While some holiday events might be canceled because of pandemic rules and limitations, other Christmas season activities are happening pretty much as they always have.
The beginning of December 2020 again finds a buzz of activity at the Shuirr household in German Township.
This is cookie baking time and if there is anything that Andy and Carolyn Shuirr take seriously it is cookie making. Making as many as 28 different types of cookies every December has to put the Shuirrs near the Cookie Elves Level in the cookie baking game.
It all started with Andy’s parents, Norma and the late Walter Shuirr living on Fountain Avenue in the 1960s and Norma baking “big bunches” of cookies for the clubs and organizations that filled their lives.
Springfield North graduate Andy Shuirr got involved with the baking when he came home from his freshman year at Ohio Northern and asked if he could help out.
Andy started being in charge of a couple types of cookies and then each year he would add a few to his repertoire. Mrs. Shuirr had her specialty cookies and Andy had his. Gradually her baking list got smaller as his grew. By the time she retired he was the head cookie maker.
At his peak Andy with the help of his wife Carolyn were making 20 to 28 different types of cookies with there being three to four dozen cookies in each batch. Do the math, Folks. That is a lot of cookies each year. Needless to say the Shuirrs are very popular during the Christmas season.
“I liked it when he bakes,” said Carolyn. “Then I don’t have to make dinner.”
The Shuirrs, who met at Ohio Northern, recently celebrated 47 years of marriage and making cookies together. Both are now retired from their day jobs.
Andy has retired from his work as a Pharmacist at CVS at the Upper Valley Mall. However his activities with the Masonic Lodge and related organizations have continued to grow. He has been President and Board Member of the George Rogers Clark Heritage Association. At the Fair at New Boston, Andy is the Tavern Master in charge of all the taverns. He and Carolyn run the Black Horse Tavern and perform as members of the Liberty Dancers. You might have noticed them dancing on a billboard on State Route 4 a few years ago.
Together they also sing in the choir at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, which isn’t too often now that the pandemic has singing restrictions. They look forward to singing a lot when this is all over.
When Carolyn retired from her Algebra and Geometry teaching position at Northwestern High School, the other teachers made her promise to continue to bring cookies to the teachers’ planning room for Christmas.
Every year around Thanksgiving Andy and Carolyn sit down in their recently remodeled kitchen to decide which of the recipes they will be making that year.
There are nine cookie books on the cookbook shelf of the Shuirr kitchen in addition to Andy’s special loose leaf note pad holding his favorite 35 recipes protected from butter and icing by protective plastic sleeves.
Andy explained that people’s taste in cookies has evolved over the years, but they do have favorite recipes that they make every year. They also receive lots of input and special requests from family. Andy prefers drop cookies, but does make some bars, pressed, and cut out cookies.
When his cookie press wore out a few years ago Andy was disappointed in the newer models, so he bought an older cookie press on Ebay. Tradition matters, but so does time.
“Some are labor and time intensive,” he said. “I don’t do a lot of cut outs.”
Every year they start baking right after Thanksgiving. The first cookie batch is always pfeffernusse, a traditional German cookie with a complex recipe that contains a variety of spices including nutmeg, cloves, anise, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and sometimes white pepper. Every pfeffernuse recipe is different.
“That’s my first cookie because they have to set a couple of weeks for the spices to blend and reach their peak,” he said.
Near the end of the wait, slices of apples are added to the container to add a bit of moisture and additional flavor.
Andy’s personal favorite recipe is Peppermint Krisp which has a cookie made with nutmeg and topped with crushed candy canes.
Other favorites include Rum Balls, Lemon Bars, Shortbread, Ultimate Oatmeal, Gingersnaps, Dream Bars, and Lumps of Coal, which is a variation on Rice Krispie bars using Cocoa Krispies, crushed Oreos, and black food coloring. And, yes, it does stain the kid’s tongues.
This year however, some changes are being made
“This year I’m cutting back,” said Andy explaining that most of the meetings and club parties have been cancelled this year, and family get-togethers are smaller. He and Carolyn cannot eat all those cookies alone.
This year they will send some cookies to their daughter in Texas who sometimes helps, but who will not be traveling home because of the pandemic.
They have also decided to limit themselves to just 15 types of cookies this year and hope to be done with the baking by Dec 15.
However, he’s not ruling out adding a couple more batches if they mood strikes them.
So the cookie baking is halfway done for 2020 and they have already used seven pounds of butter, a large can of shortening, and a ten pound bag of flour.
The Shuirrs prefer heavy cookie sheets lined with parchment, although they have also successfully used the silicon liners with some of the cookies.
When completed, the cookies are all stored in separate boxes as they await distribution.
I could have used some of Andy and Carolyn’s cookie baking advice last weekend. Although our efforts were nothing near the scale of the cookie baking in the Shuirr’s “Hollow Tree,” we had our own family cookie baking last Saturday.
We still managed to make seven different types of cookies. Our iced cookie decorators in elementary school have reached their prime, so we had maximum participation and even had cookies left over to take home.
Everyone posted photos of coffee and cookies for breakfast the next morning.
I hope you all are able to find joy in the traditional Christmas activities at home. It seems like the restrictions on concerts, restaurants, parties, games, etc have given us more time to relish the traditions of the season in our own places with family.
This is the perfect year to reintroduce some of those older family recipes, homemade fudge, and hot cocoa by the fireplace or even while watching the Yule Log on television.
Savor the old flavors, relax, and relish the quiet beauty of Christmas’ past. Enjoy the season, and be merry!
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