As the coordinator of the annual Christmas bake and craft sale that bears her name, she has spent the past few months getting ready for this year’s event. Held for the past 18 years by the Sisters of St. Francis, the event has grown immensely, evidenced by the increasing demand for products.
“The first year I did this, I made 20 fruitcakes,” Sister Gretchen said. “Last year, I made 225. This year, I only have 150.”
She said that since a remodel took place at the Sisters of St. Francis’ Regina Hall, where her kitchen is, she wasn’t able to make as many fruitcakes as usual.
The bake sale portion of the event will offer jams, jellies, pies, banana bread, coffee cake, peanut butter cookies, Russian teacakes, Polish coffee cakes, chocolate chip cookies, peppermint bark, fudge, pumpkin rolls and, of course, sugar cookies.
Sister Gretchen said the sugar cookies are gone the first day, and she has been working diligently on slightly changing the recipe she uses. “It will go fast,” she said, adding that she uses a Betty Crocker recipe for the cookies but makes a few modifications. “Powdered sugar makes them so crispy.”
Although the event is Friday and Saturday, she encourages customers who know what they want to arrive early on the first day. She added that “busloads of people [are] coming in for the show.”
Sister Gretchen works with a team of six volunteers to accomplish all of the baking and preparation, although the jams and jellies were canned over the summer and the pies were frozen in July and August. “I freeze them unbaked and the bakery in Sylvania [Brieschke's] bakes them for us the day before, so they’re freshly baked pies,” she said.
The fruitcakes are time-consuming to make. “You need three weeks, because you bake them and then soak them with rum or orange juice. They have to be in the fridge for three weeks in a cloth, soaked in the rum or orange juice.”
She said good service and an appealing-looking product keep people coming back year after year.
“Two years ago, one of the couples that came told me that the reason that they came back [was] because we wrap our things, and they're all in clean plastic bags and clean containers. We never have anything used. It’s packed so nicely, you want to eat it.”
The 18th annual Sister Gretchen’s Christmas Bake and Craft Sale is to be from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and from 9:30 a.m. to noon Saturday in the Franciscan Village’s Regina Hall Conference Room, 6832 Convent Blvd. The hall is on the northeast corner of the campus, next to the Queen of Peace Chapel.