MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Some of you who used to shop at Woodies, might remember Woodies cookies or English drop cookies. They're made with brown sugar, butter and raisins. Well, the people we'll meet next know about cookies of all sorts, since every year, come the holidays, they bake tens of thousands. Lauren Landau headed to Woodbine, Md., to get a taste of this 27-year-old tradition.
MS. LAUREN LANDAU
On a Saturday morning Vincent Schembari is busy in a Woodbine basement pulling cookie sheets in and out of a convection oven.
MR. VINCENT SCHEMBARI
We just finished up a batch of toffee cookies. And now we're getting ready to put together those chocolate cookies. And then they're going to bring some more down upstairs and we just keep these ovens moving the whole time. It's incredible how the process works.
As Schembari works the oven, dutifully rotating trays of cookies, Dawn Leijon mixes up 50 pound trays full of cookie dough. The leader of this 27-year-old tradition, she and her kid drove up from D.C. the night before and got straight to work, opening up 130 pounds of butter and cracking 600-some-odd eggs so that Cookie Day would go as smoothly as possible.
MS. DAWN LEIJON
And at 6:30 this morning my mom comes down and by 10:07 two groups of people were already here ready to turn on the ovens and get started. So we got a pretty early start this morning.
She says the goal is always to wrap things up early as possible, but even if they finish by 5:30 or 6:00 p.m., that's still a full day's work.
Standing on your feet for 10 hours on a concrete floor is very tiring. So we laugh about the people upstairs at the ball-rolling table who get to sit on their butts and drink coffee and chat all day. And we just don't think their job is that difficult.
Difficult or no, everyone at Cookie Day has a job. In addition to the folks rolling balls of dough and the people down in the basement working the ovens and mixing up pounds of batter, there are also people delegated to packing the cookies into boxes, running said boxes to the cars parked outside, tallying up the numbers, keeping everyone fed and watching the little ones, like two-year-old John, this year's youngest attending.
What's your favorite kind of cookie, John John?
Clock, clock isn't a cookie.
His mom, Sarah Watson says John's favorite cookie is chocolate chip. But speaking of clocks, Dawn Leijon says a lot of time goes into planning and pulling off Cookie Day.
Actually we started a week ago, buying ingredients and mixing up the first couple batches of dough that go into the freezer. And then my parents work and get things out of storage and start putting together boxes all week. And they were staging the equipment around so everything would be ready, so they've been working very hard.
For her parents, Ken and Sharon Pickett, another tradition is the annual road trip they take to buy rare, but necessary ingredients.
My parents actually drive to Hershey every year because there's one particular cookie that we make that requires these cinnamon chips that you just can't find in the grocery store. So it's just easier to drive to Hershey and they get all the chocolate chips up there.
The Picketts are an integral part of Cookie Day, and not just because they host the event on the farm Ken's family has owned for more than 120 years. The tradition traces back to 1987, during Dawn's sophomore year in college, when she asked her father for a heavy-duty mixer. She was expecting a Kitchen Aid or similar household device. Instead, she got a big surprise.
MR. KEN PICKETT
Well, to me heavy duty was commercial. She called from college and that's what she wanted for Christmas, so I run into a used 20-quart Hobart mixer. I bought that and gave her that.
Dawn says she couldn't even mix a single batch of cookies in that original, industrial mixer if she wanted to.
You know, what do you do with a 20-quart mixer? You can't make one batch. It like, gets lost in the mixer bowl. So we decided to invite some friends over and family and I don't know, there might have been six or eight of us and everybody brought some ingredients and we made cookies together.
She says they baked about 1,000 cookies that day, but their first experience was a far cry from the carefully orchestrated event that Cookie Day has evolved into.
We literally were standing at the mixer with cookbooks, going through, trying to decide by committee, you know, what do we think we can make and what do we have the ingredients for? And then there were years where we were running off to the grocery store in the middle because we had everything except, you know, we need another dozen eggs.
Leijon says they started looking for ways to work smarter and more efficiently. They bought new ovens, ditched recipes that didn’t hold up and started buying all of the ingredients in bulk.
You've got this flat-bed cart full of gigantic amounts of sugar and butter and eggs and usually when I go with my dad, you know, someone will look at you and say, oh, are you doing a little baking? And then he starts the story.
This year, the crew made 19 different types of cookies, ranging from your standard recipes to some more inventive ones.
Chocolate chip, ginger, toffee, snicker doodles, peanut butter, orange, cinnamon chip, potato crunch…
Oh, sorry, pecan crunch, but it's made with potato chips. It's a shortbread cookie. Yes. Very interesting ingredients. Okay. Sugar cookies, we make chocolate…
Eventually it was time for me to head out. But I couldn't leave without trying a cookie. So I snuck into the pantry with some of the younger helpers to sample their favorites.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1
I think it's got a crackle because of the way it like forms.
Dawn's kids have been attending Cookie Day their entire lives. Her eight-year-old daughter Lennia (sp?) says she wants to uphold the tradition, and big brother Edvin (sp?) agrees.
We get to see all of our parents' friends and our friends and my -- of course, my teachers are here. And we also get to eat cookies. So…
Well, it's been going for 27 years so far. Do you think you guys can keep it going for 27 more?
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2
And somebody else can carry the cookies up and down the steps.
By the end of the day the team has made 30,401 cookies. But Dawn says the real purpose of Cookie Day is as much about spending time with friends and family, as it is about the treats. And that might be the sweetest part of all. I’m Lauren Landau.
Time for a break, but when we get back, musical traditions, from a capella intonation in Old Town…
MR. KIP LORNELL
How long the spirit is moving you is how long those songs will last.
…to toe tapping Blue Grass style.
MR. DUDLEY CONNELL
Lucketts was this oasis for us. When we went to Lucketts the first time, we were actually shocked. We had an absolute listening crowd.
That and more is just ahead on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.
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