Deck the halls with sprinkles! There’s nothing like a cookie swap to bring out the best of the holiday season. Gather with kindred baking spirits who get excited about frosting and family heirloom recipes and trade goods so everyone goes home with a deliciously diverse assortment of cookies that would take forever to bake all on your own. Does anything epitomize community cooperation and peace on earth more than this sugar-coated bliss?
For the past four years, we have helped host a classic cookie swap via our local Wisconsin Farmers Union chapter, which quickly evolved into a fun and festive community tradition. Here are five key steps and some tips we learned along the way for hosting your own.
1. Gather Cookie Bakers
In order to pull off a successful cookie swap, you need a committed, core group of enthusiastic bakers. A dozen bakers is a good number to aim for as it will create a sweet diversity of cookies to swap. We always leave the invitation open to anyone who would like to come, even if they are not bakers. There is plenty of socializing and sampling. Lots of our local farmer friends attended, all ready to kick back after the busy harvest and connect with old and new friends.
We ask each baker to bring about five dozen cookies, adding up to plenty of bounty for both sampling and swapping. It always amazes us on the variety and flavors of cookies that folks bake, from holiday classics like shortbread decorated cut-outs to unique family recipes.
We all gather at an official start time of 6 p.m. to chat and taste, and then start the swap at 7 p.m. In addition to bringing cookies, let folks know ahead of time to bring extra containers to take home their treats. We do encourage gluten free bakers to participate and dedicate a separate table for those treats.
2. Identify, Showcase and Sample Cookies
As bakers arrive, we give everyone an identification card to write in the name of their cookie, key ingredients and any story or background they would like to share about their treat. This helps identify food allergies and also brings out lots of fun stories, such as how some of the ingredients were raised in one’s garden or a funny family-recipe history.
The first hour of the event, from 6 to 7 pm, is dedicated to sampling and socializing. With so many cookies to sample and everyone wanting to try everything but not necessarily commit to a whole cookie, we make it official that you could break off pieces of a cookie to try — with clean hands, of course.
3. Involve the Kids
The kids informally ran a “cookie contest” where they enthusiastically sampled each one. Right before we officially started the swap, the kids gave out cookie awards for fun in categories like “Just like Grandma’s,” “Best Decorated” and “Most Unique Flavor.”
As a first round of exchanging, swappers take about six of each cookie. This ensures everyone had a selection fo each cookie. After that, folks could go back and take more of their favorites (and keep sampling!) until everything was gone.
A large, deep container works best for your take-home cookies. Folks hopefully bring tins and containers for their take-home bounty and we had some extra paper plates and foil in case they were needed.
When we got home, we found it helpful to sort and better organize the cookies into smaller containers right away, grouping things like crispy cookies together (to keep the crunch) and packing delicate varietals more carefully.
5. Share the Cookie Abundance
As farmers and homesteaders, we’re always sharing our abundance and a cookie swap is no different. One tradition along those lines we now do at our swap is to have available “community share” boxes, small empty decorative boxes that folks can use to fill with a small sample of cookies that they then share with someone not able to attend, perhaps a neighbor senior shut-in. We’ve learned a cookie swap goes way beyond the practical note of efficient baking: We’re connecting with each other.
Did you sample a cookie that quickly made you say, “This is so good you should sell this”? By all means, tell that person and encourage them to consider launching their own cookie business out of their home kitchen under your state’s cottage food law. Our Homemade for Sale book will give them a jump-start on the business start-up side. Let them know you will be their first customer and ring in the new year with a new business from your homestead.
Lisa Kivirist, with her husband and photographer, John D. Ivanko, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, Homemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef cookbook along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by the wind and sun. Both are speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs. Kivirist also authored Soil Sisters. As a writer, Kivirist contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently, “9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living”. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, millions of ladybugs and a 10 kW Bergey wind turbine. Read all of Lisa's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.