Hanna Knebel, daughter of Basil and Kelly Knebel of Eden, gave Santa a kiss at Steen Photography’s 15th annual Charity Event. About 100 kids had photos taken in exchange for donations to the Marshall County Food Pantry. (Steen Photography Photo)
Darla Elsen, left, and JoAnn Landreth began Jo & Darla’s Cookie Walk 10 years ago, and the event became a holiday tradition in Hecla.
The Missoula Theatre production of “Peter and Wendy” was the first public event held in the Event Center in Britton. A total of about 325 people attended the performances Friday and Saturday, and the Britton Masons served their traditional Chili Supper out of the Donald Naddy Kitchen.
A total of 48 varieties of cookies were available for the 10th and final Jo & Darla’s Cookie Walk in Hecla on Sunday. Darla Elsen and JoAnn Landreth of Hecla began the event 10 years ago and have decided to end the tradition.
10 Years Of Cookies
For the past 10 years, a café/gym setup in Hecla has been home to a very special (and very sweet) affair.
Jo & Darla’s Cookie Walk has been a Christmastime event for the past decade, and it reached its end on Sunday.
The tradition of the Cookie Walk began 10 years ago in the small café in front of the old Hecla gym. Darla Elsen and JoAnn Landreth had previously received requests for cookies, so they decided to host an event dedicated to the confection. They called it Jo & Darla’s Cookie Walk, making it their goal to provide over 30 types of cookies.
“We just kind of fell into it, I guess,” says Landreth.
Their first Cookie Walk was a big hit. People loved that they didn’t have to bake cookies themselves, and they could try just one cookie instead of having to bake a whole batch. Because of its success, Elsen and Landreth decided to make it a yearly tradition, and it has gone on for the past 10 years.
However, they needed a change in location. They started out in the small café and decided there just wasn’t enough space. They decided to move into the old gym space next door.
At the fifth annual Cookie lk, product vendors and crafters such as Tupperware and Thirty-One began attending, making the event even more popular. Various vendors have been present at every walk since. These vendors make the Cookie Walk a one-stop Christmas shop for many patrons, offering many different products to provide presents and cookies for all.
As you would imagine, a lot of work goes into the planning and production of the Cookie Walk every year. Elsen and Landreth begin baking cookies the week before Thanksgiving, freezing the cookies for decoration later.
“I did a solid week, and I don’t work full time. I worked solid for a week, every day, morning until evening,” says Landreth of the baking process.
While Elsen has a full-time job, she found time on nights and weekends, with a lot of help along the way.
“I couldn’t do it if I didn’t have a lot of helpers with that,” Elsen explains.
Each year, they bake at least 30 different types of cookies, and this year there were a total of 48 varieties. Each baker makes about 3,000 cookies, bringing the event’s total to around 6,000 cookies. Their most popular cookies are the frosted sugar cookies, and about 1,200 of these cookies alone are made every year.
There are usually 15 recipes that are staples every year, but both bakers often find new recipes to try out, which has contributed to the promised 30 types rising to this year’s 48. The number baked of each recipe is based on the number sold at the previous year’s walk, so the most popular stay in the rotation and the least popular give way to new recipes.
“We seem to find new recipes every year that we just have to try,” explains Elsen.
Careful notes are kept from year to year on which cookies were sold and whether they should change the number made the following year.
“My children make fun of me for the fact that I have all my notes in my book and I’ll write down whether or not they were a hit. They get a kick out of that,” Elsen laughs.
Planning the Cookie Walk also takes time. Once the date is solidified each year, Elsen advertises open spots for vendors on social media, and finalizing the lineup can take up to a month and a half because of scheduling conflicts.
While Landreth and Elsen do a lot of the baking and planning themselves, they don’t do it all alone. They have many helpers, especially in the decorating process. Both women’s families and friends help with frosting and decorating cookies and setting up the event each year.
“We couldn’t do it if we didn’t have helpers,” they say.
This year was the final goround of Jo & Darla’s Cookie Walk. While it’s been a popular and anticipated event every year, it has gotten to be a lot of work for the duo. It takes a lot of time, and it isn’t very profitable, especially after the cost of cookie ingredients is factored in.
“We just decided we’d switch it up a little bit,” they explain.
Nevertheless, the tradition of the Cookie Walk will be remembered by all its attendees, and the cookies will continue to be baked in anticipation of each Christmas.