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Kitchen Histories: The Great Cookie Swap

Dec 11, 2013

by Sarah Lohman handmade and vintage goods

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’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.


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.”


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.”


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.


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 said 6 years ago

    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!

  • LivingVintage

    LivingVintage from LivingVintage said 6 years ago

    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.

  • FluffyFlowers

    FluffyFlowers from FluffyFlowers said 6 years ago

    What a wonderful holiday tradition :)

  • Fiume

    Erin O'Rourke from Aruguletta said 6 years ago

    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.

  • bpdmso

    Mary from MarySanzJewelry said 6 years ago

    Cookies Yummy! Thanks for sharing :)

  • derinmavi

    Selin from LimonYesili said 6 years ago

    Thanks for sharing this story!

  • msb37

    Susan from DesignsbyMSusan said 6 years ago

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

  • jizbasusan

    Susan Jizba from TheWeaverOfWords said 6 years ago

    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!

  • agebo

    Ann Cosgrove from acbcDesign said 6 years ago

    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!

  • ClassicMemories

    ClassicMemories from ClassicMemories said 6 years ago

    The cookies look totally yummy.

  • Agasart

    Aga from AgasJourney said 6 years ago

    yummy beauties.

  • ikabags

    IKA PARIS from ikabags said 6 years ago

    Thanks for sharing this story , totally yummy !

  • LedaDesign

    Leda Design from LedaDesign said 6 years ago

    Looks like yummy!

  • daydreamjewels

    Rosalia from daydreamjewels said 6 years ago

    Everything looks delicious :)

  • trashbaggs

    Jayme from trashbaggs said 6 years ago

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

  • realfaery

    realfaery from realfaery said 6 years ago

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

  • admspeicher
  • laurastark

    Laura Stark from laurastark said 6 years ago

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

  • PepitasStudio

    Pepitas House from PepitasStudio said 6 years ago

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

  • farandtwee

    Vintage Minnow from VintageMinnow said 6 years ago

    always searching for the perfect holiday cookie!

  • tigletandme

    Sandra from GiftTagLady said 6 years ago

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

  • gboliver

    Gail Oliver from AttentionGetting said 6 years ago

    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!

  • TheBloomingHare

    Gretchen Ellen Powers from TheBloomingHare said 6 years ago

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

  • darrad

    darrad said 6 years ago

    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!

  • jamieshelman

    Jamie Shelman from jamieshelman said 6 years ago

    yum yum!

  • littleshopofphotos

    Michele Iljazi from OneDecember said 6 years ago

    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!

  • ddimiourgies

    VL from CraftStories said 6 years ago

    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!

  • TigerMuse

    TigerMuse from CalliopeArt said 6 years ago

    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"...!

  • AbleAprons

    Erika Kelly from PortlandApronCompany said 6 years ago

    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!

  • CafePrimrose

    Amanda Gynther from CafePrimrose said 6 years ago

    Great article! I love kitchen histories

  • mazedasastoat

    mazedasastoat from mazedasastoat said 6 years ago

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

  • WomanShopsWorld

    Carter Seibels Singh from WomanShopsWorld said 6 years ago 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!

  • rebeccasanchez

    rebeccasanchez from rebeccasanchez said 6 years ago

    I love exchanging homemade cookies for the holidays!

  • LazyTcrochet

    Tricia from LazyTcrochet said 6 years ago

    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.

  • EdelweissPost

    Patrick from EdelweissPost said 6 years ago

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

  • GracefullyGirly

    Kimberlee from GracefullyGirly said 6 years ago

    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!

  • BambuEarth

    Amber from BambuEarth said 6 years ago

    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!

  • ACupOfSparkle

    ACupOfSparkle from ACupOfSparkle said 6 years ago

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

  • silverlily786

    Fatema from SilverLilyJewelry said 6 years ago

    Short bread!

  • lorettawarner

    Loretta Warner from lorettawarner said 6 years ago

    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" !!!

  • KMalinka

    Natalia from KMalinkaVintage said 6 years ago

    Awesome article! I love cookies!

  • lindyjean

    Linda from bitsokits said 6 years ago

    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.....

  • laramored

    Anemone from AnemoneReadsVintage said 6 years ago

    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!

  • ballandchain

    Katrina Balling from ballandchain said 6 years ago

    mmmmm coooookies

  • ballandchain

    Katrina Balling from ballandchain said 6 years ago

    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.

  • BlackBreezy

    Gabrielle said 6 years ago

    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!

  • lesniakorientalrugs

    Mike and Jess from JessiesOrientalRugs said 6 years ago

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

  • SugarMeDesserterie

    Teresa from SugarMeDesserterie said 6 years ago

    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.

  • katherinedooren

    katherine Lenz from 214EVER said 6 years ago


  • BennBooCreations

    BennBoo Creations from BennBooCreations said 6 years ago

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

  • MsGirlyGeekChic

    Wende from PrintACookie said 6 years ago

    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!

  • Laladesignstudio

    Lala Jewelry from Laladesignstudio said 6 years ago

    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!

  • jesabaker

    Jessica Baker from JessFindsVintage said 6 years ago

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

  • TheChequeredLily

    Kimberly Bouchu from TheChequeredLily said 6 years ago

    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! ^_^

  • fancy4u

    fancy4u from BrushAndFeather said 6 years ago

    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.

  • tmrestoarts

    Tamara Pohlman from TMRestoArts said 6 years ago

    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!

  • katherinedooren

    katherine Lenz from 214EVER said 6 years ago


  • SymbolicImports

    Angel from SymbolicImports said 6 years ago

    Delish!! Great story for the Holidays :)

  • emmacwells

    Emma Wells from BeachBirds said 6 years ago

    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 :)

  • mattyhandmadecrafts

    Matejka Max from NattyMatty said 6 years ago

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

  • GeorgieGirlLLC

    D George from GeorgieGirlLLC said 6 years ago

    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!

  • johannaspeizer

    Johanna S from UnfadingLouise said 6 years ago

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

  • hellome

    April from hellome said 6 years ago

    Mmmm, I'll take one of each!

  • divinecartomancy

    Bren from PsychicBren said 6 years ago

    I gained Ten pounds just by reading this

  • YearsAfter

    Sharon from YearsAfter said 6 years ago

    Those Cookies all look great especially the Sugar Butterscotch Brownies!

  • unflappableproducts

    unflappableproducts from unflappableproducts said 6 years ago

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

  • PennyBirchWilliams

    Penny Birch-Williams from PennyBirchWilliams said 6 years ago

    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.

  • ThePolkadotMagpie

    Polkadot Magpie from ThePolkadotMagpie said 6 years ago

    Sounds delicious!

  • cottonbirddesigns

    Angela Cotton from CottonBirdDesigns said 6 years ago


  • ThreeBarDGifts

    Monica from ThreeBarDGifts said 6 years ago

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

  • Themissingtagvintage

    Caroline and Brandon Matey from TheMissingTagVintage said 6 years ago

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

  • Selkiechick

    Selkiechick said 6 years ago

    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

  • dominna

    Katrina Dzerkale from Dominna said 6 years ago

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

  • DeEscalaArt

    BEATRIZ DE ESCALA from DeEscalaArt said 6 years ago

    OMG.. they look so good..

  • iworkartwork

    Irma Galindo from iworkartwork said 6 years ago

    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..

  • aressa

    aressa from OriginalBridalHanger said 6 years ago

    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...

  • animalcharm

    Tina from AnimalCharm said 6 years ago

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

  • lisamcmonk

    Lisa VineStMarket from VineStMarket said 6 years ago

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

  • GeorgieGirlLLC

    D George from GeorgieGirlLLC said 6 years ago

    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!

  • accentonvintage

    accentonvintage from accentonvintage said 6 years ago

    Fantastic ideas!

  • oneofakindvintage1

    Luz Spears from OneofakindVintage1 said 6 years ago

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

  • miaandlillie

    Mia Evans from MiaandLillie said 6 years ago

    Makes me wanna take up baking!

  • flygrl374

    Terra Silvasy from HippieChildTerra said 6 years ago

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

  • graficot

    Shlomit's Art from shlomitsart said 6 years ago

    very nice

  • senoritasofia

    s o p h i a from MadrinaSofia said 6 years ago

    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!

  • silverstudy

    Lizl from TheSilverStudy said 6 years ago

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

  • illuminativeharvest

    Jennifer Presler from IlluminativeHarvest said 6 years ago

    Good job, love those cherished recipies!

  • cronopia6

    cronopia6 from cronopia6 said 6 years ago


  • Fortheloveofimages

    Susan Davis from ForTheLoveOfImages said 6 years ago

    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.

  • korenkwan

    Koren Kwan from GarasuWonderland said 5 years ago


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