Cookie making a ‘large’ Christmas tradition

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Addison Schlitter, Mattie Hallberg and Ryan Hallberg enjoy making and decorating cookies, which is a big Christmas tradition in the Hallberg family. (Submitted photo)

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

Making cookies is a Christmas tradition for many families, as they gather to pass along recipes and watch the next generation learn the messy joy of smearing frosting and sprinkles on freshly-baked treats. 

Janet Hallberg’s family is no different.

“It’s something my mom and I have always done, for as long as I can remember,” said Janet of holiday baking. “We lived in the country, and we’d make cookies to give to the mailman and the Schwan’s guy—people you see every week. Every year, it seems to have gotten bigger and bigger.”

Some might consider a few dozen cookies the extent of their Christmas baking. These days, that’s nothing for the Hallbergs, who make eight- to 10-dozen—of 10 different kinds of cookies. That’s anywhere from 960 to 1,200 cookies.

They’re made over the first weekend in December, with baking and decorating running from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday at Janet’s mom’s house. The whole family takes part, including Janet’s parents, her two daughters and niece and nephew. Janet said she mixes up batches of dough, which are often tripled and quadrupled, a couple days ahead of time. The Sunday is always dedicated to testing new recipes.

Everyone has their role to keep things running smoothly, Janet noted, whether it’s her dad who loads up trays of cookies to take to the garage to cool, or the youngsters, who enjoy decorating.

“The best part is when we get to the frosted sugar cookies because they really help with that part,” she said. “Even if they just do one and mangle it, they’re still helping. Get kids involved. You make a mess, but it can be cleaned up. You’re making memories.”

Janet said they’ve always made sugar cookie cutouts, adding that chocolate drops (her dad’s favorite), orange drops (her mom’s favorite) and the peanut butter cookies with the chocolate star in the center are some traditional choices, too. Other selections include snickerdoodles, red velvet cookies and zebra cookies with a Hershey’s hug on top. They’ve also tried a lemon-flavored option, a cheese cake variation and an egg nog cookie.

“Some come and go, and we try a couple new recipes every year,” she said, noting that the new ones are usually done in smaller batches, in case they’re not as popular.

Aside from cookies, the family also makes two types of fudge, chocolate-covered peanuts and almond bark pretzels. In addition, Janet makes homemade bread, using her grandma’s recipe.

Like with the bread, Janet said some recipes have been passed down, while others come from cookbooks, Pinterest or a special cookie magazine that comes out each Christmas.

Many recipes can be found in the cookbook Janet and her mom created when they both worked at the nursing home. Janet said she’s always willing to share, but warns that she often puts her own twists on recipes.

“You have to try recipes out,” she said, offering advice to fellow bakers. For example, one person might add a little more flour or another ingredient, whereas someone else sticks strictly to the recipe.

While the family eats some of the cookies they make, Janet said many are given away. Her co-workers all receive a tray, as do her mother’s. Cookie trays are also distributed to the garbage man, neighbors, friends and taken to Christmas get-togethers. Janet makes a few trays to sell, as well.

The last couple of years, Janet said her family has made a few smaller trays of cookies to give out to some older residents living in the apartments in McGregor.

“Mattie (her daughter) hands it to them with a big smile on her face,” Janet remarked. “That makes it worth it. Christmas is not about the presents. It’s for family time and hanging out together. The girls look forward to it every year. I hope it’s something that continues on.”

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