Well, the cookies have been judged and the winners are basking in the glow of their oven lights, while the rest of us are just thumbing through the Pelaton catalog. In this year of so much drama, given the coronavirus pandemic, we were thankful to have pulled this off and grateful for the sponsors, judges, friends, and especially the bakers really made this happen. Well done Hopewell Valley!

The pandemic really caused us to rethink if and how we were going to have a cookie exchange at all and, honestly, it really wasn’t on the MercerMe radar. Then, someone called me and whispered “possibility” in my ear. After a few inquiries and surveying previous bakers, we thought that we would go ahead and try to have it. 

Donned with gay apparel, or PPE as we know it in 2020, Anita Williams packages the cookies.

With the help of ZOOM and a stellar producer, Logan Horvath, not only were we able to have a cookie exchange that catered to those who wanted to socialize with social distancing rules enforced but for those who would rather forgo the larger gathering and participate from their living rooms. Additionally, we were able to include members from the general public who just wanted to watch the action. When the announcement went out that we were having a cookie exchange, we had over twenty-two bakers sign up in the first 3 days! 

I was curious as to why, in this most difficult of years on so many levels, people were so excited to participate. Some of the reasons we heard were that people were dying to get out and do something fun and really missed interacting with people. Some folks participate every year and want to support the effort, while others are new to the area and wanted to find a way to meet new people. The most common thing people noted was just wanting to feel some joy and do something fun and creative to distract them, and, of course, eat cookies! 

Jackie Cooper-Conard, who has beaten Renata Barnes at this competition many times, came in ready to kick baking butt.

The HVRSD offered us the use of the Community Room in the high school to hold the cookie exchange in. We had 26 bakers, including a Central High School student, and more than 2,750 cookies! About half the bakers attended in person and half via the zoom connection and while we sorely missed the over abundance of food and the necessary holiday libations, everyone’s attitude and spirit really made this a fun event.  Now, on to the good stuff!

Winning cookies – top row is winners, bottom row runners up. Left to right: most original, best looking, best tasting, best in show.

Best Looking Cookie:
Winner: Starlette Cookie – by Sarah Ohls
Runner Up: Meghan Blair – Dulce De Leche Cookie

Best Tasting Cookie:
Winner: Caramel Macchiato Cookie by Sarah Orfe
Runner Up: Jackie Cooper-Conard – Cranberry Brown Butter Scotch

Most Original Cookie:
Winner: Shortbread Chocolate Raspberry by Catherine Cahill
Runner Up: Hannah Harris – Bacon Maple Cookie

Best in Show:
Winner: Chai Spice Cranberry Thumbprint by Hannah McCollum
Runner Up: Joanne Palwelko – Bourbon Hot Chocolate Truffle Cookie

Grand prize winner Hannah McCollum

Congratulations to all the winners!  Our Best in Show winner will have their cookie made and sold by local restaurant Aunt Chubby’s so go over there and give it a try. Thank you to all those who baked and made The 6th Annual Mercerme Cut-Throat Cookie Exchange a success!

MercerMe founder and publisher Mary Galioto and the rest of the staff, want to thank our judges, HVRSD Assistant Superintendent Dr. Rosetta Treece, Hopewell Township Deputy Mayor Michael Ruger, Aunt Chubby’s Townsend Olcott and Amanda Demurrs, Hopewell Township resident Jaquan Levons, HVRSD Superintendent Dr. Tom Smith, Hopewell Township resident and co-owner of Lambertville’s Humble Cafe Annette Earling and Hopewell Township resident Donald Ade’.

Our judges!

We also want to thank this year’s sponsors for their generosity of time and resources. Big thank you to Ellyn Ito and Nina Moukova from Seeds to Sew International, Lyn Farrugia and the gang at Aunt Chubby’s, Annette Earling and Patrick Nolan at Humble Cafe and Bakery and the Hopewell Valley Regional School District.

Also, we want to say a huge thank you to good friends and residents who contributed to this year’s exchange. Logan Horvath who produced the event for ZOOM, Robert Warznak, Stephanie Newton, Anita Williams Galiano, Alicia Galiano, Lisa Wolff, those who provided PPE garb for those handling the cookies, and especially MercerMe Operations Manager Amie Rukenstein who always goes above and beyond for this event.

We had a tzedakah box this year where bakers and others contributed and whose proceeds will go to a resident who has been adversely affected by the COVID pandemic. Thanks again Hopewell Valley! 

MercerMe is compiling a cookbook of all the cookies entered this year and will be making that available to the public for a small fee in the coming weeks. Please remember that MercerMe depends on our advertisers and subscriptions. Please consider subscribing to MercerMe.com and if you have a small business or a large business, come and advertise with us!. Visit MercerMe.com for more information. Safe and Happy Holidays to all!

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Renata Barnes
Renata is the author of "The Taste Chase," MercerMe's own food review column. She's a lover of all things poetic, colorful, funny and inspiring. A native New Yorker, who grew up in Hopewell Valley and spent the better part of her adulthood back in NYC, currently finds herself in a growing love relationship with “the Valley”. Latin food, Indian saris and mehndi, French perfume, African music, Middle Eastern spices, South American jewels, Asian fabrics and anything from just about any island (maybe not Riker’s Island) are things that remind her to go out and taste the world, live passionately and always wear deodorant. The mother of one rambunctious boy and the wife of a mellow fellow, Renata tries to put her too many years of university and her film and writing talents to good use here in NJ. “I’ve spent too much time trying to fit in some where when I probably belong everywhere. That slow revelation has been freeing.”

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