The Etsy Blog

Kitchen Histories: The Great Cookie Swap

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fourpoundsflour

Sarah Lohman is a historic gastronomist. She recreates historic recipes as a way to make a personal connection with times gone by, as well as to inspire her contemporary cooking. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Four Pounds Flour. In this series, Lohman combs Etsy for items that speak to America’s culinary past.

Every year, my mom goes over to her “best-girlfriend-since-age-sixteen’s” house to bake Christmas cookies. When I was little, I would tag along to watch the endless procession of cookie sheets slide in and out of the oven, revealing hot batches of M&M cookies, jelly thumbprints, nut horns, peanut butter Christmas trees, and brownie bites. These cookies still appear in our household every year, although every once and a while a new recipe gets added to the canon.

Christmas cookies have a long tradition in the United States. The New Amsterdam Dutch who settled along the Hudson River had an annual tradition of passing out New Year’s “koekje,” which means “little cake.” The first of the year was a time to visit your neighbors and share good tidings, and it would have been unthinkable to leave without taking a caraway and orange-flavored koekje for the road. Their Anglo neighbors repeated the word as “cookie,” and an American treat was born.

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Mountainside Crafts

Pepparkaka, a Scandinavian gingersnap cookie.

I write about American history on this blog, but recipes for Christmas cookies are about something much more personal: family history. These recipes are the way that we preserve the recollections of our loved ones and pass down memories through flavor. And like a sort of international cookie swap, Etsy can be a wonderful place to share family recipes, as well as stumble upon a few new ideas for holiday baking.

Anita Fusco of Mountainside Crafts shares her family recipe for Pepparkakar in her Etsy shop. Her grandmother was an immigrant from Scandanavia in 1910. “[She] always had a plate of cookies at Christmas that included this crisp, spiced sugar cookie,” Anita says. “When I make these now and the house fills with the scent of cinnamon and ginger, cloves and nutmeg, I think of family and become just a little homesick.”

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Genie the Spice Goddess

Genie’s Melomakarona, a Greek Christmas cookie.

Genie Patterson is better known as Genie the Spice Goddess, and her shop is stocked with traditional Greek recipes. Her Greek pastry recipes are her big sellers, like Melomakarona, a spiced orange and bourbon cookie dipped in honey. They’re an important addition to her family’s Christmas tradition and remind her of her grandmother.

“My yia yia lived in her kitchen and always wore a house dress with her apron all day and all night until she changed at bedtime,” Genie recalled. “The best part of her outfit were her support hose that were rolled down to her ankles by the end of the morning!”

Genie’s yia yia passed her passion for food down to her granddaughter in more ways than one: “The actual wooden spoon I use to mold the cookie into its shape is from my yia yia.”

brownies

Knit and Whimsy

Brown Sugar and Butterscotch Brownies

Stacey Lavender of Knit and Whimsy says her recipe for Butterscotch Brownies was created by a mother who loved to bake for a father who didn’t like chocolate. The buttery, chewy bar cookies were the perfect compromise. “Mom loved the Etsy concept and was amused by the sales and favorites on the recipe,” Stacey told me. “I lost my mom somewhat unexpectedly last January. She was my best friend, and I miss her everyday.”

While cleaning out her mom’s home, she came across three recipe boxes: her grandmother’s, her mother’s, and a third her mom had been organizing to pass down to Stacey. Stacey plans to cook and bake her way through the box, and publish all the finished recipes on Etsy. “I vowed I would make them all as my way of honoring her,” she says.

If you want to commemorate a beloved family recipe, Etsy artists can lay them out in stunning graphic designs to frame and hang in your kitchen, or burn an exact copy of the handwritten recipe into a cutting board. These artful recipes make heartfelt gifts and keep family tradition alive.

christmas_cookies_coriander

Sarah Lohman

The first Christmas cookie.

This year, I’m starting my own family tradition based on the first American “Christmas Cookey,” originally published in 1796. These holiday delights are sugar cookies flavored with coriander (the seeds of cilantro), which is bright and lemony. You can find my recipe here.

So in the spirit of a holiday cookie swap, please share your favorite cookie recipes — and the family stories behind them — in the comments below!

  • MegansMenagerie

    Megan from MegansMenagerie says:

    I love cookie exchanges! My mother had a huge party every year. So many people would come and we had enough cookies to last us months! Everyone would bring a different kind along with recipe cards. I've found so many favorites that I now make for my kids and family! It's so much fun!

    127 days ago

  • LivingVintage

    LivingVintage from LivingVintage says:

    Gingerbread men are a family tradition. Cutting them out is my favorite, and placing M&Ms as buttons is my son's. With plenty for the helper on the side.

    127 days ago

  • FluffyFlowers

    FluffyFlowers from FluffyFlowers says:

    What a wonderful holiday tradition :)

    127 days ago

  • Fiume

    Erin O'Rourke from Aruguletta says:

    Candy cane cookies were one of my favorites as a kid. I remember that the dough had a particular, unique flavor to it - maybe the extracts? Who knows. But I remember twisting and shaping the dough, trying to get the candy canes right. http://www.bettycrocker.com/recipes/candy-cane-cookies/93832e29-3b4f-4977-ae5a-9820053b254c

    127 days ago

  • bpdmso

    Mary from MarySanzJewelry says:

    Cookies Yummy! Thanks for sharing :)

    127 days ago

  • derinmavi

    Selin from LimonYesili says:

    Thanks for sharing this story!

    127 days ago

  • msb37

    Susan from DesignsbyMSusan says:

    Cookie swaps are one of my FAVORITE holiday traditions! It's like sharing a bit of your family heritage.

    127 days ago

  • jizbasusan

    Susan Jizba from TheWeaverOfWords says:

    Such a Yummy Post! It reminds me of my Czechoslovakian grandmother at this time of year she always baked the most delicately delicious melt-in-your-mouth cookies and a braided Christmas bread. I always loved to eat the bread right out of the oven! Her tiny kitchen was always warm and cozy with the wonderful sweet smell of her homemade cooking!

    127 days ago

  • agebo

    Ann Cosgrove from acbcDesign says:

    Love this post! Growing up I loved the classic sugar cookie. Decorating or eating them as simple round shapes - always one of my favorite parts of the holiday. I can't wait to try the version you have with lemon & corriander - 2 of my favorites!

    127 days ago

  • ClassicMemories

    ClassicMemories from ClassicMemories says:

    The cookies look totally yummy.

    127 days ago

  • Agasart

    Aga from AgasJourney says:

    yummy beauties.

    127 days ago

  • ikabags

    IKA PARIS from ikabags says:

    Thanks for sharing this story , totally yummy !

    127 days ago

  • LedaDesign

    Leda Design from LedaDesign says:

    Looks like yummy!

    127 days ago

  • daydreamjewels

    Rosalia from daydreamjewels says:

    Everything looks delicious :)

    127 days ago

  • trashbaggs

    Jayme from trashbaggs says:

    Christmas cookies and cookie baking are a most favourite family tradition....esp moms sugar cookies!!

    127 days ago

  • realfaery

    realfaery from realfaery says:

    What a great idea, I never heard of it. I shall suggest it to our friends:)

    127 days ago

  • admspeicher
  • laurastark

    Laura Stark from laurastark says:

    This tradition sounds like a great way to slow down and celebrate with your family.

    127 days ago

  • PepitasStudio

    Pepitas House from PepitasStudio says:

    What a great story and great way to have a family tradition

    127 days ago

  • farandtwee

    Vintage Minnow from VintageMinnow says:

    always searching for the perfect holiday cookie!

    127 days ago

  • tigletandme

    Sandra from GiftTagLady says:

    They do hold memories. My favorite is my brother's snickerdoodles. I could say the same for gift tags.....

    127 days ago

  • gboliver

    G.B. Oliver from AttentionGetting says:

    I have several of my Grandmother's recipes that I have to make every Christmas. I love the idea of having them made into beautiful graphics that I could pass down. Great idea!

    127 days ago

  • TheBloomingHare

    TheBloomingHare from TheBloomingHare says:

    I love the preparation of Christmas! Cookie baking is a family tradition, with recipes passed down, as well as memories!

    127 days ago

  • darrad

    darrad says:

    Growing up I didn't have a mom or dad that celebrated the holidays so I never had the experience of smelling cookies baking, eating them, turkey cooking or family gatherings. All the more reason why I love to read posts and blogs like this. Now I read a few Christmas books, watch holiday movies and live vicariously through hearing all abut your holidays. It warms my heart and puts a big smile on my face hearing all about your traditions, stories and baking cookies! Thank you!

    127 days ago

  • jamieshelman
  • littleshopofphotos

    Michele Iljazi from OneDecember says:

    Yum! These all sound so delicious! I love Christmas cookies and it reminds me of all my favorites of my Mom's from every year!

    127 days ago

  • ddimiourgies

    VL from CraftStories says:

    We are from Greece and we are very happy to see melomakarona in your list, because it is the traditional Christmas dessert of our country.Thank you!

    127 days ago

  • TigerMuse

    TigerMuse from CalliopeArt says:

    What a wonderful article! I haven't been to a cookie swap in years ~ it's always so much fun, and such a treat when you return home to see that your hard work has morphed into a mass of delicious treats! I'm looking forward to trying some of the recipes mentioned. What an interesting job title and profession: "Historical Gastronomist"...!

    127 days ago

  • AbleAprons

    Erika Kelly from PortlandApronCompany says:

    I really liked reading everyone's stories. Thanks for sharing them. I would make my grandma biscotti for Christmas when I was younger, a family favorite! I love the custom recipe posters!

    127 days ago

  • CafePrimrose

    Amanda Gynther from CafePrimrose says:

    Great article! I love kitchen histories

    127 days ago

  • mazedasastoat

    mazedasastoat from mazedasastoat says:

    I always think of cookies being a modern invention, but I guess they're not really.

    127 days ago

  • WomanShopsWorld

    Carter Seibels Singh from WomanShopsWorld says:

    Mmm.....now I'm going to have to stop and have a cookie break. I love this blog post! And the "Original Christmas Cookie" recipe looks delicious!

    127 days ago

  • rebeccasanchez

    rebeccasanchez from rebeccasanchez says:

    I love exchanging homemade cookies for the holidays!

    127 days ago

  • LazyTcrochet

    Tricia from LazyTcrochet says:

    Oh I love baking! I finally fixed my oven. I've been fiddling with it for months. I have a few favorites on my blog. Cocoa Drops with Browned Butter Icing are my favorite. http://lazytcrochet.blogspot.com/2010/11/cookie-time.html

    127 days ago

  • EdelweissPost

    Patrick from EdelweissPost says:

    I always thought the cookies for Santa always tasted the best...

    127 days ago

  • GracefullyGirly

    Kimberlee from GracefullyGirly says:

    I LOVE coriander! I use it in my oatmeal cookies with chopped bits of cherries in addition to a few other standard spices. It adds such an interesting note to them. I will certainly make a batch of your Christmas Cookeys. Thanks for sharing!

    127 days ago

  • BambuEarth

    Amber from BambuEarth says:

    I really wanted to do a cookie exchange this year, but it's been too crazy around here for that... oh well... maybe next year!

    127 days ago

  • ACupOfSparkle

    ACupOfSparkle from ACupOfSparkle says:

    One of my favorite things to do at this time of the year. My favorite is russian tea cookies.

    127 days ago

  • silverlily786

    Fatema from SilverLilyJewelry says:

    Short bread!

    127 days ago

  • lorettawarner

    Loretta Warner from lorettawarner says:

    I've often thought that if I ever stop knitting, I'd like to just cook! Thanks for the inspiration! Maybe one can "have it all" !!!

    127 days ago

  • KMalinka

    Natalia from KMalinkaVintage says:

    Awesome article! I love cookies!

    127 days ago

  • lindyjean

    Linda from bitsokits says:

    my niece and her father have baked christmas cookies for nearly 30 years. they make some red and green ones that you shoot the dough out a tool of some sort (like a caulk gun). they taste horrible. but, they bring them to every xmas eve celebration, and probably most important is the time they get to spend together making their confections. to be fair, they also make other delicious cookies, but those red and green things are NASTY! i make chocolate crinkles and lemon crescents every year....i'm not too imaginative.....

    127 days ago

  • laramored

    Anemone from AnemoneReadsVintage says:

    Yum, cookies.... Great post! LOVE the recipes-as-poster idea - what a fantastic way to keep your favorite recipe at hand and give it the respect it deserves!

    127 days ago

  • ballandchain

    Katrina Balling from ballandchain says:

    mmmmm coooookies

    127 days ago

  • ballandchain

    Katrina Balling from ballandchain says:

    4 words: Betty Crocker Cooky Book mine has my mum's notes back to the 60's noting which recipes she tried, and if they are good or no. It's the only cookbook I need. Favorite cooky- molasses crinkles.

    127 days ago

  • BlackBreezy

    Gabrielle says:

    My mom's always been the cookie-maker of the family. I've tried to keep up, but just don't have the patience or stamina for it. She uses the BC cook book as well - my faviorite when I was a kid were the snowmen with their hershey kisses/peanut butter cup hats. This year, mom tells me that she's cursed. Not a single batch of cookies has come out right! She's 0 for 4 at last count - wish her luck!

    127 days ago

  • lesniakorientalrugs

    Mike and Jess from LesniakOrientalRugs says:

    Our family bakes cookies together every year for the holidays, lovely post!

    127 days ago

  • SugarMeDesserterie

    Teresa from SugarMeDesserterie says:

    Decorated sugar cookies have been a tradition in our family before I was even born. Every year, my grandmother made Santa's and trees and angels for Christmas, and bunnies and baby chicks at Easter. I still use her recipe today. People say they are the best sugar cookie they have every tasted, and yet the recipe is so simple. I still have her Santa cookie cutter as well. The Santa cookie you see is very much the same one she made years ago.

    127 days ago

  • katherinedooren

    katherine Lenz from 214EVER says:

    LOOKS SO DELICIOUS AND I JUST WANT TO HAVE A TASTE OF IT. HAHA

    127 days ago

  • BennBooCreations

    Sharon from BennBooCreations says:

    It's features like this, that make Etsy and Holidays go so well together!!

    127 days ago

  • MsGirlyGeekChic

    Wende from PrintACookie says:

    Cookies are my most favorite thing during the holidays! Well, er um... any day too! So much love goes into home baking and sharing during the most wonderful time of the year!

    127 days ago

  • Laladesignstudio

    Lala Jewelry from Laladesignstudio says:

    I love baking! Especially cookies. I live at high elevation (6200 ft) and am known among friends and family for my amazing baked goods. Some of the recipes have been passed down through generations but many are my own twist on classics. Wonderful post!

    127 days ago

  • jesabaker

    Jessica Baker from JessFindsVintage says:

    Oh I love me some Lemon Bars. Love this article also!!

    126 days ago

  • TheChequeredLily

    Kimberly Bouchu from TheChequeredLily says:

    I love holiday cookies. I have memories of mexican wedding cakes flavored with oranges and soft snickerdoodles. As I was growing up, our grandmotherly neighbor would always grace us with a plate of beautiful handmade cookies for the holidays; my dad loved her pfefferneuse, and I adored some little crescent moon cookies made from a tangy cream cheese dough and dredged in powdered sugar... such wonderful memories. Thanks for sharing! ^_^

    126 days ago

  • fancy4u

    fancy4u from BrushAndFeather says:

    love to bake! i made 15 dozen ginger cookies last weekend, they are my very favourite at Christmas. Next up is my recipe for Dutch shortbread, another yearly must have here at my place. I got the recipe years ago from a friend and i can't let a year go by without making it.

    126 days ago

  • tmrestoarts

    Tamara from TMRestoArts says:

    I agree, scent is a wonderful memory trigger. Baking brings back so many amazing holiday and special occasion memories. I always add cream cheese to my sugar cookie recipe and they are always so delicious! Though I do look for new ways to make them prettier each time I bake them. Great article! Thank you!

    126 days ago

  • katherinedooren

    katherine Lenz from 214EVER says:

    I LOVE THEM. GOOD LUCK TO YOU.

    126 days ago

  • SymbolicImports

    Angel from SymbolicImports says:

    Delish!! Great story for the Holidays :)

    126 days ago

  • emmacwells

    Emma Wells from BeachBirds says:

    What a lovely cookie story, it makes me want to get in the kitchen and cook up a batch and i love the idea of putting an old traditional recipe on to a plate or chopping board, what an amazing idea and perfect for remembering those old christmas feelings :)

    126 days ago

  • mattyhandmadecrafts

    Matejka Max from NattyMatty says:

    Baking... one of the best things in December!

    126 days ago

  • GeorgieGirlLLC

    D George from GeorgieGirlLLC says:

    Love brown sugar butterscotch brownies (we call them blondes). I have never been able to make them and desire the talent to do so. Four batches in one week and all came out ruined. Thanks for the post, I may try again!

    126 days ago

  • johannaspeizer

    Johanna S from UnfadingLouise says:

    rolled sugar cookies with a little orange zest in the dough, the icing has orange juice, milk, powdered sugar and whatever color you want :)

    126 days ago

  • hellome

    April from hellome says:

    Mmmm, I'll take one of each!

    126 days ago

  • divinecartomancy

    Bren from PsychicBren says:

    I gained Ten pounds just by reading this article....lol

    126 days ago

  • YearsAfter

    Sharon from YearsAfter says:

    Those Cookies all look great especially the Sugar Butterscotch Brownies!

    126 days ago

  • unflappableproducts

    unflappableproducts from unflappableproducts says:

    timely blog post-going to bake this weekend for my cookie swap-won't be so ordinary now!

    126 days ago

  • PennyBirchWilliams

    Penny Birch-Williams from PennyBirchWilliams says:

    Cookies are my favorite thing! (along with Ice cream!) I have baked as many as 7 different kinds at Christmas in the past, but not enough time for that now with my etsy shop. It was always a tradition as I grew up, and then as my kids were growing up, to bake and decorate lots of holiday cookies. This weekend my daughter will be home and we will bake at least a few batches. Chocolate chip with m&ms, chocolate dream cookies, and our Swedish favorite, Pepparkakor, which must be a variation of the Scandanavian Pepparkakar in the blog above. They have butter, molasses, sugar, flour, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, baking soda and an egg. After sitting overnight in the fridge, we roll out the dough and cut with cookie cutters. I like to put a sugar glaze on the tops after they cool. In my family we are all big chocolate fans, but still, this traditional cookie is our favorite at Christmas.

    126 days ago

  • ThePolkadotMagpie

    Polkadot Magpie from ThePolkadotMagpie says:

    Sounds delicious!

    126 days ago

  • cottonbirddesigns
  • ThreeBarDGifts

    Monica from ThreeBarDGifts says:

    Love the graphic design of the chocolate chip cookie recipe! What a wonderful way to preserve a family recipe!

    126 days ago

  • Themissingtagvintage

    Caroline and Brandon Matey from TheMissingTagVintage says:

    I love sugar cookies during the holidays. My guilty pleasure!

    126 days ago

  • Selkiechick

    Selkiechick says:

    My family makes "Black Pepper Cookies" and I've no idea where the recipe comes from, and they are my very favorite cookie. My family is of German descent, but these aren't Pfeffenusse, the closest cookie I have found were some Italian chocolate spice cookies. This is my adaptation of a fairly terse recipe card. Black Pepper Cookies 3/4 cup Butter 1/2 teaspoon Pepper 3/4 teaspoon Cinnamon 1/4 teaspoon Cloves 1/4 teaspoon Nutmeg 1 1/2 teaspoon Vanilla 1 cup Sugar 1 Egg 1 teas Baking Soda 1 1/2 cup Flour 1/4 teaspoon Salt 1 teaspoon Bakewell Cream (or cream of tartar) 1/2 cup Cocoa (unsweetened) Beat together butter, pepper, spices and vanilla. Stir in sugar, then egg. Combine flour, salt, soda and Bakewell Cream (or Cream of Tartar). Mix well. Stir in cocoa. You can choose to stir it in incompletely, for a marbled effect, or completely for a more consistent effect. Form into 1 inch balls places 1 1/2” apart on sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 12 minutes. You can make them slightly underdone like chocolate chip cookies, but I find they are best if the top is puffed up and the edges are set. They are crispy and very rich when done. Yield: About 24 cookies

    126 days ago

  • dominna

    Katrina Dzerkale from Dominna says:

    I do swap with my easter eggs, but i will try cookies this year too :)

    126 days ago

  • DeEscalaArt

    BEATRIZ DE ESCALA from DeEscalaArt says:

    OMG.. they look so good..

    126 days ago

  • iworkartwork

    Irma Galindo from iworkartwork says:

    Mmmh! I love cookies! Every year my son and me make cookies and we love to decorating them, every year is different idea; last year was Start Wars... I don't know yet this year..

    126 days ago

  • aressa

    aressa from OriginalBridalHanger says:

    We used to bake cookies every year...Stopped doing that a long time ago when I realized we would eat them all prior to Christmas....It is a great tradition...

    126 days ago

  • animalcharm

    Tina Lynn from AnimalCharm says:

    Yummmm.... these all sound delish. Such great stories too.

    125 days ago

  • lisamcmonk

    Lisa VineStMarket from VineStMarket says:

    Cookie love! Those plates with the recipes on them are the bomb.

    124 days ago

  • GeorgieGirlLLC

    D George from GeorgieGirlLLC says:

    So very sorry, I spelled blondies wrong way up there! Love brown sugar butterscotch brownies (we call them blondies). I have never been able to make them and desire the talent to do so. Four batches in one week and all came out ruined. Thanks for the post, I may try again!

    124 days ago

  • accentonvintage

    accentonvintage from accentonvintage says:

    Fantastic ideas!

    124 days ago

  • oneofakindvintage1

    Luz Spears from OneofakindVintage1 says:

    The all look sooo delicious, is making me want them!

    123 days ago

  • miaandlillie

    Mia Evans from MiaandLillie says:

    Makes me wanna take up baking!

    123 days ago

  • flygrl374

    Terra Silvasy from HippieChildTerra says:

    All these photos of amazing cookies are making me hungry!!

    122 days ago

  • graficot
  • senoritasofia

    s o p h i a from MadrinaSofia says:

    Thank you for sharing! I think homemade cookies or brownies make the best gifts! Thanks for the inspiration! I think I am going to try to make Biscochitos this year - using a recipe from my grandmother!

    120 days ago

  • silverstudy

    Lizl from TheSilverStudy says:

    Yummy!!! Seriously need to have some cookies now... and a glass of milk :)

    119 days ago

  • illuminativeharvest

    Jennifer Esker from IlluminativeHarvest says:

    Good job, love those cherished recipies!

    115 days ago

  • cronopia6

    cronopia6 from cronopia6 says:

    yumy!!

    109 days ago

  • Fortheloveofimages

    Susan Davis from ForTheLoveOfImages says:

    Wow...great idea. I cherish the recipes that were passed down to me from my grandmother, especially the ones hand-written by her. The only problem is, most of them are secret.. ;-) I've started my own book with a collection of those recipes as well as the memories. It'll be great to pass that down to family members.

    105 days ago