Jean Rickard spent $400 and 135 hours making 11,000 Christmas cookies this year because her mother never did.
"I think I felt deprived," Rickard said, looking back. "I never in my life had a home-baked birthday cake. Everything was store-bought. I think I bake cookies for the same reason I felt so strongly about PTA meetings when my kids were small. I even went when I was ill because my mother didn't believe in the PTA."
Rickard stopped for a moment, startled by her own revelations. "I never said this to anyone before. Maybe it's why my mother enjoyed my cookies so much in her later years."
The cookie baking marathons started innocently enough 20 years ago when Rickard first married. "I thought, 'Okay, it's Christmas. I want to have cookies and fruit cake.' Even though I didn't like fruit cakes, I thought they went with Christmas." The first year she made 1,500 cookies, which should have been a clue to the future. Most people don't even make 1,500 cookies in a lifetime of baking.
As the mounds of Christmas cookies grew higher each year, so did the number of Rickard's "assistants." For seven years she ran a nursery school for 14 children. Along with her two children, they helped make cookies. When Rickard went back to work in 1968, she lost her assistants, but not her urge to bake cookies and share them. The circle of lucky recipients enlarged from family and friends to include people in her office.
"I did it one year without thinking I was starting something. Just for people who came by the office. Then it seemed like a nice way to say thank you to the people who help us. It started out as a reasonably cheap way to say thank you, but now it's gotten so expensive."
The $400 price tag on this year's cookie supply is $125 above last year's cost. Overall food prices may have risen only slightly more than 10 percent this year, but the cost of some of the ingredients Rickard uses-chocolate, nuts, dried fruits-has quadrupled. And Rickard won't substitute fake chocolate chips for real ones, rum flavoring for rum, margarine for butter
"I use all butter (52 pounds worth) because the cookies taste better. I haven't always done them that way, but over the years I've found they come out better than with margarine."
Rickard admits she has a tiger by the tail. She's one of the many "victims" of her own generosity. People who begin by baking a few cookies for friends, find the friends come to expect them. "Now, after Dec. 1, people in the office start asking.They come from all over the building. Some are regulars. They come every day for three or four weeks. Some of them come with napkins and take a lot of cookies. They always say 'These aren't all for me.' But I've never told anyone, 'That's enough.' It makes me feel good."
Now that Rickard's children have no time to help bake cookies, she has found herself two other assistants: her husband, Ed, and Jill Stanley, an office colleague. Stanley has been helping for the past five years. "Baking cookies is part of her job description, No.989," Rickard kidded.
Rickard's husband, Ed, is the official grinder and Hershey Kiss peeler. "He peeled 10 bags of Hershey Kisses this year," Rickard said, "and he wasn't too happy about that." As grinder he has his work cut out for him: graham crackers, walnuts, pecans, vanilla wafers, apricots. Two years ago he bought an electric grinder. "It didn't work and now it's in the basement," Ed Rickard said. "So I had to go back to the hand grinder."
Last year Ed solved the problem. "He bought me a food processor," Jean explained, but her husband confirmed that he really had his grinding chores in mind when he picked it out.
Rickard bakes 14 different kinds of cookies, plus some cakes and cocktail-type nibbles such as cheese balls and a party mix called Nuts and Bolts. The Mexican Wedding Cakes, cookies made with lots of butter, sugar, flour and finely chopped nuts, are her favorites. They are "the only ones I ever sample when I bake," she said. "I guess I must get sick of looking at the rest of them."
For three weeks, beginning in November, trying to satisfy the cookie monster takes precedence over almost everything else. "It rules our lives and I think it's gotten out of hand, but my kids have always loved it," Rickard said with a sigh. "I start baking at 5, as soon as I get home from work. I never leave the kitchen until mid-night. And then I bake all day every weekend."
As the cookies are finished, they are either stored in airtight containers or put in the freezer. Preparation of dinner tends to get left to fast-food emporiums. Invitations to Redskine games are turned down. She uninvited her sister for Thanksgiving dinner because the sister planned to bring a friend and Rickard didn't want to clean up or set the table.
She admits there was additional pressure on her this year several parties including a large cocktail-buffet in honor of her father, former West Point football great Harvery "Jabo" Jablonsky, who recently was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame.
Every year Rickard swears she'll slack off. Her husband doesn't believe it for a minute. "She'll never stop. She enjoys it too much." Rickard agrees. "I shouldn't knock it. I do love it. Besides, people depend on these cookies."
MEXICAN WEEDING CAKES
(7 dozen) 1 cup butter 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar 2 teaspoons vanilla 2 cups sifted flour 1 cup finely chopped pecans or walnuts Confectioners' sugar for rolling
Blend butter, salt, sugar and vanilla. Add flour and nuts and mix thoroughly. Roll dough into 1-inch balls. Place on greased pans. Bake at 325 degrees about 25 minutes. Do not let cookies brown. Remove from oven. While cookies are hot, roll in confectioners' sugar. When they cool completely, roll them again in confectioners' sugar. Store in an airtight containter.
(about 6 dozen) 1 package (13 1/2 ounces) graham cracker crumbs 1 cup confectioners' sugar 1/4 cup cocoa 8 ounces finely chopped walnuts 1/4 cup corn syrup 1/2 cup orange liqueur 1/2 cup brandy
Blend all ingredients by hand until pasty. Then pinch off pieces and shape into 3/4 inch balls. Allow to ripen at least a week before serving. Store in an airtight container.
PEANUT BUTTER KISS COOKIES
(about 5 dozen) 1/2 cup butter 1/2 cup granulated sugar 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar 1 egg 1 teaspoon vanilla 1/2 cup peanut butter 1 3/4 cups flour 1 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 1/2 bags chocolate kiss candy
Cream butter and sugars thoroughly. Add egg and vanilla and mix well. Mix peanut butter in thoroughly. Dough will be stiff. Roll dough into 3/4-inch balls and roll the balls in granulated sugar. Place on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake at 375 degrees for 8 minutes. Remove from oven and place a kiss on top of each cookie, pushing the candy well into the dough. Return to oven and bake 2 to 5 minutes longer, until cookies are golden brown. Freeze, if desired.
APRICOT COCONUT BALLS
(about 4 dozen small balls) 1 cup dried apricots 1 cup shredded coconut 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar 1 teaspoon grated orange rind 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind 1 tablespoon lemon juice Granulated sugar for rolling balls
Put apricots and coconut through food chopper, using fine blade, or into food processor, using steel blade. Mix in sugar, rinds and juice. Form into small balls. Roll in granulated sugar. Let ripen in refrigerator at least a week before serving. Store in airtight container.
(16 to 20 dozen) @1 1/2 pounds butter 1 pound brown sugar 2 pounds flour (equal to 8 cups sifted flour)
Cream butter with sugar. Add flour and mix well. Shape into long rolls, about 2 1/2 inches in diameter. Chill, and slice in about 1/2 inch slices. Bake at 325 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes.
If you want to use these for cut-out cookies, add less flour and do not chill. Roll out on well-floured board and cut with cookie cutters
GRASS ROOT DREAMS
(About 5 dozen) 1/2 cup butter 1/2 cup granulated sugar 1/2 cup packed brown sugar 1 egg 3/4 teaspoon vanilla 1 cup flour 1 teaspoon baking powder 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 cup rolled oats 1 cup cornflakes 1/2 cup coconut
Cream together butter and sugars. Add egg and vanilla and mix until smooth. Sift together flour, baking powder, salt and soda and add to sugar mixture. Stir in rolled oats, corn flakes and coconut. Dough will be stiff. Drop by teaspoonsful on lightly greased cookie sheets. Bake at 325 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes. CAPTION: Picture 1, no caption; Picture 2, Jean Rickard by Harry Naltchayan-The Washington Post