmother’s shortbread recipe? Yes.
  • Is it my father’s shortbread recipe? Yes.
  • Is it my shortbread recipe? Yes.

Happy Holidays, may it be filled with your own version of Scotch Shortbread.