Along with the holly branches, mistletoe, and ornaments that adorn halls and hearths of families during Christmas time, there are the treats. Popcorn balls, peanut brittle, and egg nog can all be found both on the tables and in our bellies at Christmas, but most important are the cookies. While other treats are delightful, few are as iconic as the Christmas cookie. A cookie, unlike a chunk of brittle or a spiked beverage, can be shaped into the form of a tree, a snowman, a star, or a candy cane. And where would Santa be if he had just a glass of milk?
One of the most interesting facts about Christmas or holiday cookies is that they are represented throughout the world. For example, in Bavaria and Austria, anise-flavored spingerle cookies are the traditional holiday cookies because the springerle are stamped with holiday-themed pictures like reindeer. The Neapolitans have an S-shaped cookie called susamielli, which is covered with sesame seeds.
No matter how you celebrate the holidays, cookies can add a bit of cheer, and for one neighborhood of Pittsburgh they add customers to the local businesses as well. Each year businesses from the 16:62 Design Zone and other Lawrenceville shops feature a cookie during the holiday season and attempt to attract shoppers inside for cookies in the hopes that they will leave with more. The cookie tour, once called the Joy of Cookies Tour, was renamed this year as the International Cookie Festival. Sixteen shops featured a cookie from around the world. Beside each shop’s cookies were small white recipe cards intended to perhaps inspire international cookies to pop up all over Pittsburgh.
The cookie tour was started by Jay Bernard, proprietor of Jay Design Soap and Gifts at 4603 Butler St. At Jay Design, shoppers bustled through the small store. Though the smell was sweet inside, it was more from the soaps than from the cookies, which were hidden away from view and required some investigation to discover. A variety of cookies was displayed, and without a recipe card it was a challenge to tell what country might have provided the spread.
Mary Coleman, owner of the Gallery on 43rd Street, initiated the idea of expanding the cookie tour event to include international cookies. “[The tour] grew and expanded to reflect the neighborhood,” Coleman said, explaining that part of the goal of this year’s tour was to include “new businesses and other businesses who hadn’t participated, and to make it new for those of us who do it all the time.”
The Gallery on 43rd Street featured Spanish churros and offered coffee to patrons. Another special part of the Gallery on 43rd at Christmas is the calligraphy artist employed to personalize Christmas ornaments. Woolen winter scarves, ornaments, and choir angels are all among the gifts featured at the Gallery on 43rd.
Other cookie stops included Salon 22, a hair salon that was kindly giving out Russian tea cookies along with hair product samples. At Picturesque Photography and Gifts, the Chinese almond cookies were much less plentiful than the portrait examples that owner Brenda Knoll offers. Customers can bring in photos or have photos taken and made into keepsakes, T-shirts, necklaces, or just framed pictures. “For me this is pure advertisement,” said Knoll of the International Cookie Festival. “I’m different than the other shops, since I’m a custom manufacturer. During the cookie tour, people come in and get ideas.”