Many of you probably don’t know that I am a cookie baker. During my mothering years, I baked and baked and baked. Now, as an active boomer traveler who tries to live a healthy lifestyle—and has to constantly watch her weight—I rarely bake. But my love for cookies hasn’t diminished, which is why I immediately said yes when Visit Winston-Salem asked if I’d like to tour Mrs. Hanes’ Moravian Cookies during my visit to the North Carolina city.
So what is a Moravian cookie? It’s a thin as thin can be cookie with a rich, intensive flavor. Think of the skinniest sugar cookie that you’ve ever seen and multiply that by even thinner. Brought to the area in 1753 by Moravian settlers, a religious group from Eastern Europe, the cookie was used as treats for family and friends during the Christmas holidays. It’s traditionally prepared with molasses, ginger and cloves, although Moravian cookies have since morphed into several varieties.
Driving to the Winston-Salem suburb of Clemmons, where Mrs. Hanes Moravian Cookies is located, is like stepping into a Grandma Moses painting. Rolling hills are home to picturesque barns and well-kept houses. Any moment, I expect to see a horse and buggy clip clopping down the road.
Mrs. Hanes Moravian Cookies began in Evva Hanes’ home—she’s a 7th generation cookie baker. The business eventually outgrew her kitchen, so it was relocated into a modern facility, where Mrs. Hanes, husband, Travis, and children, Mona and Mike, operate the cookie business.
Like all visitors entering the bakery showroom, I’m given a cookie to taste. Lemon, butterscotch, black walnut, sugar, chocolate or traditional Moravian ginger—what’s your pleasure? I’m sampling one of the ten million cookies produced by Mrs. Hanes each year.
At the end of the room, a large glass window looks out into the bakery where women (I didn’t see any men) wearing hairnets and aprons prepare cookies the old fashioned way by hand rolling and hand cutting them. Mrs. Hanes calls the bakers her “artists in aprons.”
I watch as the baker closest to me rolls out dough into a thin sheet then deftly hand cuts the dough and places it on a cookie sheet. Rarely is there a mistake or a redo. I wish my cutout Christmas cookie baking sessions could have gone this quickly and smoothly.
As Mrs. Hanes leads me on a tour (you can take one too, January to October), she talks about a time when she visited cookie machine companies to mechanize the cookie baking process. Even though her secret recipe was used the cookies didn’t taste the same. And that’s why, to this day, the cookies are hand produced.
In another room, we pass by a mixer used to prepare the cookie dough. Mike Hanes is usually in charge of the dough mixing, or another family member, since only family members are allowed access to the secret recipe.
Travis Hanes takes over the tour as we walk into a room where cookies are being packed. Several workers, including elderly extended family members, stack the cookies in a special process that insures none of the cookies are broken during shipping. By the way, the cookies are hand boxed, too.
In a hallway, a woodstove sits against a wall in the “Grandma’s Kitchen” display. It’s the stove where Evva Hanes learned to bake cookies from her mother. I guess you could call it the birthplace of her cookie baking passion.
Before leaving, I have a chance to visit with Mrs. Hanes again. She talks about the times that business has been hard and how the family worked to keep the bakers employed. One of her remarks sticks with me, “If you’ve been given a lot, you need to give back a lot.” And that’s what she does, by providing jobs for local citizens and tasty cookies for the rest of us.
Mrs. Hanes is currently in her 80’s but the cookie baking passion is still going strong. I encourage you to take a look at the yearly newsletter. It’s a glimpse at the personal way the Hanes approach the cookie business.
And if you’re as much of a cookie lover as I am, take a self-guided tour on the Moravian Cookie Trail when visiting Winston-Salem. Mrs. Hanes Moravian Cookies is just the start to a tasty day of Moravian goodness.
Looking for a place to stay in Winston-Salem? Graylyn Estate makes a convenient and historical headquarters.
Disclosure: Visit Winston-Salem provided this travel experience. The opinions, and cookie love, are strictly my own. And I’m sorry that there aren’t any cookie photos. I ate all of the cookies.
Are you a Mrs. Hanes Moravian cookie lover? Have you traveled the Moravian Cookie Trail in Winston-Salem? Join the conversation at the My Itchy Travel Feet page on Facebook or send us an email to ask a question or share your experience.