I don’t know when Pam and I started our Christmas baking marathons. It was after we had kids, but before all of them were born. I do know when we stopped.

We were very scientific in our methodology. We selected recipes carefully. If we used a bunch of egg yolks over there, we made meringues over here to use the whites. One year when sugar was unreasonably expensive, we found recipes not using much sugar. We learned how many cups of flour are in five pounds; how many cups of sugar are in five pounds; and how much brown sugar or powdered sugar comes in a two pound bag.

We then went through each recipe and counted how much of what ingredients we were going to need. We made a trip to the grocery store armed with a list saying we needed say 22 pounds of margarine and 3 pounds of butter and 4 dozen eggs and 15 pounds of sugar and 25 pounds of flour. We bought all we needed, even counting how many teaspoons of vanilla or almond flavoring we would need. We split the bill in half.

We were each responsible for our own storage containers. We did learn over the years that it is best to store each type of cookie in its own container. The Kefli will ruin the chocolate snowballs if stored together since one is moist and the other is dry. So even though both are covered in powdered sugar, don’t think you can store them together.

We made about 3,000 cookies each year with some recipes standard and others weaving in and out as our mood or the price of ingredients changed. We also made a dozen nut rolls and some fruitcake, but not the horrible citrine kind, but something full of candied cherries and pineapples, brimming with walnuts dates, and delicious. We also made some other stuff, one year popcorn balls (those burn your hands) and often some hard candies.

It was so much work. It was so much fun. We baked solid for a week. We worked at one house or the other and the guest cook came with mixer, measuring cups and spoons, and any odd equipment that might be needed. And then we baked. All day, every day. We mixed refrigerator cookies first and got them chilling. Then we started on other cookies. The temperature of the oven was lowest in the morning and increased as we needed throughout the day. We had it down to a science.

And then it stopped. I stopped it. Not on purpose. But I was the person who made all this fun disappear. I moved. Away. Far away. And the kids wanted cookies, so I still baked. But it wasn’t nearly as fun. It hasn’t ever been as fun since it was when my big sister and I laughed and worked for a wonderful week in December.

Sure, she gave me what came to called “the shit jobs.” Anything that was icky became my job because she was the big sister and the boss of me. When I started baking without her, there were still recipes that simply worked better with two people working in tandem. So I corralled Dick into helping. He got the shit jobs. As he was rolling out Bird’s Nests into the egg white and then the ground nuts, he asked, “Is this a shit job?” and I gleefully told him that it did, indeed, used to be my job. But now it was his.

I miss the cooking with my sister. Part of what made Christmas so special was this baking week. And then it was gone, never to return. I still miss it. It is boring to stand in the kitchen for hours baking by yourself. It would be much more fun with my sister. But then, lots of things would be.

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