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Nuts about tradition; Cookie baking shows no sign of crumbling

Staff writer

Peabody Senior Center has been filled with the smell of sugar and cloves every Monday and Thursday since Oct. 11 thanks to a peppernut operation occupying its kitchen and front room.

The center’s biggest fundraiser, selling peppernuts in $6 and $10 bags, has been occurring every autumn for 20 years. Money collected goes primarily to paying the center’s utilities over the winter.

Peppernut baking came back at full force this year after a year off because of COVID-19.

Volunteers baked roughly 400 pounds of peppernuts — 40 pounds twice a week — over the season using a recipe from a magazine.

“There’s a gazillion recipes for peppernuts, but that’s the one we use,” volunteer and treasurer Pat Henderson said.

Flour, brown and white sugar, eggs, soda, brown syrup, lard, cinnamon, cloves, and anise extract make the dough. When taken out of the refrigerator each Monday and Thursday, it is pressed into a pair of cookie guns, which form eight of the traditional German cookies with each pump.

“We get a lot of men who volunteer, and we need the men to work the guns,” volunteer Sharon Oursler said. “I tried doing that, and my hands got sore.”

Oursler has helped with Peabody’s peppernuts for six years. She takes trays after the cookies have been ordered and bakes them for roughly five minutes each in the senior center’s large oven.

“I use that clock on the wall to time them,” she said, pointing to a light blue clock above the senior center’s breakfast bar. “I nearly had a heart attack this year, because I looked up and it wasn’t there!”

The clock has since been replaced.

After the peppernuts are finished baking, Oursler and a volunteer prop each tray up on a ramp made of wood and wire mesh. It was built for this operation, holding the tray in place with a pair of screws while volunteers scrape the hardened cookies down the ramp. The cookies sit and cool for a few minutes before sliding into a bucket at the bottom.

About 20 volunteers appear each time peppernuts are baked, and no one’s hands are idle for long. The peppernuts sell just as quickly as they are made, often selling out before Thanksgiving.

“It’s a real team effort,” Oursler said.

Last modified Nov. 17, 2021

 

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