The Cookie House – A Mercer Island Halloween Tradition Carries On

October 26, 2018 | by Naomi Tomky

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When Tara Reimers bought her house in 2011, it came with a little something extra – a longstanding Halloween tradition as “The Cookie House” on Mercer Island.

As she and her husband Milton Reimers considered purchasing the 1910-built house, located in Mercer Island’s East Seattle neighborhood, one of their friends who had grown up nearby tipped them off. Since 1945, everyone in the area stops by on Halloween night to get their homemade, hand-decorated gingerbread cookie, a tradition that is both old-fashioned and beloved.

Tara Reimers with an assortment of Halloween cookies

“Before we even closed on the house, the previous owner invited us over to learn the recipe and give us the cookie cutters,” Reimers said. That would be Mary Anne Earls, the second keeper of the cookie tradition, who took over in 1993 from Vonnie Burchard, the originator of the idea. Earls even published a cookbook Treats from the Porch, which includes the beloved gingerbread recipe.

Even though Reimers knew of the tradition before she moved in, the scale of the responsibility took her a little by surprise. “We moved in on October 29th,” she recalled; at the time, she had a toddler and was pregnant with her second child. “Instead of unpacking, we were rolling out dough.”

Initially she wondered about it – would kids really want cookies? She dutifully followed the instructions Earls left her, but also bought plenty of back-up candy. Turns out, she learned that first year, they do – and so do the parents.

“Every single kid was so happy,” Reimers said. They’d seen the house go up for sale and were afraid that the tradition would disappear. Instead of rejection, she found thankfulness – sometimes in the form of bottles of wine from neighbors showing their appreciation.

The historic “Cookie House,” located in Mercer Island’s East Seattle neighborhood

But even with the warm reception, it’s not an easy task. When Earls told Reimers she started making them in September, she thought, “what did we get ourselves into?” Thankfully, she has family locally and they were happy to help out. Since the dough freezes well, they, too, begin making the cookies – 400 to 500 each year – in September, then throw a decorating party closer to Halloween.

The tradition has persevered since a time when cookies and homemade treats were far more common, and when there was no fear of hidden dangers in candy or treats. “It feels like stepping back in time,” said Reimers. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t keep an eye toward safety. “We had a two-year-old at the time,” she said of their first year. To keep a sterile environment, they had to make the cookies while he slept. One year, she even had a nightmare that a bunch of neighborhood kids fell ill and they traced it back to her cookies.

“I feel an obligation – we can’t have health code violations,” she joked, while explaining how extremely careful she is with the process.

But all that hard work is worth it, she said, to see the reactions from the kids, to watch her friends decorate super-cute cookies, and to see how many parents let their kids take a cookie. The highlight of keeping up the long-standing tradition, for her, are the grateful neighbors: “It feels like it’s still this old neighborhood.”

Photos courtesy Tara Reimers