One of the best ways to get into the holiday spirit is to sit on the bench outside Peabody Senior Center in the early afternoon on Mondays and Thursdays and take in the delightful scent coming from the center’s kitchen. Pfeffernusse! Peppernuts!
The seniors have started their annual peppernut project and are baking the traditional Christmas cookies for several hours twice a week. Twenty-three volunteers were on hand Monday, the first baking day on this year’s schedule.
Mixing the dough starts at about 12:15, after the center lunch, announcements, and cleanup.
The dough is forced into a long cylinder-shaped tool with small holes drilled into the sides. Small dots of dough fall out of the holes onto a cookie sheet. The cookie sheet is carried to a card table where three or four volunteers arrange the tiny cookies in rows for baking.
“We work until about 2 or so in the afternoon on peppernut days,” said Judy Mellott, senior center vice president. “We like to have about two dozen volunteers for baking day. With that number, we can usually produce 40 lbs. of cookies each work day.”
Mellott said that volunteers do not need to be seniors or need to attend the noon meal to help with the peppernuts.
The cookies are packaged in 1-lb. bags. The group will work two days a week for the next four weeks to mix, bake, and package 320 lbs. of peppernuts. The sale of the Christmas cookies is the major fundraiser for the center.
“We sell the cookies from here at the center and sell them at Pop’s Diner and Peabody Sausage House,” Mellott said. “The center also has regular customers who provide the traditional German cookie to friends and family as far away as Nevada and New York.”
Peppernuts have a long and varied history with different countries and different recipes getting credit for the origins of the popular holiday treat. The same can be said of the senior center tradition — the process has been streamlined, the recipe probably has changed a time or two, and the current group of volunteers likely does not remember the first year the cookies came out of the oven.
“You know, I am not sure how long this has been going on,” Mellott said. “A long time — I am going to guess a dozen years or so.”
Long enough to make sure their annual product is a popular one, long enough to get the process down to a fine art, and long enough to become part of family holiday traditions across the country.
For more information or to volunteer, contact Peabody Senior Center at (620) 983-2226.