For Carmen Rose, Marilyn Field, Joy Osmanski, and Linda Davis, sharing and togetherness are the hallmarks of the holiday season. These two mother- and daughter-in-law teams love to bake and distribute the results to a long list of appreciative friends, neighbors, and co-workers.
Each December for the past 23 years, Mrs. Rose and Mrs. Field, of Signal Mountain, Tenn., have set aside a Saturday early in the month to bake cookies.
Their estimated output is a hundred dozen cookies in nine to 11 hours of stirring, creaming, shaping, and baking.
"We say every year that we're only going to make 10 kinds of cookies and double the recipes," says Rose. "But we've never kept it to 10. [Some years] we have made 20 or 30 kinds."
On Dec. 4, she and Field will create an abundance of apricot bars, date-nut balls, fruit whirls, and gingersnaps in an ordinary-size kitchen, which holds the usual complement of mixing bowls and just three cookie sheets.
A cookie-baking marathon may sound as though it's a great deal of work, but what makes it worthwhile is the camaraderie the duo share. Although Mrs. Field is no longer married to Rose's son, the two women remain close.
"This is the one day of the year that Marilyn and I have on our own [sans husbands and children] and we look forward to it. We really enjoy talking with each other," Rose says.
Among the cookie-baking "secrets" they've learned down through the years:
*When recipes call for a greased baking sheet, it's quicker to spray the pan with Baker's Joy, smoothing it out evenly.
*After placing hot cookies on a rack, turn them over in a few minutes so they'll cool quicker and won't stick or buckle.
Linda Davis of North Weymouth, Mass., also is known for her expertise with cookies, cakes, and pies. She jokes that her daughter-in-law, Joy Osmanski of Los Altos Hills, Calif., "got to know my baking before she got to know me."
When Mrs. Davis's son, Adam, was in college, she sent him "care packages" of home-baked goodies so often that whenever he received a package, fellow students, including Ms. Osmanski, came running with mouths watering.
Instead of just enjoying the output of Davis's kitchen, Osmanski wanted to know how to duplicate the results.
She quickly learned that cookie recipes aren't as versatile as, say, whipping up a stir-fry. If you try to toss in extra ingredients or substitute freely, the results may not be what you expected. If you're baking a batch of bar cookies and the recipe calls for a 9-inch pan, but you use another size, the baking time will be different than specified.
"A [baking] recipe is really a formula," Davis says. "You have to follow it or it doesn't come out right." But that doesn't mean there's no creativity involved.
One day, when Davis planned to make gingerbread cookies, Osmanski asked if she could help decorate them. "My idea of decorating was putting M&M's [on the gingerbread figures] for buttons and raisins for eyes," Davis admits. "But she's very artistic. She took a tube of frosting and put dresses on the girls and pants and little shirts with collars on the boys. It was fun. We each had a talent and we put the two together."
They have also coupled Davis's flair for baking and Osmanski's gift for graphic design in a delightful cookbook, "For the Love of Baking." It will be available early in December for downloading from the Internet (www.gallaxymall.com).
Holiday cookies should look as good as they taste, Davis believes. To achieve a perfectly round cookie, she refrigerates the dough until it's firm enough to handle. Then she rolls the dough into balls that are the same size and places them carefully on the baking sheet, instead of dropping them from a spoon.
To prevent cookies from browning too much on the undersides, you don't have to buy one of the double-layered cookie sheets, she says.
"Something that my grandmother did is partially fill a jellyroll pan with water and put it on the bottom shelf of the oven. It doesn't hamper the baking of the cookies, but it prevents them from burning on the bottom."
At holiday parties a steaming mug of cider or Mocha Punch is especially welcome on a shivery winter night. Or salute the season with a colorful bowl of Cranberry-Orange Christmas Punch. It's the perfect partner for a platter of home-baked cookies, a symbol of the sweetness of friendship.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society