Forget the snow or the advertisements for holiday sales.
Just outside Centre Hall, you know it’s time for Christmas when Margie Gaffron disappears into her garage.
The unassuming building, betrayed only by the sweet smell that pours out into the frigid air from an open door, is where some of the region’s most popular holiday treats are baked.
In the warmth of her garage-turned-industrial kitchen, Gaffron pumps out Christmas favorites from fruitcake to springerle, a hard German cookie pressed into intricate designs.
But those who have enjoyed her treats for decades will want to stock up this year.
Gaffron is retiring after 30 years baking cookies and breads. Her products have been sold over the years at farmers markets, festivals, grocery stores and restaurants. But now she is stepping back.
“I think it’s time to do other things,” Gaffron said as she started the season’s first springerle.
The traditional German cookies date back as far as the 14th century, according to some estimates. They are hard, left out to dry overnight, and are considered dipping cookies.
Gaffron said farmers would traditionally make the treats when they still had an abundance of ingredients like wheat and eggs and would store them perhaps months until the holidays.
Even today the cookies last. Some people hang them from Christmas trees. The treats are pressed with molds with images of an angel, or an animal or sometimes an intricate Christmas scene.
It was perhaps an unlikely path to Christmas cookie professional for Gaffron, who grew up with an English Quaker family and friends who celebrated the holiday modestly, if at all.
Her husband’s German heritage, and a comment from her mother-in-law, sparked what would someday turn into a career.
“I must have been 21,” Gaffron said. “We went shopping and saw these lovely springerle molds.”
The sight took Gaffron’s mother-in-law back to when her own mother would make the cookies.
“So I bought a set, found a recipe and made her springerle for Christmas that year,” Gaffron said. “And I just keep doing them. When I found molds and could afford them, I would buy them.”
Even now, 30 years later, on the verge of retirement, she still uses that first mold.
— Matt Carroll