TRAVERSE CITY — There's nothing like a plate of homemade Christmas cookies.
Avid home bakers work tirelessly throughout the holiday season to create their beloved confections for family and friends. But dozens come together each year to spread the wealth of their secret family recipes, to make their efforts carry more impact than just expanding waistlines.
They are the kind of recipes that have been perfected over generations of baking. The kind of recipes that renounce margarine, sticking to butter and shortening to preserve the integrity of great cookies.
The Old Mission Women's Club is one of those groups. For the past 17 years, members of the charitable club have gathered in home kitchens across the Grand Traverse region to whip up batches of their best cookies.
This year its bakers will produce about 6,000 cookies to sell Saturday at Peninsula Fire Station No. 2.
"Today, we'll probably do 18-20 dozen," said Sheryl Williams while she, Melinda Downey and Lois Manigold, worked in Downey's kitchen during a recent morning baking session."Some of these are our great-grandmothers' recipes."
"It's fun," Manigold added. "You talk and you bake."
The trio leaned over Downey's kitchen counter to finish decorating trays of sugar cookies while the aroma from the next batch wafted from the nearby oven. The still-warm cookies arranged on plates spread across the counter soon will line tables in the fire station, waiting for buyers.
The club calls on about 80 of its members to bake for the sale. And bake they do.
Each of the bakers tries to bring her best. It's a chance to show off your best recipe, Downey said.
The annual cookie lineup consists of everything from sugar cookies to snickerdoodles and everything between. Some members bake as many as 60 dozen cookies during the month-long baking spree before the sale.
Each year, the women watch while dozens of patrons lineup outside the fire station before the doors open to secure a good spot in the lineup to fill boxes of cookies.
Cookie lovers usually clear the tables by noon, and leave behind just a few broken or imperfect cookies, Williams said.
"No cookie goes unloved," she said. "They still taste good."
Anything remaining after the sale is donated as is the cash collected with the group's $7-per-pound sales price.
The $40,000 the club has collected during the past two decades has been spread across the region to nearly every nonprofit.
But the greatest gift produced by the sale probably lies in the baking process.
"In our group, you don't have to have money to be philanthropic," Williams said. "This isn't getting your name on a wall."
"It's the Christmas spirit of giving," Manigold said.
Each baker invests flour, sugar, butter, time and love.
If you want to buy some homemade Christmas cookies, the sale will begin at 8 a.m. at the fire station on Center Road.