KINGSBURG – With the assembly line of bakers, counters overflowing with bags of flour and baking sheets stacked about the kitchen, you’d think a new baking company had set up shop in Kingsburg. Instead, it was a one-day baking frenzy that Judy Pagel and her son, Damon Graham, cooked up 30 years ago.
“Growing up, my mom was always baking cookies, pies and cakes. I always had fresh, home-made cookies available. Bless her heart. So when I went off to college and was living on my own, I started to miss mom’s cooking, especially the cookies,” Graham said recalling how the tradition started. “About my second year of college, I called her because I wanted to make chocolate crinkles. I asked her how to bake them. We went back and forth for a few years and then we started to do it officially in 1987 the day after Thanksgiving.”
Even when Graham lived states away in Texas or in the Bay Area in San Francisco, the duo has kept up the tradition. Now, it’s evolving to include community members and extended family.
“It changes and evolves and gotten bigger and better. Today, we have people here who’ve never been before,” Pagel said. She especially wanted to have young children help and invited Sherman and Tiffany Dix and their children, Madeline, Eleanor and Gregory.
“I love to have little ones because that’s what makes it fun. And they’ll take home cookies today,” she said of their sugar cookie creations.
Graham said he even designed the kitchen of the house with baking day in mind to accommodate visitors, extra baking supplies and the need for multiple timers.
To prepare, Pagel and Graham prepared a spread sheet of ingredients and stocked up with larger-than-normal amounts of baking supplies.
“We have to explain to people even in the aisle why we’re buying five pounds of butter,” Pagel said. Graham estimates at least 30 friends would come by to help bake oatmeal cookies, chocolate crinkles, seven-layer cookies, thumbprint cookies, shortbreads and red and green Jell-O cookies.
Barbara Winslow was among bakers helping that day. She’s known as the cookie angel for YoungLife as she bakes at least 10 dozen cookies each week for their activities.
“Prayers go out with the cookies for the kids because you never know when they could be touched by something as simple as that someone made them a home-made cookie.”
Winslow shared some tricks she’s learned over the years to successful baking.
“The butter’s got to be at a certain temperature and you don’t want cold eggs. Flours are different from bag to bag even if it’s from the same company,” she said.
After they’re finished, all the cookies are frozen until two weeks before Christmas. Then trays are made up with a variety of cookies with Christmas-themed cellophane wrap and delivered to the bakers, friends, co-workers, family members and neighbors.
Some of the batches they whipped up that day included Graham’s creation.
“The cookie we’re making now with the macadamia nut and white chocolate is my own recipe. That’s the one that won the award,” Graham said of a local newspaper’s competition. “We’ve also got the kids’ table. I always buy some kind of sugar cookie so the kids can decorate them.”
Graham’s aunt Deb Llad made chocolate crinkles while his uncle Rick Galloway watched nearby. Later, Llad would make peanut brittle and brown butter crinkles. She credits their mother, Sylva Galloway, for instilling them with the baking bug.
“I like the camaraderie of it and I like to bake for people since it makes them happy. I bake a lot for work. Next to sewing, baking cobblers is my talent.”
Llad also brought the holiday-themed aprons she’d made for the bakers to wear that day.
“This is a great memory for your families. We do so much nowadays and in doing that, you miss out on this kind of stuff,” she said.
With family flying in from as far away as North Carolina, Graham and Pagel say they’d rather have the flurry of activity in the kitchen than fight shopping crowds the day after Thanksgiving.
“You won’t catch me going to a Black Friday sale. I wouldn’t want that mad house,” Graham said.
Pagel says she’d be tickled if other families start similar traditions to build their own memories, too.
“It’s a very precious time to us. I’ll do this until I can’t stand on my feet! Then Damon could run the whole show and I’ll just sit and have coffee.”