Daughters of Isabella Cookie Bake

Brenda Hoelscher

This weekend I partook of the joys of the season at Immaculate Conception School in Union. There’s nothing like a good cookie to get you in the Christmas spirit, along with seeing a bunch of do-gooders offering their culinary skills to benefit others.

The fragrance of cookies baking permeated my being as I opened the door of the Immaculate Conception School cafeteria. Stretched end to end were tables full of Snickerdoodles being lifted from cookie sheets to cool by the Daughters of Isabella, a Catholic ladies organization at Immaculate Conception Church.

Overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of cookies, I advanced into the kitchen, which buzzed like a hive. There, women manned workstations mixing, rolling and baking, while conversing and smiling, working hard but clearly having fun in the process.

A Real Team Effort

That’s the key to the group’s ongoing success, “love and friendship,” said member Miriam Sieve. It takes both to accomplish what this service organization has each year since 2005, a cookie-baking venture extraordinaire. Imagine making 1,566 dozen cookies, five different varieties. No, that isn’t a typo. I didn’t mean 1,566 cookies — nope, this year the D of I made 18,792 cookies. Go float that in your milk.

Back in 2005, the first year of the fundraising project, an idea cooked up by Brenda Hoelscher and Bonnie Ennis, the D of I made a whopping 800 dozen, which is nothing to flip your spatula at. The dozens have nearly doubled the last couple of years, with the group making 1,555 dozen in 2015.

Lest you think that mass baking might not net the best of Betty Crocker, allow me to set the record straight.

On the drive home from my interview on Saturday, I sampled the goods, dipping my paw into a package of chocolate chip cookies. They had the most unique flavor, which others have commented on too, said D of I member Jan Van Leer.

“That’s the butter Crisco we use,” she said, adding it also keeps the cookies soft. My taste buds screamed for more, but the grandkids were at our house, so I couldn’t eat too many.

Down to a Science

This project is mass production at its best. Assembly line style, each D of I member is assigned a job, explained Jan, who along with her sister, Jessica Haynes, and her mom, Jane Van Leer, were in charge of the operation this year, a five-year commitment for them, but not the ordinary tour of duty.

When I spoke to Jane she was manning a Kitchenaid mixer, her fingernails as bright red as the mixer.

“You have to be festive,” Jane said with a big smile. I didn’t have time to exchange pleasantries with her because I had to attach myself to Jan’s apron strings to learn more about this gargantuan effort.

She whirled me through the operation, as she directed the action, explaining that volunteers met on Wednesday to premix the dry ingredients, then again on Friday and Saturday to mix and bake the cookies. Of course chocolate chips are the favorite, followed by Snickerdoodles, then peanut butter, oatmeal raisin and finally, sugar cookies. The cookies would be packed and distributed for pickup after Mass at Immaculate Conception Church on Sunday, she said.

This year the D of I baked 75 dozen more than they had orders for. When I talked to Jan on Sunday afternoon, and asked to buy additional treats for the Stuckys, she urged us to get to the school by 5 p.m. We got lucky and netted numerous dozens, which at $4 a dozen are a steal, $1 a dozen more than last year, the D of I’s only increase.

Group Remains Vibrant

In an era when service groups are graying around the temples, it can be difficult to attract young people. The Daughters of Isabella have been fortunate in retaining a membership of around 150, with about 50 attending regular monthly meetings, Miriam said. She credits the group’s continued success to the fact that the women support one another in good times and in bad, and that young people are stepping up to the plate to not only bake cookies but to serve as D of I officers.

“We are so fortunate to have the members we have,” Miriam added.

The sale of all those cookies raises quite a chunk of money, which is disbursed to a lot of different places.

“It gives you a warm feeling to carry on the tradition,” Miriam said.

And a warm feeling in your tummy too — nothing’s better than a chipper dunked in a glass of cold milk, a fitting reward after you’ve tucked the grandkids in bed. Or maybe a Snickerdoodle!

Sign me up for next year. I’ll be back for more, yet another repeat customer, the list of D of I cookie monsters grows ever longer.