Christmas cookie recipes have been passed down through generations of these Lakewood Ranch area families.
Christmas music played softly as Myakka City’s Sarah Wiegand sprinkled flour on her counter, spread out dough and began to roll it.
She used the top of a tea bowl to cut out small circles while her 14-year-old daughter Fairyn, stirred red food coloring into white icing to make it pink.
Together, the Wiegands were making cream wafers, a cookie the family makes every Christmas.
“I love [traditions] because it’s a part of who our family is,” Sarah Wiegand said. “We’re into tradition and identity and who we are, so this is now something that my children make with me and that they love themselves.”
Other East County families have their own Christmas cookie tradition.
GreyHawk Landing’s Valerie Demino learned how to bake cucidati, a Sicilian fig cookie, from her grandmother, Mary Antrita.
Demino recalls the first time she was able to bake cookies with all the women in her family. She was 7 years old, and Antrita would have all the women go to the basement kitchen and make traditional Italian cookies in an assembly line for hours. Each person had a responsibility. For Demino, that meant plopping filling in cookie dough while an elder watched.
“I think the Keebler elves would have been impressed,” Demino said with a laugh. “It literally was an Italian bakery in her basement. I remember going home reeking — but I mean it in an endearing sense — of Italian cookies in my hair and clothing.”
Demino said her grandmother never wrote down the recipes, so she and her mother, Joanne Antrita, had to recreate the recipes so they could replicate the cookies. They spent years calling family members asking about measurements and instructions on how to bake them.
“If I knew what I know now, I would have paid attention and watched all the little intricacies they did and all the little tips and tricks,” Demino said.
At the Wiegand house, Sarah Wiegand and her six children, Alexander, Benjamin, Catherine, Davis, Elizabeth and Fairyn can’t wait to bake their cream wafers every year. They make the cookies for when a member of the family gets married and during Christmas.
Sarah Wiegand started making them with her mother, Debra Wilson, when she was 8 years old living in Pittsburgh. She started baking the cream wafers after she had her first child, Alexander.
“[Baking the cookies] is important for me because that is where I came from and so it’s a way to keep alive something from my history,” Sarah Wiegand said. “My kids have the same beginnings in Sarasota that my husband had, which I love, but this is something unique to me, that I can bring to my family.”
Esplanade’s Nancy Musson spends 12 hours for three to four days baking 15 to 17 cookies each year. She has two giant containers that hold 25 pounds of flour and sugar. She’s not sure how much butter and how many eggs she goes through making all the cookies.
Musson’s mother, Italia Del, made at least three types of cookies when Musson was a child, but when her mother died 34 years ago and she took over baking for the family, she kept adding cookies to the list. She couldn’t stop making some without risking getting rid of someone’s favorite.
On top of making more than a dozen types of cookies each year, Musson and her children, Will, Austin and Emily, cut out and decorate sugar cookies.
Musson’s niece, Tracy Guglieri, and her oldest son, Will Musson, are fighting to see who will continue the cookie making tradition after Musson.
“It warms my heart,” Musson said. “Family is everything. Tradition is everything. It’s who we are, where we came from. It’s in the fiber of who we are and to keep that going honors our past.”
The biggest challenge Musson runs into each year when baking is finding freezer space. She trades freezer space in exchange for cookies with neighbors.
Baking cookies is not only a family tradition for Wiegand, Musson and Demino, it’s an opportunity for them to spread love and cheer by giving out cookies to family, friends and neighbors.
The cream wafers were a hit at the Christmas party the Wiegand family attended at the Tabernacle Church Dec. 6.
“We’ve had a couple people recognize them from their own childhoods and say, ‘Would you please make them for me?’” Sarah Wiegand said.
When Musson posts about her cookies on social media, she instantly has friends and neighbors wanting some too.
Demino and her husband, Tracey Demino, made about 4,500 cookies last year to give them out to people for the holidays.
Join the Neighborhood! Our 100% local content helps strengthen our communities by delivering news and information that is relevant to our readers. Support independent local journalism by joining the Observer's new membership program — The Newsies — a group of like-minded community citizens, like you. Be a Newsie.