Tough to judge SilverSneakers

Along with getting in a great exercise workout, the 50 some members of the SilverSneakers exercise class are great bakers, and the Christmas luncheon, with a baking contest included was proof of that.

And to make matters even more sweet, all 15 desserts, candies and cookies were used for dessert at the Christmas luncheon. There was a big line to sample all of these goodies.

Flora VerStraten Merrin has been teaching the trademark SilverSneakers for almost three years at the YMCA. It began with a class as small as four members and has grown to about 50 on a good day, she said.

Most class members come regularly, three times a week, with many of the senior population qualifying through their insurance for the plan at no cost.

“I love my class and have grown quite close to them. They include seniors from 62 to 91 years old. They think that I am their teacher, but I have learned more from them than they will ever learn from me,” she said.

The class includes mandatory exercises recognized throughout the United States for being safe and effective for most senior citizens. The class includes strengthening, range of motion, balance, a little cardio and breathing and relaxation techniques. It has been approved for a marked improvement in the strength of body by many doctors, it was explained.

The class is for men and women, with several couples who attend together. Seniors will come early to socialize and refer to their hour of exercise as the “quickest hour of their day.”

“We are interested in visiting each other outside of class in a social atmosphere and realize that all of the components are equally important to well being,” VerStraten-Merrin said.

One of the social events of the season was the Christmas luncheon at the Steubenville Country Club, with 50 SilverSneaker participants, their spouses or other relatives or friends in attendance.

VerStraten said that Amie Livingston compiled the recipe booklets, with one to each baker, including only one to each family.

Virginia Glenn was the guest speaker and spoke on the history of Doctor Schillings, with her family reprinting two of the doctor’s books into one. This was done with the urging of Bill Bray, a cousin of Glenn’s husband.

The Glenn family believes in preserving history and has been working toward this goal in many areas.

Glenn and I, the two cookie judges, received home canned preserves as a thank you gift. Door prizes were presented and went to James and Mary Balzano, Robert Flabert, Teresa Zrinyl, Terry Freas, Robert Gradinetti and Diane Slater.

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The date and nut pinwheels were the grand prize winner. They were the perfect combination between dough and filling and passed presentation with ease. This is an old recipe and had the taste of those my mother-in-law would make every year for Christmas. The dough needs to be kept extra-cold while slicing the cookies or they will get mashed down and won’t look attractive. Linda Freas was the baker.

Date and Nut Pinwheels


1 1/2 cups chopped dates

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup chopped nuts


2/3 cup shortening

1 1/3 cups brown sugar

2 eggs

2 2/3 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Cook dates,sugar, water and nuts until thickened. Set aside to cool.

Cream shortening and brown sugar. Beat until smooth and add eggs. Sift dry ingredients together. Blend well with egg mixture . Roll out into two rectangles until it is 1/4-inch thick. Spread with filling. Roll like a jelly roll. Wrap in waxed paper and chill overnight. Slice and bake on a greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes.

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This was a runner-up cookie winner. The tart cherry jelly gave the sweet cookie dough just the right touch. Roberta Moffat was winner for this one.

Thumbprint Cookies

1/2 cup shortening, half butter

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 egg separated

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup finely chopped nuts

Jelly for center of cookies.

Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes. Mix shortening, sugar, egg yolk and vanilla. Add flour and salt. Roll dough into balls, about 1 teaspoon of dough per ball. Beat egg white with fork. Dip balls in egg white and roll in nuts. Place 1 inch apart on ungreased baking sheet. Press thumb gently in center of each. Bake then cool. Fill center with any desired jelly.

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The contestants baked sweets of every description. One of the runner-up winners was Rose Petrella’s Fruit Cake. It is a recipe handed down from her mother who lived in Italy. Red wine is added for a secret flavor. She didn’t actually bring the fruit cake to enter in the contest, just to serve as dessert, but was urged to do so by Flora VerStraten Merrin, SilverSneakers instructor and president of the Jefferson County Chapter of the Ohio Genealogy Society.

Rose Petrella’s Fruit Cake

5 cups flour

2 cups sugar

1 cup shortening

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 cup buttermilk

1 pound fruit cake candied fruits

2 cups chopped nuts

1 pound raisins, boiled, drained and cooled

1 teaspoon cloves

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 cup red wine

Mix flour, sugar, shortening, setting aside 1/4 cup of the crumbs for the topping. Add baking soda to buttermilk until it foams to 2 cups. Add buttermilk to flour mixture then add remaining ingredients. Add wine last. Line greased pans with wax paper and fill about 3/4 full, putting reserved crumbs on top of the mixture. Decorate with nuts and candied cherries. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Sprinkle with brandy and let age for several weeks for best results.

Note: Rose said that this makes one large fruit cake, made in a bundt pan or several small fruit cakes. Rose uses small number 1 round cake pans, cutting down a paper towel tube, from empty paper towels, and inserting in the center before putting in batter.

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These cookies were made into several different versions. They were filled with either a Hershey’s kiss, a nut or some sort of fruit filling. There is something for everyone. This recipe was from Teresa Zrinyi.

Italian Nonna Cookies

3 eggs

1/4 cup oil

1 cup sugar

1/2 stick butter, melted

1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

3 1/2 cups flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

Beat eggs and oil. Add sugar and the melted butter. Add vanilla and beat again. Add flour, baking powder and salt that has been mixed together. Mix well. Refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours. Make small balls of the dough and roll a filling of Hershey kiss, nuts or fruit inside. Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes. Do not let brown. They should be crusty outside but soft in the center. Some can be frosted, some rolled in powdered sugar and some decorated with colorful sprinkles.

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Marge Carpenter had a recipe where the dough is quite easy, using a pie crust mix, such as Jiffy. The cookies are like the round filled ones but cut in squares instead.

Raisin Squares


2 boxes raisins

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups water

1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice

5 tablespoons cornstarch

2 boxes pie crust mix

For the filling, add all ingredients to a saucepot. Cook on low heat until thickened. Let cool. Make the pie crust as directed on the box. Roll out half of the dough to cover a 13-by-9-inch cake pan. Spread raisin filling on top of pie dough. Roll out rest of pie dough and put on top of raisin filling. Brush top with milk. Sprinkle lightly with sugar. Bake until golden brown at 350. Cut into squares when cool.

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These cookies have a nice appearance and a shiny glaze. They have a rich carmel taste. Linda Freas was the contributor.

Butter Pecan Cookies

1 3/4 cups chopped pecans

1 tablespoon plus 1 cup butter, softened, no substitute

1 cup brown sugar

1 egg, separated

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups self-rising flour

1 cup pecan halves

Place chopped pecans and 1 tablespoon butter in a baking pan. Bake at 325 degrees for 5 to 7 minutes or until toasted, stirring frequently. Set aside to cool In the mixing bowl, cream brown sugar and remaining butter. Beat in egg yolk and vanilla. Gradually add flour. Cover and refrigerate for an hour. Roll into 1-inch balls then roll into toasted pecans, pressing nuts into the dough. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking pan. Beat egg white until foamy. Dip pecan halves in egg white then gently press a half into each ball. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes. Cool 2 minutes before removing to rack. Makes 4 dozen.

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These Buckeyes have coconut, crushed graham cracker crumbs and ground nuts in the filling. They are dipped entirely into the melted chocolate. They were quite tasty. Mary Lou Balzano made the confections.



1/2 pound melted margarine

1 pound box confectioners’ sugar

12-ounce jar peanut butter

1/2 cup ground nuts

1/2 cup coconut

1/2 pound crushed graham crackers

1 teaspoon vanilla

Pinch of salt


12-ounce package chocolate chips

1/2 stick paraffin wax

Mix filling and form into balls. Melt the chocolate chips with the paraffin in double boiler until smooth. Dip the chilled peanut butter balls into the melted chocolate and put on a cookie rack to drip and harden.

(McCoy can be contacted at emccoy@heraldstaron