Evva Hanes, a North Carolina farm woman who took a centuries-old Moravian cookie tradition that she had learned by watching her mother bake on a wood-fired stove and turned it into a family business, one that now ships out millions of fragile, crispy Moravian cookies every year, died on June 22 at her home in Clemmons, N.C. She was 90.
The cause was complications of brain cancer, said her grandson Jedidiah Hanes Templin, who is president of the Moravian Sugar Crisp Company, better known as Mrs. Hanes’ Hand-Made Moravian Cookies.
The Moravians were pre-Reformation Eastern European protestants who sought refuge from persecution in Germany. Before the American Revolutionary War, some left for Pennsylvania, taking with them a recipe for a spice-heavy ginger cookie called Lebkuchen.
They kept moving, and in the mid-1700s began a religious community on a large tract of land in North Carolina that would become the city of Winston-Salem. The Southern food scholar John Egerton wrote that the North Carolina Moravians, like the Pennsylvania Dutch — whom he called “their theological and gastronomical kin” — have maintained a strong baking tradition that is hundreds of years old.
Debbie Moose, a North Carolina cookbook author who has written about Mrs. Hanes and other Moravian cookie bakers, remembered a time when you could find the cookie only in the Winston-Salem area.
“It is so singular,” she said in an interview. “You didn’t even see it in other parts of the state.”
Mrs. Hanes, the youngest of seven, grew up watching her mother, Bertha Foltz, make and sell hundreds of the thin cookies to supplement what little money the family’s small dairy farm brought in. Other Moravian women sold cookies, too, adhering to a recipe with molasses and warm winter spices like clove and ginger that were popular around Christmas.
Mrs. Foltz began baking a crispy vanilla-scented version as a way to differentiate herself and extend the selling season. By 8, Evva could bake them on her own. By 20, she had taken over her mother’s business and slowly begun to expand it, selling the original sugar crisps as well as the traditional ginger version but eventually other flavors, too, like lemon and black walnut.
By 2010, the cookies were so popular that Oprah Winfrey added them to her favorite things list. “It wouldn’t be Christmas if Quincy Jones didn’t send me Mrs. Hanes cookies,” she wrote in her magazine.
The cookies are still rolled, cut and packed by hand, with about 10 million a year sold to locals — who swing by the company’s small factory, next to the family’s home, to pick up a few tins — as well as to a robust list of national and international customers.
“I could make 100 pounds of cookies in eight hours if somebody did the baking, and I didn’t stop for anything,” Mrs. Hanes said in a recent oral history produced by the Southern Foodways Alliance. “I’m a time-and-motion expert, I guess, because I didn’t make any moves that wasn’t necessary.”
Evva Caroline Foltz was born on Nov. 7, 1932, in Clemmons, a suburb of Winston-Salem, to Alva and Bertha (Crouch) Foltz, descendants of the Pennsylvania Moravian colonists. A shy, freckled redhead with a strong work ethic and a natural athleticism, Evva was a high school basketball star who was recruited to work inspecting nylons at the Hanes Hosiery Mill (no relation) in part so that she could play on the company’s basketball team.
“I am still dang good at basketball,” she wrote in a 2017 holiday letter to customers. She wrote the letters every year through 2022, when she finished her autobiography, “What More Could I Ask For,” which she self-published this year.
In 1998, she self-published a 600-recipe cookbook, “Supper’s at Six and We’re Not Waiting,” based on the dishes she would make for the large dinners she cooked almost weekly.
The family cookie business was still a small kitchen enterprise when she married Travis Hanes, a salesman for a gum and candy company, on June 13, 1952. The two had met in the eighth grade, and he was the only boyfriend she ever had.
“I knew she was looking for a husband,” Mr. Hanes said in a 2019 video for Our State magazine. “I didn’t know she was looking for a future employee. She got both.”
Together they grew the business, showing up at trade shows, the state fair and anywhere else they thought they might find customers. By 1970, the business had gotten so big, they built a bakery next to the family home.
“We got tired of waking up every morning to the aroma of cookies,” Mrs. Hanes said in the oral history. They have since added to it seven times, relying on a longtime baking crew of mostly women who learned the craft at the hand of the master.
In addition to her grandson Jedidiah, Mrs. Hanes is survived by her husband; their four children, Ramona Hanes Templin, Caroline Hanes Fordham and Michael and Jonathan Hanes; six other grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
Mrs. Hanes was active in the 250-year-old Friedberg Moravian Church. It’s on the same road as the home her great-grandfather built in 1842 — where she was born and where she died. All of her children and grandchildren live nearby. Many work or have worked for the family business, carrying on a philosophy that Mrs. Hanes repeated often:
“We made all we could make and sold all we could make and every year we’d make a few more.”
Kim Severson is a Southern-based correspondent who covers the nation’s food culture and contributes to NYT Cooking. She has written four books and was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2018 for public service for reporting on workplace sexual harassment. More about Kim Severson
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