Leave it to a computer teacher to be organized.
Patricia Petretti might be retired, but the 70-year-old Vineland woman is still a stickler for proper procedure, especially in the kitchen.
So when her family gets together for baking sessions, Petretti wants to make sure they are prepared with the proper recipes and equipment.
"My sister and I started about 40 years ago baking cookies for Christmas. It started as one full-day of baking, but as our families grew, it became three days,"she said. "In order to make it easier for everyone - and to add to the fun of it - I decided that everyone needed a copy of all the recipes."
So Petretti took pictures of almost all the different types of cookies the sisters baked, compiled the recipes and then included things such as instructions for freezing - an important consideration when your churning out about 7,000 cookies in a sitting - and a list of all the equipment and supplies needed.
Petretti also filled her book with pictures and collages of the family at work and she made sure all the bakers had the proper tools to do the job.
"We have a family elf, and he would come and leave presents - rolling pins, chef hats, mixing bowls. They got all kinds of tools for baking." she said.
The result: dozens of happy family memories featuring children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and in-laws.
The lesson: It pays to be organized.
The cookbook isn't only used around the holidays. Petretti is well-known for her baking skills, and has been known to whip out a batch of cookies well out of the Christmas season. She's also well-known for her cakes and pies - particularly her pies.
"I keep busy during the year making pies - pumpkin, apple, sweet cherry, peach, lemon meringue, French chocolate silk," she said. "My grandchildren would rather have pies than cakes for their birthdays."
Petretti's baking skills are another product of her ability to read and closely follow directions. Petretti grew up in Ventnor. She remembers her mother being a good cook, but the young girl didn't really learn how to bake from her mother.
"My mother was a good pie maker, but she didn't really show me too much about making pies," Petretti said. "I'm the kind of person who is pretty good at following directions, so I would read the recipes."
Petretti taught computers in the Bridgeton School District and later retired as the district's computer coordinator.
She and her late husband, Richard, were married for a dozen years. She has three children, a step-daughter and 11 grandchildren - which makes for crowded, but fun times at the annual cookie-baking sessions.
"We've had several disasters where whole trays have been dropped or somebody will leave something out of the recipe," she said. "But actually, (the cookies) usually come out pretty good."
The baking sessions usually involve making up to 21 different types of cookies, with recipes ranging from old family favorites to those culled from cookbooks and magazines.
"The favorite cookie is the whiskey ball. It doesn't really have whiskey it has brandy or cognac," she said. "We make chocolate chips, we make stained-glass cookies that look like stained-glass windows. We make peanut butter blossoms, they are flourless cookies. I have someone who can't have any flour."
Petretti's cookbook isn't limited to family. After she shared cookies with a mailman, he expressed interest in getting the recipes.
"I showed him the book. He was interested, so I made copies of the book for him. He was using that to make cookies with his grandchildren."
And while Petretti might be a former computer instructor, the cookbook actually goes to a deeper interest of Petretti's - that of passing on family history and traditions.
"I'm very interested in genealogy. I do a lot of it, so I am very interested in keeping traditions going. I think this book helps," she said.
Contact Steven V. Cronin:
•5 cups crushed 'Nilla wafters
•2 cups chopped walnuts
•2 2/3 cups semi-sweet chocolate bits
•6 tablespoons light corn syrup
•1 cup confectioners sugar
•1 cup brandy
Crush the 'Nilla wafers in the food processor. Then use the processor to chop the walnuts. Put chocolate bits in a microwave-safe bowl. Use microwave to melt bits, then add corn syrup. Add confectioners sugar and brandy. Pinch off enough dough to make a ball about as big as a ball in a game of jacks. Roll the dough into a firm ball, then roll in powdered sugar.
Pat's Date Nut Pinwheel Cookies
•2 sticks of butter
•1 cup granulated sugar
•1 cup dark brown sugar
•2 large eggs
•1 teaspoon vanilla extract
•4 cups flour
•1 teaspoon baking soda
•1 teaspoon salt
•2 pounds chopped dates
•1 cup granulated sugar
•1 cup water
•1 cup chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. For cookies, beat butter, sugars, eggs and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add flour, baking soda and salt.
For filling, put all ingredients into pot. Cook over medium heat until all water is absorbed. Stir frequently as it burns easily.
Divide dough into 2 or 4 equal balls. Roll out the balls, one at a time, on the floured pastry cloth in a rectangle shape, about 1/4 inch thick. Take 1/2 or 1/4 of the filling mixture and spread on top of the rolled out rectangle. Use butter knife and spread the filling to the edges of the rectangle. Starting at a long side of the rectangle, roll the dough up jelly roll-fashion. Wrap the rolled dough in aluminum foil and put in the freezer for minimum of one hour. Do each of the other balls of dough the same way.
To bake, unwrap the frozen date nut log. Put log on cutting board and cut into 1/4-inch slices. Place slices fairly close together on parchment paper-lined cookie sheets as these cookies do not spread much. Bake for 8 minutes or until lightly browned on the bottom. If you don't have parchment paper, bake on lightly greased cookie sheet.
Ingredients for pie crust:
•2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour plus extra for rolling out dough
•2 tablespoons sugar
•1 teaspoon salt
•8 tablespoons Crisco, cut into 1/2 inch pieces and chilled
•12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter frozen
•6 to 8 tablespoons ice water
Whisk together flour, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Add chilled Crisco and press into flour mixture with a fork. Grate the frozen butter using large holes of a box grater directly into the flour mixture. Cut the mixture together using two butter knives or pastry blender, until mixture looks like coarse crumbs. Sprinkle 6 tablespoons of ice water over mixture and stir. Press the dough together using a stiff rubber spatula until the dough sticks together. If dough doesn't come together, add the remaining water, 1 tablespoon at a time until it does.
Divide the dough into two even pieces and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each disk tightly in plastic wrap and put in refrigerator for 1 hour. When ready to assemble pie, let chilled dough soften slightly before rolling it out.
Ingredients for Apple pie filling:
6 to 7 medium to large tart apples (I prefer Stayman Winesap or Granny Smith)
1/2 lemon (Juice only)
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 egg (separated)
1 tablespoons instant granulated tapioca
2 tablespoon butter
Assembling the pie:
Pare apples and slice thinly. Add lemon juice and stir to disperse juice over apples then add sugars, flour, spices and salt and mix with apples. Line a glass pie plate with pastry. Mix egg white and a small amount of water with a fork until well blended. Using a pastry brush, paint the empty pie shell with the egg white mixture and let dry. (This will help to keep the filling from leaking through the bottom crust.) Add the apples to the pie shell and dot the apples with the butter (cut it into small pieces). Sprinkle the granulated tapioca evenly over the apple filling (this will help to keep the juices from leaking out through the top crust.) Adjust the top crust. Mix the remaining egg white and yolk together and, using a pastry brush, paint the top of the pie crust. While the egg wash is still moist, sprinkle the top with a small amount of white sugar. Make sure to cut some vents in the top crust to let the steam escape.
Baking the pie:
Place a metal cookie tray on the middle shelf of the oven. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cover the edges of the pie with a pie crust shield or with crumpled aluminum foil (foil is much less satisfactory). Place the pie on the hot metal tray and bake for 50 minutes or until done.
• Baking the pie on the preheated cookie tray will help the bottom crust to brown nicely.
• Using pie crust shields prevents the edges of the pie from browning excessively.
•If making pie crust is not your thing, try using the Pillsbury refrigerated rolled pie dough. It is very close to homemade.