Some of my best memories were made during the holidays and few things make me as nostalgic as Steenstra’s Windmill Cookies. Maybe it’s the fun shapes. Or the unique flavor — sliced almonds mingled with hints of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg in a crispy, delicious cookie. They taste the same today as they did when I was a kid … and when my great grandma was a kid!
When the Steenstras immigrated to Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1926 from the Netherlands, they brought along their treasured family cookie recipe. In the 1940s, they built a bakery in Wyoming, Michigan and began selling their Dutch Windmill Cookies. They used an automated rotary press patented in 1907 in Grand Rapids by Charlie Werner that imprinted the designs on the dough and cut the cookies.
Today, the same recipe is used to make Streenstra’s Windmill Cookies, often referred to as “Santa Claus cookies” due to the five different Santa-themed shapes and imprinted designs that come in each package of 20 cookies. Each shape and design represent the legend of St. Nicholas. There is the windmill, horse, a boy and girl, a rooster, and an owl. The legend says St. Nicholas lived inside a windmill near the sea. He would ride his horse to orphanages to spend time with the boys and girls and brighten their days by offering them cookies. He would minister to the children from sunrise, represented by the rooster, to sundown, represented by the owl.
Since 1994, the Steenstra Windmill brand is owned by Harold Voorhees, owner of Cookies Unique. They are still made in Western Michigan in Hudsonville, a suburb of Grand Rapids. “It’s a great product and a great recipe,” Mr. Voorhees said. “They’re called dunkers. People like dunking them in their coffee or tea. My favorite way to eat them is by dunking them in milk.”
Many folks get creative with Steenstra’s Windmill Cookies. They use them to make s’mores, crumble them in ice cream, or fold crushed cookies into pancake batter. The possibilities are endless.
As I chatted with Mr. Voorhees, it quickly became clear he loves God and family even more than his Santa Claus cookies. His voice grew soft, almost reverent, when speaking of Joanne, his “precious wife of 63 years.” Their love story is sweeter than sugar plums or candy canes.
“We were high school sweethearts. You see, in our Senior Play, she had the part of the grandma, and I was the grandpa … and well, we had to spend a lot of time together to practice our lines,” Mr. Voorhees explained with a chuckle. “We still love live theatre. Pre-Covid, we liked flying to New York City to enjoy a show. A lot of what made those trips special was celebrating our beginning.”
I swallowed hard. That story could make even the hardest heart melt.
While Steenstra’s Windmill Cookies heralds the legend of St. Nicholas year-round, Mr. Voorhees looks forward to celebrating the holiday season with his family. “Joanne and I have 3 children, 19 grandchildren, and 18 great-grandchildren. We are very thankful and very blessed,” Mr. Voorhees said.
You can find Steenstra’s Windmill Cookies at Meijer, Spartan, and specialty stores throughout Michigan. While travelling, check the local Publix or Piggly Wiggly.
What is your favorite way to eat Steenstra’s Windmill Cookies? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!