Sometime around December 1977, on a quaint, no-outlet street in Spring Hill, six young moms started a Christmas tradition that would stand the test of time — an annual neighborhood cookie swap. Each Yuletide season, everyone met with 24 homemade cookies of their choosing and empty containers for storing their soon-to-be bounty. No gifts, no competition or formality, just piles of fresh and festive handmade treats to bring back to each kid-filled home on Babs Street. Now that those kids are grown and almost everyone has moved away from the neighborhood, the ladies no longer bake cookies for their regular gathering, but for MB, they pulled out their treasured classics once more.
The cookie swap is a memory that is still fondly cherished by the original six: Julie Bagwell, Susan Bedsole, Deborah Beverly, Lynne Daugherty, Sally Thames and Mimi Wood. While other families came and went as people moved in and out of the area, these six still meet for a “cookie swap” every year or two, although 40 years later it’s more of a lunch gathering than a bake-off.
“It’s a reason to get together other than just socializing,” says Bagwell, who remembers transitioning from homemade cookies from each member to store-bought in their busy years to cookie-free lunch meet-ups today.
Although many of the women never considered themselves bakers, Thames’ English Matrimonials were a must-have. They were begged for year after year, while more simplistic varietals of cookie confections in different iterations completed the lineup before landing in the hands of sugar-hungry kids. Thames still gifts her berry-filled bars to friends and family during the holiday season, but store-bought slice-and-bake is preferred for most these days. “My mother’s oatmeal crisps are about the only cookies I make that don’t have a Pillsbury label!” says Daugherty, who holds her family recipe dear but isn’t ashamed to leave the grunt work to the pros.
But at its core, the cookie swap was never about the baking. It was about friends cherishing their time together in their beloved neighborhood, celebrating the years that passed and the memories still to come.
“The cookie swap was special because it reflected the closeness of a neighborhood,” says Bedsole. “A neighborhood was one of the most treasured gifts that we gave to our children.”
from Sally Thames
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/4 cups oats
3/4 cup cold butter, cut into cubes
3/4 cup raspberry jam
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
2. In a food processor, pulse together flour, brown sugar, oats and butter.
3. Press half of the mixture into the bottom of an 8-inch by 8-inch pan.
4. Top with raspberry jam and spread evenly across base.
5. Press remaining mixture on top of jam layer and bake for 40 minutes until golden.
6. Cool and cut into squares before serving
from Mimi Woods
1 cup pecans
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 cups confectioners’ sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place parchment paper on two baking sheets and set aside.
2. Toast pecans on a separate baking sheet for 8 minutes, until fragrant. Cool completely, chop and set aside.
3. Cream together butter and 1 cup confectioners’ sugar until fluffy. Add vanilla extract, almond extract and salt.
4. Slowly add flour, mixing on low speed until just combined. Stir in pecans.
5. Roll 1 tablespoon of dough into a ball and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough, spacing balls 1 1/2 inches apart, and refrigerate 30 minutes.
6. Bake 18 – 22 minutes until golden. Allow to cool for 10 minutes.
7. Toss warm cookies in remaining sugar and sprinkle them again before serving.
Gigi’s Oatmeal Crisp Cookies
from Lynne Daugherty
1 1/2 cups quick oats
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a cookie sheet and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, mix all ingredients with a fork or your hands until dough forms.
3. Roll into logs. Wrap in plastic wrap and freeze. Unused logs can remain frozen until ready to use.
4. Slice into very thin rounds, place on cookie sheet and bake 12 – 15 minutes until crisp and golden.
Cream Cheese Pound Cake
from Deborah Beverly
3 sticks butter, room temperature
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, room temperature
3 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1. Grease a fluted pan and set aside.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter and cream cheese until combined and lighter in color.
3. Add sugar and vanilla and beat until fluffy.
4. Alternate mixing in flour and eggs, starting and ending with flour.
5. Place in a cold oven, then set temperature to 300 degrees and bake for 1 1/2 hours until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted.
Optional: Top with marshmallow icing or fudge for a sweet and sticky finish.
Santa’s Favorite Cookies
from Susan Bedsole
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, combine egg and cream.
3. With an electric mixer, cream together the egg mixture with butter and sugar until fluffy. Add vanilla and beat to combine.
4. Slowly add in the flour mixture 1/2 cup at a time, beating on low after each addition. The dough should form a ball in the mixer.
5. Remove dough from mixer and chill at least 2 hours.
6. Spread flour over work surface and rolling pin. Roll out dough in batches and cut into desired shapes with cookie cutters.
7. Place on a nonstick cookie sheet and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 10 – 12 minutes until lightly golden.
Gan’s Date Cake
from Julie Bagwell
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 tablespoon hot water
8 ounces dates, chopped
1 cup pecans, chopped
1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup sugar
confectioners’ sugar, for coating
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Fit a 9-inch by 9-inch pan with parchment paper. Grease and set aside.
2. In a small bowl, combine butter, eggs and water.
3. Coat dates and pecans in flour. Combine with baking powder and sugar.
4. Stir in liquid mixture until just combined. Place batter in pan.
5. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes. Cut while warm and roll in confectioners’ sugar.
6. Once cooled, store in airtight container to avoid drying out.