In many ways, Anne Tabat’s annual December cookie party is your typical Minnesotan house party. Her entryway ends up covered with snow-puddled piles of shoes and everyone eventually congregates in the kitchen. But that’s where the similarities end.
Tabat’s parties involve weeks of preparation to bake 160 dozen cookies in 25 varieties before she welcomes friends from various backgrounds and generations to her gingerbread-like English Tudor in Chanhassen.
Tabat, marketing coordinator for Mainstreet Village, a senior living facility in Richfield, has been bringing together friends to gather around the cookie trays and converse for 35 years now. Her cookie party has grown from humble beginnings in 1983, when it took place in her tiny studio apartment in Chicago. She didn’t have enough money that year to buy her friends presents so she made a deal with them: She’d make the cookies, they’d bring the beer. She hasn’t missed a year since.
The beer has long since been replaced with punch, and the quantity of cookies has grown exponentially — along with her list of attendees. She comes up with creatively themed invitations each year and sends them to everyone from cashiers to former co-workers, schoolteachers to neighbors, bus drivers to guests of the original party years ago. Her list includes most everyone she meets because soon after meeting Tabat you become a friend.
Her personality is as warm and inviting as the plant-filled sunroom where many of the 28 platters of cookies are placed on the day of her party.
“We hit the jackpot when we moved in next to Anne,” said Illinois transplant and former neighbor Julie Schoshinski. “She immediately made us feel welcome in Minnesota.” When they were getting to know people, Schoshinski added, “all we had to say is, ‘We live next door to the cookie lady’ and made an immediate connection.
“[Anne] creates a wonderful sense of community through her cookie party.”
Tabat has even become a real estate selling point. One neighbor listed his house and included in the description: “In the cookie lady’s neighborhood.”
Tabat may have been unwittingly predestined by her grandmother to begin baking. On the day she was born, her Grandma Vera bought a cookie book and gave it to her as a present. Tabat still makes the Russian Tea Cake recipe from that book.
She estimates that she goes through 30 pounds of flour and 20 pounds of butter in preparation for her annual fete. She plans out a detailed itinerary on notebook paper of what recipes she’ll bake each day, beginning in early December.
She’s methodical in her strategy, making the labor-intensive cookies early in the month and the bar cookies and hard to store Peanut Butter Kiss cookies last. She stores the cookies in her attic to keep them cool and out of the way.
And she rarely gets overwhelmed, she said.
“If I don’t approach the process with joyfulness, it won’t be fun,” Tabat said. “If I don’t enjoy this, no one else will.”
Ultimately, she said, the party is not about how many pounds of flour or butter she buys.
“It’s not about perfect cookies. It’s about gathering with friends and making new ones. It’s all about getting to know people, getting to know your neighbors.
“And cookies are my medium for connecting one another.”