How sweet it is

As with the mail, neither snow, nor rain, nor gloom of night can weaken the drawing power of cookies and communion with friends.

Putter Bert and her daughter Hally Bert learned that lesson last December, when snow threatened the turnout at their annual mother-daughter cookie exchange in Tacoma.

“We were sure that if anyone came, it would just be a few,” Putter said. “We were so wrong. People walked and carpooled and everyone came!”

This month, Putter and 18-year-old Hally will be among the countless South Sound residents holding holiday cookie exchanges – that is, parties to trade home-baked cookies.

The premise of the gatherings is simple: Bake a lot of one type of cookie and come home with a variety of cookies. The cookie-traders end up with an attractive assortment to serve holiday guests or give away as presents, without having to bake 10 different recipes.

Cookie exchanges have been popular among neighbors, co-workers, social club members for decades, and judging from Internet postings, are increasingly popular among moms and daughters.

Putter and Hally’s gathering on Thursday will mark their sixth holiday cookie swap with Hally’s friends and their mothers.

Their first exchange was in 2004 when Hally was at Mason Middle School in seventh grade, a time when adolescents start spending more time with friends and less time in activities with their mothers. Putter had fewer opportunities to see Hally’s friends and mothers; Hally had fewer chances to see her friends’ mothers.

“We wanted to do something together,” Putter said.

Readers may recognize Putter Bert’s name; she’s a former director of the Children’s Museum of Tacoma, and is now executive director of KidsQuest Children’s Museum in Bellevue.

They decided to throw a cookie exchange.

Putter left invitations up to Hally, who invited girlfriends, and their mothers, from school, soccer and the Christmas Revels productions she performed in. She asked each mother-daughter team to bring five dozen of the same cookie to the Berts’ house in the neighborhood near Tacoma General Hospital.

In a process that has remained the same each year since then, Putter provided appetizers and a big dining room table for people to lay out their cookies. Each girl grabbed a tin and chose an assortment of five dozen treats.

The girls are supposed to take home the cookies, not eat them at the party. But Hally shared a secret.

“We sneak them,” she said. “It’s hard not to. There’s a bajillion cookies on the table.”

The group doesn’t have any rules, though it’s implied everyone will bake their cookies instead of buying them. Nor do they give notice of which cookie they will take to the exchange.

“Some people bring the same thing every year. Some people are like me and we try new things every year,” said Putter, who plans to try peppermint bark this year. “I’d say there’s a little competition.”

Upon request, people share recipes after the event. “There’s always a few cookies that are so crazy-great and awesome,” Hally said. “A couple years ago, my friend Keisha did one with chocolate cake mix and with a peppermint candy on it.”

Renewing friendships is even more of a highlight than the sweets.

The guest list has grown from about 15 mother-daughter couples the first year to about two dozen this year.

“It’s not only a good time for the kids to get together, but it’s a wonderful time for the moms and daughters to be together,” said Jinny Craddock, the mother of 18-year-old Elizabeth Craddock, one of Hally’s friends. “The moms do a lot of bonding and comparing notes and sharing information and ideas. It just gives us another time to connect with the other moms. It’s fun watching all the girls run around and be in action together.”

It’s developed into a tradition that none in the circle of friends wants to miss. Some teens start thinking a couple months earlier about what cookie to bake and what holiday outfit to wear.

“It starts out being about the cookies, but it’s a fun time to catch up with everyone,” said Hally, a senior at Stadium High School. “This year we’re so stressed out about (getting into) college and classes. It’s nice to sit around and eat cookies and catch up with everyone.”

Hally and fellow Stadium student Elizabeth Craddock hope to attend college out of state, but both want to continue the cookie swaps. After all, they’ll probably come home for Christmas break.

“I think it will be a good tradition if we could keep it going when we’re old and bring our kids,” Elizabeth said. “I could still bring my mother. It could be a three-generation thing.”

Debby Abe: 253-597-8694