Author Interview: Ann Pearlman, The Christmas Cookie Club
Let me begin by saying, Ann Pearlman is truly a charming woman with a big heart and an interesting story to tell. This past week, she happily welcomed me into her Ann Arbor home, giving me the pleasure of getting to know her over a chat that lasted more than one hour. We talked about life, love, learning and, of course, her novel debut, “The Christmas Cookie Club.”
“The Christmas Cookie Club” recounts the interwoven stories of Marnie and eleven of her closest girlfriends. Together they form the cookie club, a holiday institution. The rules are simple don’t make chocolate chip cookies (be original, already!), make 13 dozen batches of your favorite recipe—a dozen for each girlfriend and a dozen for the local hospice—wrap them up prettily in containers that are both functional and glamorous, and if you cannot make the party, send in your cookies in advance lest you be dropped from the club (others are just waiting for your spot)! Each chapter begins with a cookie recipe that has made it into Pearlman’s most memorable cookie collection.
Our narrator, Marnie, tells us stories of each woman as she presents—stories of how Marnie first got to know her, stories of the troubles that each woman faces, stories of how she is working to overcome her setbacks. Our friends at the Christmas Cookie Club have all faced some pretty big problems in their day—lost jobs, husbands who are unfaithful or who just don’t want to have any more kids, children who have met their deaths in tragic accidents, daughters encountering a string of miscarriages and still-births or, on the flip side, are pregnant at eighteen thanks to an ex-con, rap superstar wannabe. Heck, 7 out of 12 of them have faced and overcome cancer! The vital element is that they don’t let these setbacks upset the ebb and flow of daily life. They just keep on living, keep on working towards a better life. They are always there for each other, to help each other through.
Cookies & Cookie Clubs
According to Pearlman, cookie clubs thrive across the country because they provide “a way to celebrate and give to people that doesn’t cost a lot of money, and cookies, of course, are really yummy”. Want in on the yuminess? Cookie club rules are pretty strict. In fact, Pearlman had to wait a couple of years between when she first heard about her friend Marybeth’s club and when she could actually become a member. She remembers that is was quite scary to be a cookie virgin back in 2000. There was some good-natured teasing about what exactly the rules were, whether her cookies were good enough, or her packaging pretty enough. It seems as though her grandmother’s famous pecan butter balls (scroll down for the recipe, which is included at the end of this article), did the trick, earning Ann a permanent spot in the club.
Of all the wonderful recipes presented in the novel, it is no secret that the butter pecan balls are Pearlman’s favorites. She fondly remembers learning to make them with her grandmother so many years ago and then, in turn, teaching the recipe to her own children. From small-scale Grandma’s kitchen productions, this special cookie is now in mass production! Zingerman’s Bakehouse, along with Pearlman, has created a special “Christmas Cookie Club Collection” featuring two recipes from the novel as well as one of Zingerman’s own, cutely packaged in a baked-goods box that resembles a book. Check out this video, chock full of cookie-making goodness.
Thinking about starting your own Christmas Cookie Club? You will be happy to know that a workbook companion to the novel is scheduled to come out in summer 2010. The workbook is a how-to guide on starting your own club, along with plenty of recipes for cookies and appetizers. If you cannot wait until then, you can check out Pearlman’s website for a few getting-started tips.
One notable feature of “The Christmas Cookie Club” is the inclusion of several detailed accounts of the history of various ingredients used in baking. I love it when interesting novels hide kernels of wisdom among their pages; it’s such a delight! Pearlman believes that many of us take food for granted and are not aware of its unique history and function in society. “In fact, it was the cultivation of grains and wheat in the West that allowed us to move from hunters and gatherers to villagers, and it was our lust for cinnamon that sent Columbus here and our lust for sugar that created slavery. By looking at food you get an amazing history of humanity,” she explains.
The full novel is staged right here in Ann Arbor. Through its pages, we travel to Crazy Wisdom, The Produce Station, Gandy Dancer and many other places. When asked if the novel would have been different had she just made up some generic Midwest town, Pearlman said “It wouldn’t have been any different elsewhere, but then I decided why make up a Crazy Wisdom and name it, uh- Lucky Smarts or something, when there’s a perfectly good Crazy Wisdom here and why not just talk about it. It’s here. I know that I personally love reading about things when i’ve been to places and so I hope other people would and I love Ann Arbor… It is a cool and unique town in lots of ways”. I know that I liked being able to picture the stone walls of the Gandy Dancer whenever its name came up as part of the plot. I think other local readers will appreciate the tie-ins as well.
The Sequel and Film Adaptation
The film rights to the novel were quickly picked up by CBS Films to be produced by Wendy Finerman (Forest Gump, PS I Love You, The Devil Wears Prada). Pearlman is not allowed to promote the movie, but is definitely very excited to see how it turns out, knowing that “it’s in good hands”.
Currently, Pearlman is working on a sequel to her first novel which follows sisters Sky and Tara (Marnie’s daughters). It will be very interesting to see how two sisters who are both so very different handle being new-moms at the same time. The sequel should appear sometime in 2011, and believe me, if you have read “The Christmas Cookie Club”, you will be very interested to see what unfolds in the upcoming novel.