Gram’s North Dakota Chocolate Cookies

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Gram's North Dakota Chocolate Cookies

This chocolate cookie recipe comes from my maternal great-grandmother, Gertrude Hafey Norcross, known in our family as “Gram”. A passionate cook, baker and gardener, Gram was always working either in her kitchen or garden in Kalamazoo, Michigan. She and her husband, the school principal, raised four children at 528 Wheaton Avenue, now in the historical district of Kalamazoo.

Grandpa died long before I was born, but Gram lived until I was thirteen and I knew her very well. Although I have no memories of being in the kitchen with her, I have a treasure trove of her recipes, some in her handwriting, others penned and copied by my grandmother and my mother. I have no idea what the North Dakota reference means in Gram’s “North Dakota Chocolate Cookies”. There were Norcross relatives who farmed in Yankton, South Dakota, but that’s only a guess on my part.

I’m grateful for a brief recipe note my mother made in 1997, when  our elderly cousin, Iva, visited here from Kalamazoo, adding an oven temperature and suggested baking time. Yes, old-fashioned recipes can be a little frustrating with their minimal instructions. There are no steps listed in Gram’s recipe, and she writes, simply, to add “nuts”. I used pecans,  added a little vanilla, and cut back on the salt since I was using up salted butter leftover from the holidays. I had no idea what size cookie to aim for, as the instructions only say, “Drop with a spoon on ungreased pan”, nor did I know how many cookies a batch would make.

I love being the fourth generation in my family to bake Gram’s cookies. As I was making them, I thought of these three women I loved so much and wonder what they would have thought of me, inspired to write a food blog in their memory? Of course, “blog” and “computers” were not in their realm, although Mama loved to come over and surf the Internet before she died. I come from an amazing family of strong, bright and multi-talented women. Hope I am up to the test…

TIP: Anyone watching sodium in their diet might want to switch to a no sodium baking powder, such as made by Hain.

5.0 from 2 reviews
Gram's North Dakota Chocolate Cookies
Recipe type: Old-fashioned Family
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4 dozen
My great-grandmother's recipe for chocolate cookies.
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 cups unbleached white flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 squares baking chocolate, melted
  • 1 cup nuts, chopped
  • 1 cup raisins
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Using a standing or handheld mixer, beat the sugar and butter. Add the eggs, one at a time, then the milk and vanilla.
  3. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add to the wet ingredients and beat just until mixed.
  4. Using a plastic spatula or large spoon, mix in the melted chocolate, nuts and raisins.
  5. Drop spoonfuls of dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet and or half sheet pan.
  6. Bake 8-10 minutes. Cool on racks.

Gram in Red Hat

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17 Responses to Gram’s North Dakota Chocolate Cookies

  1. Toni January 19, 2015 at 12:05 pm #

    what a fun picture of grandma.

    • Liz January 19, 2015 at 2:32 pm #

      I have your cookies from Gram ready and will deliver tomorrow, Toni –

  2. Susan @ the wimpy vegetarian January 19, 2015 at 1:34 pm #

    It’s amazing the trove of recipes you have from your family, Liz! Thanks for including a photo of ‘Gram’! And what a delicious looking recipe.

    • Liz January 19, 2015 at 2:33 pm #

      Unfortunately, Susan, they are mostly desserts 😉

  3. Dana @ Foodie Goes Healthy January 19, 2015 at 9:26 pm #

    Hi Liz- I love reading your stories about your family recipes. I too am inspired to cook by my elder family members. I have the exact same problem with family recipes- there are rarely any instructions and sometimes no measurements. It’s tricky and fun to figure them out. This recipe looks like another winner. Thanks for sharing.

    • Liz January 20, 2015 at 2:27 pm #

      Hi Dana,yes, I have to improvise a lot cooking from these older recipes. I try to channel my family for “how to”.

  4. Maureen | Orgasmic Chef January 20, 2015 at 4:53 am #

    Gram is adorable in that photo! My grandmothers died when I was a teenager but I remember cooking and baking with them both. I would spend every saturday with my dad’s mother and we made bread. I never knew until I was 20 that my grandmother would sneak a replacement tiny loaf in the oven and tell me that it was the dough I’d had all over the house. 🙂

    I look forward to making Gram’s chocolate cookies.

    • Liz January 20, 2015 at 2:28 pm #

      What a great story, Maureen –

  5. Sippitysup January 20, 2015 at 2:01 pm #

    Kalamazoo. That’s a lot of fun to say. Of course it’s fun to eat cookies too. Oh, and I love Gram’s hat. XOGREG

    • Liz January 20, 2015 at 2:28 pm #

      I had hoped Gram’s hat would delight somebody – I love it too, Greg.

  6. Beth (OMG! Yummy) January 20, 2015 at 3:15 pm #

    I’m with Susan – how great that you have all these recipes – sweets or not! Love the photo. Thanks for sharing the recipe, memory, and visual!

    • Liz January 20, 2015 at 3:59 pm #

      Thanks, Beth – it comforts me to have all these family recipes to revisit again and again.

  7. Suzanne January 20, 2015 at 4:17 pm #

    Liz, I love those cookies and saved the recipe and I LOVE that lovely photo of your Gram, she looks like she is full of personality and her hat is fantastic. How lucky you are to have her recipes.

    • Liz January 20, 2015 at 5:48 pm #

      I actually remember that hat and have two of Gram’s hat pins – thanks, dear Suzanne.

  8. Lisa @ Whisk & Cleaver January 21, 2015 at 10:07 am #

    I always love your stories of your family and the woman who cooked before you. It’s powerful to know this recipe has been made by so many generations of women in your family. I’ll test it out with my gluten-free flour mix and report back with the results! xoxo

    • Liz January 21, 2015 at 10:23 am #

      I was hoping you’d offer, Lisa – thanks, and perhaps add a little coffee to make them taste more chocolate-y?

  9. Jean | January 22, 2015 at 7:41 am #

    Liz, I just love the photo of her in that sweet hat and big smile! The cookies sound wonderful, and I do so love a good family food story!

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