Laura woke up bright and early on Thursday morning, pulled her blue cotton dress over her head, and raced down the ladder. Mary was already eating breakfast, and Ma greeted her cheerfully while ladeling oatmeal into a ceramic bowl.
“Brush your hair,” Ma said. “We won’t be making the cookies for another half hour.”
Laura wanted to shovel her food in as fast as possible, but she forced herself to eat neatly like Mary. Then she brushed and braided her hair, fed Jack, and when she was done, Ma said, “Now it’s time.”
Ma stocked up the cooking fire, and the girls got to work.
“Here we go,” said Pa, hauling in the gallon jug of high fructose corn syrup. “The first ingredient of everything good.”
“Thank the good Lord for high fructose corn syrup.” Ma poured in the whole gallon. “Okay, girls, now for the sugar.”
Mary scooped in sugar until Ma told her to stop. Then Laura added a cup of flour and a cup of corn meal.
They simmered the bubbling, sticky concoction for a while, taking turns stirring. Ma gave Mary a block of salt which they chipped in half, adding the bigger piece.
Pa came in from the barn. “Oh, the smell of wholesome life on the prairie! You’ve outdone yourself.”
“Oh, Charles,” said Ma, blushing. “We’re not even finished.”
Laura squared her shoulders with pride as Pa looked into the kettle. “This looks like the best batch ever, no doubt due to your helpers. I can’t wait.”
Ma added the eggs one at a time, then the processed palm oil.
“Okay, girls.” She looked at both of them. “Who wants to add the magic ingredients?”
Both girls exclaimed excitedly, but Ma laughed. “There’s enough for both of you.” She led them to her special cabinet, filled with tiny brown bottles with rubber stoppers. “Mary, you start.”
Mary added the riboflavin, the Red Number 5, and the soy lecithin. Laura waited patiently until it was her turn to add a drop of monoglycerides, calcium disodium EDTA, and the annatto color.
“And now for the most important part of all,” said Ma, and both girls knew they weren’t old enough to do this step themselves, so they clasped their hands and waited. Ma opened the tiny tin box that Pa had brought from town during his last trip, and carefully spooned out a few sprinkles of MSG.
They remove the pot from the fire and continued stirring until they had made a soft dough, which they spent the whole afternoon baking.
When Pa came in from planting the fields that night, Ma proudly showed off all their cookies, cookies which would stay fresh until Christmas.
“Good night, girls,” Ma said as she tucked them into their straw-tick mattresses. “Tomorrow, we’ll make the shelf-stable cheesecake.”