Chocolate bonbons with an almond glaze. Peanut butter cookies double dipped in chocolate. Coffee and raisin hermit biscuits. Crisp vanilla fingers with toasted almonds. Thin crunchy crisps flavoured with molasses and ginger.
If you’re even the slightest bit peckish after that, I guarantee you’ll be starving by the time you finish this wonderful book full of festive flavour.
Every year at the beginning of December, Marnie opens her home to the Cookie Club, a group of friends, some old, some new, who might not see much of each other during the year but who meet like clockwork on this date. Oh, and they bring cookies with them. We’re not just talking a plate of bog standard chocolate chip, either. Some of the women spend the good part of a year planning their next Cookie Club offering. They bring recipes passed down through generations, concoctions the club have clamoured for again and again, ones that help tell a story or explain the struggles each is facing at that time. They package them in frilly gift bags, neat boxes, bright shiny tins, crisp cellophane, adorn them with ribbons and bows and feathers and confetti, the presentation almost as important as the contents, and they pass them out one by one to the rest of the group. By the end of the night, each woman has eleven new packets of cookies to enjoy through the holidays, and their bond has been reinforced for another year.
If the cookies nourish their bodies, then the story telling that comes as part of the night nourishes their souls. The women share their news, their highs and lows, their plans for the future. Spanning two generations, the guests are at various stages in their lives, so we have people struggling to conceive, those dealing with divorce and adultery, others who have been widowed or are eagerly awaiting grandchildren. Cancer survivors mingle with those who have been dealing with redundancy and home foreclosure, while others have overcome abusive pasts to get to where they are today. This is not a book of sob stories, but simply reinforces the message that no matter how rosy their lives may appear on the outside, everyone is dealing with something they’d rather not be.
The book has a lovely structure, with each recipe featured in full at the start of the chapters, making it a guide in how to bake as much as a novel to lose yourself in. Each woman, and each cookie, gets a moment in the spotlight as we learn how Marnie met them all in the first place, how each of them know one and other, and the specific ties that bind – both feuds and friendships. Though there are a lot of characters to keep track of – a dozen women are active members of the club, but other people’s stories get woven in too – the book moves seamlessly from one to the next.