Christmas and cookies go together like Easter and eggs. You can’t have one without the other. This Christmas season, however, baking multiple varieties of the family favorites wasn’t the same, because of COVID. (How many times have we had to say “because of COVID” in 2020? I am so ready to crush that phrase into tiny crumbs and sweep them into the trash, hear them filter to the bottom of the bin and then toss something green and fuzzy from the fridge on top)!
Families aren’t traveling to spend the holiday together and friends are keeping their distance, so if we baked cookies this season, we’ve have to eat them all by ourselves. I don’t mind having a Christmas cookie or two in the privacy of my kitchen. In fact, as quality control manager, I believe it is my duty to test one cookie from each batch that comes out of the oven. But when my tongue begins wearing a wooly sugar sweater, I know I’ve eaten a dozen too many. It’s time to stop—until the next batch is pulled from the oven.
This was the year to cut back on cookie production. Yet, we ended up with more cookies on our counter— in red and green tins, in Tupperware, on Santa plates covered in Saran wrap and on paper plates wrapped in foil, than ever before. How did this happen?
Well, to make a long story short, (you always know it’s going to take a long time to hear a story when someone says, “To make a long story short.” It’s their way of saying, “You might as well sit back and relax because this is going to take awhile.”) Anyway, to make a short story long, my neighborhood’s annual cookie exchange took place, 2020-style, and I was in charge. Our house was Cookie Central so anything left over landed on our kitchen counter (and on the dining room buffet, and stored in the back seat of the car—a makeshift refrigerator). Plus, we wanted to make sure there would be enough so Joe baked a double batch of date nut pinwheels (that made six dozen), I made dozens of gingersnaps, I drizzled white chocolate into the center of close to 75 round pretzels and decorated them with red and green M&Ms, and Joe’s mom, who eats like a bird, sent over all the yummy goodies she’d received during the client-appreciation season.
Despite not being able to gather under one roof to enjoy good cheer—and cookies—for the annual event, the neighborhood cookie exchange was a success. Each person was assigned to deliver her cookies to four other households, plus drop off a dozen to our house so we could divide them up onto individual plates. We wrapped those plates with festive wrap and ribbons and then the same neighbors picked them up and delivered them to the “special folks” in the area who are elderly or alone. This was all done with masks on and very little chatting. In a way it felt like a covert operation. It was as if we were Santa’s elves sneaking around in broad daylight, placing cookies on doorsteps, knocking, and disappearing before the door was opened. It was May Day in December. It felt so good to deliver holiday cheer to those who needed a dose of it.
Having all those cookies in one place provided an interesting study in cookie selection. Every family has their favorites and the variety is as broad as ornaments on a tree. There wasn’t much chocolate (that’s more of an Easter thing), but there were more traditional flavors I like to imagine go back to the days of Laura Ingalls: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, raisins and nuts, candied orange peel and dried cranberries. Plus peppermint, peanut butter, toffee and colorful sprinkles. And butter. Always lots of butter.
Even within my own family, our favorites vary. Ned remembers scotcheroos (Rice Krispies mixed with butterscotch and peanut butter, topped with chocolate), Pat likes peanut butter blossoms, I get nostalgic over my Grandma D.’s coconut kisses (they were my dad’s favorites as a child), Alice always makes sugar cookies, Janet makes the labor-intensive buckeyes (peanut butter, sugar and Rice Krispies coated in chocolate), and we all think fondly of nutmeg logs (having a nutmeg log is like eating eggnog). Of course, these are all cookies Mom made and served on a ceramic plate Grandma D. painted more than 60 years ago. Christmas cookies after all, are more about the memories they stir up than the dough that gets stirred up.
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© 2020 Sarah Donohoe