Disclaimer: I am not the first person from The State to talk to Tami Ruczko, nor do I think I shall be the last. Mrs. Ruczko reached out to me, telling me about a cookie swap that she had organized and was now celebrating its 25th anniversary. Would I be interested in attending? Sounds interesting, I say, and after getting her address, 45 minutes later she wraps up the conversation with “drive slowly and watch out for the deer.”
Sometimes you just never know what to expect.
Five minutes into our initial conversation, I had figured out that Tami Ruczko was a hoot. I cannot attend, nor can the paper send someone to every event that we become aware of but Tami Ruczko’s 25th anniversary Cookie Swap sounded like fun (and besides, my editor needed a holiday cookie story).
Ruczko started The Swap back in 1990 when she and her husband bought a new home in Chapin. There weren’t many neighbors around and, at the time, Tami was a stay-at-home mom with two kids. She started planning this party and invited 10 friends. Since then, although ladies come and go, there are about 17 attendees each year. This year being an anniversary, 27 have RSVP-ed.
“Have you heard about The Rules?” was a common question asked of me by just about everyone that I spoke to at The Swap.
Tami is famous for her Rules of the Swap.
Evidently, in the beginning, there were some loose rules of conduct: how many cookies should be made, how they should be divided up, would there be extras for sampling, etc.
Over the years, Tami has codified a list of just how things should be done...and everyone knows them by heart.
“You’re not allowed to repeat a recipe. The cookies must be made from scratch,” counts off Teresa White, a 16-year veteran of the Swap. “And you can get ‘called out’ if you ignore or break a rule.”
“No bars, no no-bakes, no candies!,” someone chimes in.
“The cookies are analyzed,” says Crystal Haltiwanger, “And sometimes ‘helpful hints’ are offered to you for next time.” This is her third year and admits to have been intimidated by the rules her first year, as a Newbie.
Clara Slice has been attending The Swap for nine years. She met Tami through church. She “enjoys the cookies and the structure” of the party.
By structure Slice means that, in addition to The Rules: the official start time is 6:30 p.m. Your packaged cookies are dropped off in the kitchen or carport as you enter. Attendees mix and mingle for a bit until The Swap begins around 7:30. At that time, Tami and her daughter Ashlyn bring out each person’s contribution, one at a time, and distribute the goodies (Rule: cookies must be accompanied by the recipe and the contributor’s name must be on both recipe and a label attached to the cookie package).
The Swap: Presentation is Key
Another Rule of note: Presentation is key. Choose a theme and somehow work the cookie, its packaging, the paper the recipe is printed on, and YOUR OUTFIT into a cohesive unit. A couple of ladies really “showed out” (went for it) this year: Renee Hope was in New York City when inspiration struck. She made New York Cheesecake Cookies, packaged in goodie bags printed with a map of the New York Subway; the recipe paper featured NYC iconic figures (Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, yellow cabs, etc) and she wore a pair of souvenir NYC pajamas and Yellow Cab slippers.
Sandy Redfern stood out in her Sock Monkey PJs, hat, slippers and blanket, her Mocha Kisses Cookies were in bags with miniature Sock Monkey toys attached and she made her own Sock Monkey themed recipe paper.
Pajamas, you ask? Well, when the ladies learned that 2014 would mark the 25th year, they decided to do something different. Tami would break out her good silver (for the silver anniversary), champagne would flow (at a normally dry event) and the ladies would dress comfortably in their favorite pajamas.
What can I say, the whole experience was a hoot! ... And the ladies are already planning for next year.
Easy Cookie Cutter Dough
Makes 3 dozen
1 cup soft margarine or butter
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
Cream butter and sugar. Beat in egg and vanilla. Add baking powder and flour, one cup at a time. Blend last cup of flour in by hand.
Roll out by hand on a floured surface and cut cookies.
Bake cookies on ungreased baking sheet 6-7 minutes at 400 degrees or until lightly browned.
Lemon Crinkle Cookies
Makes 2 1/2 dozen
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 whole egg
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease light colored baking sheets with non-stick cooking spray and set aside. If using a non-stick darker tray, reduce baking time by 2 minutes.
In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Whip in vanilla, egg, lemon zest and juice. Scrape side and mix again. Stir in all dry ingredients slowly until just combined, excluding the powdered sugar. Scrape sides of bowl and mix again briefly. Pour powdered sugar onto a large plate. Roll a heaping teaspoon of dough into a ball and roll in powdered sugar. Place on baking sheet and repeat with remaining dough.
Bake for 9-11 minutes or until bottoms begin to barely brown and cookies look matte (not melty or shiny). Remove from oven and cool cookies about 3 minutes before transferring to cooking rack.
Makes 3 dozen
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup mayonnaise (not salad dressing)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla;la extract (or any flavor you choose)
raw sugar for sprinkling
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all ingredients together. Work the dough with your hands, you want dough that holds together but isn’t oily and is a little crumbly. Form cookies by pinching off bits of dough and rolling into balls. Place balls on cookie sheet and criss-cross the tops with a fork. Sprinkle with raw sugar and bake until very light tan on edges, about 12 minutes.
Makes 4 dozen
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup Graham cracker crumbs
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 dash cinnamon
2 sticks butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups mini marshmallows
2 Hershey bars, chopped3/4 cup sugar
2 cups mini chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine flour, graham cracker crumbs, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in a medium bowl.
In a large bowl, beat butter, brown sugar and vanilla until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Slowly beat in the flour mixture until smooth. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake for 8 minutes. Remove cookies from oven. Push 3 to 4 marshmallows and a few pieces of Hershey chocolate bar into each cookie. return to oven and bake 3-4 minutes until fully cooked.
contributed by Lisa Weir