chryscookiesEarlier this week, my friend Chrys and I gathered in my kitchen to repeat what has become our Christmas present to each other for more than thirty years. For one or two days each Christmas season, we get together to cook and bake, gossip and reminisce, complain about the state of the world, celebrate our successes and watch each other like a hawk as we double, triple and quadruple recipes that we have been making since I first moved to Atlanta in 1971.

Right out of college where we had been friends, Chrys moved to Atlanta to become one of Delta’s pride of what where then called Stewardesses. After working for a year back home in Mobile, visiting several times in Atlanta with Chrys and dating a couple of brothers – mine having deployed to Cam Ranh Bay, in Vietnam — I came to Atlanta one vacation week, interviewed with three places, found a job, went back home, quit my job, packed up my 1969 green Ford Maverick and as my Momma says, “ran away from home.”

Chrys and I had to find an apartment no more than 20 minutes from the airport. We found a garden apartment in what was then a vaguely “swinging singles” complex where Troy Donahue was actually living while in Atlanta filming a rather low budget movie. We rented some furniture, begged and borrowed more, and began what became seminal years in our lives as we plunged into life in Atlanta in the early seventies, found ourselves immersed in the anti-war movement and, ultimately, worked second full-time jobs on the McGovern Campaign for President.

That first Christmas at Spanish Trace East, we were determined to do Christmas the way both of us had grown up – we wanted a tree, we wanted to entertain our friends and we wanted to make the Christmas candies, cookies and savory goodies that meant the holidays to us. We called home to our Mothers and Aunts for recipes, and we started cookin’! Some things we made together, but with Chrys’ erratic flight schedule, she was often at home when I was at work. So Chrys was busy making French Chocolate Balls, Mexican Wedding Cakes, and Ice Box Cookies while I made my toasted pecans, Cocoons, and Mrs. Peelers Tea Cake Christmas Cookies. What a fun surprise when we opened up and shared our loot to find out that Mexican Wedding Cakes and Cocoons were the exact same cookie! I was determined to make that family and southern favorite the Cheese Straw. I called my Bum Bum (my adorable Aunt), wrote down the recipe, shopped for the just right cookie press (the kind you have to twist – nothing else works right), and Chrys and I set to work making Cheese Straws. Somewhere along the line, ¼ tsp. Red Cayenne pepper turned into 4 teaspoons Cayenne pepper. Needless to say, the Cheese Straws were unbelievably hot. Our friend Eugene loved to trick everyone who came by over that Christmas season…”you just have to have some of Grace’s Cheese Straws”…we will never forget those crazy, hot cheese straws from 1971!

So, each year since then, sometime during the Christmas Season, Chrys and I get together and cook. Our repertoire of goodies has changed a bit to include homemade turtles and toffee, but we are still making everything we made in 1971, too, including Mexican Wedding Cakes/Cocoons. Somewhere along the line, we figured out that a chicken pot pie was the perfect lunch for our cooking days and now we would be scared to have anything else for fear our recipes would fail! About twenty-five years ago, I acquired a Kitchen Aid mixer which changed our lives and has worked tirelessly over many a batch of cookie dough and cheese straws. We quickly learned that wine should NOT be involved in cooking days! Our goodies are special and looked forward to by our friends and family during the holiday season – I think because they are made with a lot of love and affection. We hope that we will still celebrate this Christmas tradition for many years to come!

Martha W. Fagan

Martha W. Fagan

The senior director of the alumni association of Emory University in Atlanta, Martha W. Fagan has more than 30 years experience in alumni relations, development and career advisement.

  1. Janet Ward

    Oh, my! I never knew y’all lived at STE. Wasn’t that in College Park, my old stomping grounds? And my dad was in Cam Ranh Bay in 1967-68. He left a wife and seven kids in Fernandina when he did his tour. We would get letters from him that mentioned birds that he’d seen and people he’d met. He was trying to, I’m sure, allay whatever fears my mom had about him being in Viet Nam, but I remember all of us thinking, “Wow. I wish we could be there.”

  2. Cooking together is one of the joys of any relationship and doing it for as long as you two have, and as successfully, means your productions are full of love. I’d rethink the wine prohibition, tho’. Janet, I got a cookie press like you used over 50 years ago as a Christmas present; will be using it next week for spritz and cheese straws.

  3. i love this! what a treasured tradition — makes me hungry to read!!

  4. Very nice…..I really enjoyed it…..

  5. This is almost as good as “Twas the Night Before Christmas”! I can personally vouch for all the hard work you ladies do each Christmas as I’ve seen you in action. So many people enjoy the fruits of your labor that I’m surprised you don’t cook for a solid month.
    And that Eugene: only he could promote your Cheese Straws which were guaranteed to blow your head off.
    Nice to know that some traditions carry on…

  6. Melinda Ennis

    As a beneficiary of your labors for many years now, I can only say bless you both!
    It would not be truly Christmas at our house without that wonderful assortment of holiday goodies you bake each year. It was lovely to read about the birth of your great tradition.

  7. Anxiously awaiting those Mexican wedding cakes…. Yum!

  8. Homemade cheese straws – nothing better! You should share your recipes.

  9. I have always felt slighted having a birthday before Christmas until I got on the list for the amazing assortment of Chrys/Grace act of love goodies which I receive on my birthday. But wait a minute. People get those for Christmas and I get them for birthday/Christmas? Shouldn’t I be getting 2 act of love cookie tins? Just kidding although it would save me having to burrow into other friends’ gifts to find the toffee.

    Lovely story and lovelier tradition, Grace, although I am a bit nervous about the word “stewardesses.”

  10. Martha W. Fagan

    Spanish Trace East was indeed in College Park! We had some great times there back in the day…..

  11. I have known Martha (Grace) and Chrys for 45 years and I have enjoyed their cooking many times other than the Christmas holidays. They are both wonderful master chefs. However, I do love the Christmas sweets that they make and I usually get a nice assortment when I see them over the Christmas holidays. I love being with them both and I still feel like I am part of their families.

  12. What a beautiful story!  Love you, Martha!

  13. This story warmed my heart and the cookies and candy warmed my tummy! Thank you Martha and Chrys.

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