The cake was for Paul Corso, but what it said meant something to everyone in the room.
Prima famiglia. Family first.
As relatives celebrated Corso's 70th birthday, coming up this week, they crowded into his west Vancouver home for another reason Saturday. This was Cookie Day -- a tradition that predates Corso or just about anyone there. It's something he and others hold fond memories of from the time they were young children.
"Fun and family. Beautiful smells. Laughter," Corso said. "Just a wonderful time."
The decades-old tradition began with Corso's ancestors, who immigrated from Sicily to the United States in the early 20th century. Cookie Day went with them to Chicago, then to the Portland-Vancouver area, where much of the Corso clan now resides.
For years, the annual Cookie Day gathering happened in Portland, where Corso's parents lived. Now the tradition has made its way to Vancouver, hosted by Corso and his wife Judy for about 10 years.
The recipe has remained much the same: cuccidati, a traditional Sicilian cookie with a crushed fig and raisin filling. The scale, however, has grown. The family expected to bake close to 3,000 of the cookies Saturday, to be shared and shipped
to family and friends all over the country.
The Corsos use five ovens in their home to get the job done. And everyone plays a role, from shaping the dough and inserting the filling to baking, frosting and sprinkling the cookies when they're done.
And eating. Don't forget eating.
"Everybody's kind of got a job that they enjoy," Corso said.
The gathering can draw anywhere from 30 to 50 people, Judy Corso said. That includes children, grandchildren, siblings, nieces, nephews, cousins, friends and others. Many of the youngest family members already look forward to the Christmas-time tradition, said Andrea Corso-Holverson, Paul's niece.
"It's really special," said Corso-Holverson, who lives in Portland. "It's probably my favorite gathering of the year."
Washougal resident Mike Broderick helped apply frosting and sprinkles to the cuccidati (pronounced kooch-uh-DAH-tee) early Saturday afternoon. The entire 3,000-cookie batch took 75 pounds of flour, 62 pounds of filling and a pile of other ingredients to make, according to the family.
Paul Corso estimated the family would bake from mid-morning to about 3 or 4 p.m. Saturday afternoon. Family members don't want to extend it into a multi-day affair, he said, lest it start to feel too much like work. But much of the preparation for Cookie Day does happen the day before, Judy Corso said.
The gathering paused Saturday to sing "Happy Birthday" to Paul Corso, crowding into the downstairs garage. In a booming Italian accent, he thanked them and said, "God bless us all."
At one point, Corso was asked for his verdict on this year's batch. He didn't hesitate.
"It's always excellent," he said.