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Teachers make holiday baking fun by swapping cookies

| Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013, 10:00 a.m.

Corinne Kenna has organized the cookie exchange at Ligonier Valley High School since 2007. She brought the idea with her from the Ambridge High School where she taught before coming to Ligonier Valley as a 10th grade English teacher.

The 1999 Ligonier Valley graduate learned about the option during her first year at Ambridge then for the next two years, she was in charge of the exchange there. When she moved back to the Ligonier area and a teaching job at her alma mater, Kenna thought it would be a great idea to give it a try in Ligonier.

Kenna said it caught on and nearly a dozen fellow teachers participate each year.

“I have been doing the exchange here since I came here. It's simple really,” she said.

In early December she hands out forms asking participants to list the cookie they will be baking. Since they do not want two people making the same kind, particpants must list a first and second choice to bake.

Then, on the last day of school before Christmas break, the teachers get together after school to divide the cookies. Each person bakes a dozen for each of the other participants.

Kenna said one teacher, Christine Felix, actually enters two times.

Felix said she makes peanut butter and snickerdoodles because they are easy and freeze well.

“I like to bake my cookies ahead of time so I can make sure I have enough. I turned my slip in first to make sure I got the cookies I wanted to make,” Felix said.

Felix said she signed up twice because her family really enjoys a wide variety of holiday cookies.

“I've never done the cookie exchange before because I always used to bake seven or eight different kinds of cookies and breads myself,” said Felix. “I am currently teaching and working two other jobs in the evenings so I really don't have the time to bake a variety of cookies this year. I knew if I joined the cookie exchange I would be motivated to bake at least two kinds of cookies and then would receive a wide variety from the other teachers. They all bake cookies I wouldn't typically bake, so we all win.”

Kenna said she sees all kinds of packaging, but it really doesn't need to be fancy because most people put them all together to take back home anyway.

The most popular cookie is peanut butter cup cookies, said Kenna. It is always the first cookie to be picked to make.

“It's what everybody wants. Everybody loves chocolate and peanut butter together,” she said. “We all work and don't have time to bake a variety of cookies, I guess you could say it is a necessity for us teachers.”

Kenna said was undecided about what she was going to prepare this year.

“I always wait until last so I don't select a cookie someone else wants to make,” she said.

She sometimes makes a seven-layer Magic Bar cookie.

“It is my dad's (Jim Menoher of Ligonier) favorite and if I make them I can have some for him,” she said.

Cookie exchanges, also know as cookie swaps, cookie trades, first surfaced during World War I. They were not necessarily connected with Christmas. Early references in old newspapers suggest they started out as fundraising bake sales rather than cookie-for-cookie exchanges. They were recognized as a “rising trend” in the early 1960s.

“The cookie exchange is a necessity when people work full time and still like having things like when they were a kid,” said Kenna. “We have to cut corners some way and this is a sweet way to cut corners,” she said.

As for advice about starting a cookie exchange, Kenna says keep it simple.

“Don't pressure people to participate, make it fun to be a part of it,” she said. “People who do it are looking to lessen the pressure. So keep it simple to attract these kinds of people.

Felix thinks the exchange adds a festive mood to the holiday season.

“I like to convince the other teachers to make the types of cookies I like best, all in good fun. We laugh a lot about it and make jokes,” Felix said. “It makes the holidays feel more immediate and bright. A little healthy competition to have the best cookie also makes things fun and really helps me feel closer to my colleagues during this season as well”

Deborah A. Brehun is a staff editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-238-2111 or dbrehun@tribweb.com.

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