The Cookie Ladies are at it again.
Huddled around a kitchen island weighed down with trays and tins and platters of cookies and candies and treats, Cookie Day marks the start of one local family’s Christmas season more than any simple calendar could.
Saturday marked the 50th year four area sisters have been meeting for a cookie exchange. Half a century of trading sugar and butter and flour shaped into love and companionship, never missing a year no matter what.
“This is our start of the season. You know you’ve got to get your cookies done, and then you can get to wrapping,” started Kathy Magyar, the youngest, before older sister Carol Holstein finished her sentence: “presents and shipping out gifts.”
The sisters — Magyar, 67, Holstein, 75, Thelma Lowery, 74, and Anita Wheatley, 78 — have been swapping treats since 1968. Magyar still was in high school. None recall why they started Cookie Day, but they know where it started: at the family home where their father lived at the time.
“Oh, it was a mess. They’d bring all the ingredients out to our father’s house and they would try and mix it and …,” Magyar said.
“… we were baking on site, we’d have everything measured out, but we had to quit doing that,” said Wheatley, the unofficial leader and spokeswoman of the group. “Then when the kids started coming, we couldn’t do that, so now we bring them cooked and just swap ’em.”
“It’s just our time to get together and be weird,” Wheatley said.
They meet these days at Holstein’s Elyria home and line up the goods, filling every inch of counter space. Each sister bakes two kinds, and everyone has a signature cookie.
Holstein, who owned an upholstery business for more than 30 years, made 15 dozen buckeye candies, at least six pounds of fudge and eight dozen cherry-white chocolate bars.
Lowery, who was a nurse for 50 years, made three dozen seven-layer bars and 13 dozen decorated cutout cookies shaped like stockings and snowmen and candy canes.
Wheatley, a retired secretary, is known for her nut cups — almost 12 dozen this year, along with six dozen pastry cookies of green and red, her peanut brittle, chocolate-covered peanuts and homemade dog treat cookies.
Magyar, who works in marine sales, made “12 or 13” dozen snowballs, 10 dozen chocolate-covered spritzes, plus marshmallows, pretzels and potato chips dipped in chocolate.
Magyar’s daughter, Shelley Magyar, also made dozens of chocolate-dipped double-stuff Oreos with sprinkles on top. The group calls her “the intern.”
“She gets the gold star,” they joke, because she is the only one of the next generation to join in the cookie-making exclusivity. Shelley Magyar said most of her adult cousins live out of state, so she doesn’t expect Cookie Day will become the rite of passage for her generation.
Only two partners attend Cookie Day — Wheatley’s husband, John, and Magyar’s significant other, Al. Other husbands have passed on. The women do have a brother, but he lives in Arizona and does not participate in Cookie Day.
“Men are in minimum attendance. My husband does not bake, but he eats all the rejects,” Wheatley laughed. “They’re taste testers and supervisors.”
“They shoot the bull and tell stories,” Lowery said.
The women have 11 children and stepchildren between them, and they were in attendance in the younger years. But Cookie Day soon became a sacred bonding time for the sisters, who would often schedule it during the week while the kids were in school.
No matter what has happened in the past half-century, Cookie Day has made it through like a champ.
“When my husband got sick and died, I couldn’t bake. My sisters baked for me,” Lowery said.
“And that’s what we will continue to do as long as we can,” Wheatley said.
“That’s why we got one in training,” Holstein said, hooking a thumb toward her niece.
It takes more than a half-hour for the sisters to divvy up the goods into their own containers personalized with their names spelled out on the lids, made by “the intern” a few years back.
They move like a well-oiled machine, splitting dozens and handing out foil packages like pros at work.
“I don’t need any more of those,” Magyar said, while Holstein tries to add more to her plate.
“Well, I need to finish off this pan,” Holstein replied.
“Well, use a new pan!” Magyar said, while Wheatley looked calmly on.
“This is nothing new, either,” the head sister said.
They start talking about Cookie Day by November and set a date. They talk about all the people they plan to share their bounty with — neighbors, mail carriers, people at church. None of the women plan to eat all their share themselves.
“Do you see all this? Can you imagine all the calories here?” Magyar said.
“There are no calories in Christmas food,” Lowery reminded her.
No one claims the “best baker” title, but Lowery said Wheatley is “the permanent baker.”
“She bakes all the time. She and her husband, they do a lot of nursing home visits, that kind of thing, and she takes baked goods all the time,” Lowery said.
“How did you know all that?” Wheatley asked.
“Well, it’s not a secret,” Lowery shrugged, while dishing out snowmen.
“We know we are making our mother proud that we’re doing this,” Holstein said.
Their mother, Lucille Webber, died at 45. She was the head cook at the East Carlisle School, and “cooked and baked all the time,” Lowery said. Years later, when the sisters started Cookie Day, it included their aunt Blanche Geist, who had become a mother figure to them after their mom passed away.
Conversation quickly turned to beloved kitchen implements that have laid down their lives in the line of duty. Every one of the sisters, it turns out, has broken lazy Susans over the years.
“I would burn up a mixer every year, making buckeyes,” Holstein said.
“You know, my mixer is 54 years old. It fell out of the cabinet the other day, and I thought, ‘Bless your heart, mixer.’ I’m still using it,” Wheatley said.
That mixer is like the sisters. They call themselves the “tough old broads.” One year, Magyar gifted hammers to everyone, a little inside joke to all of them.
They hope to continue Cookie Day for “another 50 years.”
“We’re going to do it until all of us can’t,” Wheatley said. “We’re not going to quit just because one of us can’t.”
“And besides, if we weren’t here, we know they’d talk about us,” Magyar said.
- 1 cup butter
- 2 cups peanut butter
- 4 cups powdered sugar
- Package of chocolate chips
Mix the first three ingredients and beat with mixer. Roll into small balls. Melt in double boiler 1 large package of chocolate chips and quarter sheet paraffin. Put toothpick into ball and dip in chocolate. Place on wax paper to cool.
Note: The old faded and yellowed card with the photo contains the original recipe, which is more than 50 years old and came from Michigan, Holstein said.
SOURCE: Carol Holstein
3 sticks Oleo
3 cups flour
8 oz. cream cheese
- 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
- 2 beaten eggs
- 2 tablespoons melted butter
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- Walnuts to fill the cups
Mix the ingredients for the dough (can be made ahead and placed in refrigerator). Make small round balls to fit into nut cup (mini-muffin) pans and spread up sides of pan to the top of the cup. Mix all the syrup ingredients. Fill each cup half-full with chopped walnuts, add syrup to make two-thirds full. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes.
Note: I make 1 1/2 batches of the dough and 2 batches of the syrup to make approximately 120 nut cups.
SOURCE: Anita Wheatley
(made in microwave)
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup white corn syrup
- 1 cup roasted, salted peanuts
- 1 teaspoon butter or margarine
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
Use 1 1/2 quart glass casserole. Stir granulated sugar and corn syrup. Microwave on high 4 minutes. Stir in peanuts and heat 2 minutes until light brown. Mix in butter and vanilla, cook 1 to 2 minutes. Peanuts will be lightly brown and the syrup very hot. Remove dish from microwave. Stir in baking soda and mix thoroughly until light and foamy. Carefully pour mixture onto lightly greased cookie sheet. Cool 30 minutes to one hour. When cool break into small pieces. Store in airtight container. Makes about 1 pound.
Note: I set the microwave for 8 minutes and just go down from that time. Stores well.
SOURCE: Anita Wheatley