Look Back at History: Old tin-stamped cookies at Christmastime a Pennsylvania Dutch Tradition & treat

Hormon Foose, a creative tinsmith from Fleetwood, was one of those craftsmen that demonstrated his artistic abilities at the Kutztown Folk Festival and made tin cut-out cookie cutters which were collected by many families. In 1973, Foose was invited to demonstrate at the National Craft Festival at Silver Dollar City, Missouri in the heart of America’s Ozarks with other celebrated craftsmen, a well-deserved Americana honor. But PA Deitsch antique cookie cutters are rare today, replaced by plastic varieties or cheap aluminum reproductions. However, it still took a skilled PA Dutch cook to create a mouth watering cut-out Christmas treat with or without a hot coffee or cocoa or glass of milk. Some of our exceptional cut-out cookies were almost twelve inches high, and made a most decorative Christmas gift. But even with Hormon passing almost twenty years (d.1997) and a devastating fire in more recent years, the family tradition carries on in my hometown of Fleetwood.

Cut-out tin cookie cutters of angels, shepherds, and the star of Bethlehem were popular, as well as all the animals associated with the stable in which Jesus Christ was born to Mary and Joseph. Also, secular images of the American eagle and the tools which immigrants used to build their frontier log homes like hatchets and axes were also unique and prized cutters. But the large nativity Christmas cookie cutters made by Hormon Foose in the 1970’s, including the Three Wise Men was very unique, a tribute to his talented craftsmanship and all the tinsmiths everywhere who celebrated Christmas.

Prior to commercial bakers selling packaged cookies, PA Dutch families baked a large amount of cut-out Christmas cookies that had become a family affair, baking so many homemade Christmas cookies; they were stored in empty lard cans to eat with family and friends over the Christmas season. Farm families who always had pantries with large flour chests did not fall short of baking supplies to bake holiday treats, and almost every PA Deitsch family in Berks and Lehigh Counties had a large collection of tin cut-outs made by the neighborhood tinsmith over the years that became revered heirlooms handed down by the housewife.

But of all the traditional treats associated with Christmas among the PA Deitsch or Dutch, the hands-on practice of making folk cut-out Christmas cookies from age old tin-stamped cookie designs made for this holiday, is a religious folklife commemoration that lives within the hearts of PA Dutch families everywhere. Delicious homemade cookies were eaten by native farm families who looked upon this communion with family and friends as though it were a religious sacrament, substituting wine for coffee and hot chocolate in the middle of a cold winter season. These tasty cut-out cookies in all domestic or animal shapes became a housewife’s culinary delight.

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True to our Christian beliefs, few cut-out images are in the shape of a Christian cross or the image of Christ, which is usually the prerogative of the clergy or one’s church. However, tinsmiths whose imagination ran rampant when it comes to designing tin shapes to stamp out creative earthly representations of our farming culture, have made so many collectible designs that unusual large antique cookie cutters may bring one-two hundred dollars on the auction block. Christmas family get-togethers, eating cut-out cookies over the holidays and sharing Christmas cheer, are distinctively PA Dutch as a belief in a humanitarian world with World Peace.