Cookie fame

Cathy Ferguson of Port Washington had her To-Die-For cookie recipe chosen to be in the annual We Energies Cookie Book this year. Photo by Sam Arendt

BAKING AND COOKING are passions of Cathy Ferguson of Port Washington. She often makes soups, spaghetti sauce, breads, cookies, pies and candy. Photo by Sam Arendt


Ozaukee Press staff

Cathy Ferguson of Port Washington didn’t set out to create a famous recipe, but she had all of those leftovers.

On a winter day more than 20 years ago after she completed her Christmas baking, Ferguson had a collection of ingredients she hadn’t used. She figured she’d throw them together into a cookie.

“After the first batch, I thought these are pretty darn good,” she said.

Ferguson wasn’t the only one.

Her daughter and friends also found the new cookie concoction to be scrumptious.

“Oh, Miss Cathy,” one said, “these are just to die for.”

“So that’s what I’m going to call them,” Ferguson said.

The cookie with semi-sweet chocolate chips, butterscotch-flavored chips, white chocolate chips, chocolate-coated toffee bits and walnuts has been one of the nearly 10 different varieties she makes each Christmas season ever since.

This year, the recipe gained regional recognition when it was selected to be in the annual We Energies Cookie Book.

Ferguson submitted the recipe in January. She got a call on April 28 — a special day for her ­— saying the recipe made the cut.

“I was so happy,” Ferguson said. “This is the best birthday present ever.”

Her husband Michael was amazed. He is well aware of the cookie book’s popularity and the lines of people waiting to get a copy at distribution sites.

“His friends are like, ‘your wife’s famous,’” Ferguson said.

The professional bakers at We Energies made her cookie ­— the photo of one of their versions is in the book — and their test panel tasted them.

Ferguson said the recipe chosen for the book is “one I kind of designed.”

She remembers getting the cookie book every year when she was growing up.

“Every year my mom would let me pick out a cookie in the book to try,” Ferguson said.

She loves baking for a couple of reasons.

“One, it makes your house smell amazing,” she said, and, “Giving someone a gift of cookies or a pie is the best gift because it’s made with love.”

It’s a passion that has been in her family for generations.

“My mom and grandma were just great bakers,” she said.

Ferguson picked up pie-baking skills from watching her aunt.

“I could see her dancing around the kitchen. It just made her so happy,” she said.

Her grandmother made six loaves of bread at a time, and Ferguson watched carefully.

“I wanted to make bread like my grandma,” she said. “There she was dipping her hand in the flour jar. How am I supposed to measure that?”

Ferguson has managed to nearly mimic her grandmother’s unspecific recipe.

“I can make good bread. I can’t make her bread,” she said.

Ferguson has developed her own special recipes for pies, which have won her a couple of contests.

Her walnut bourbon chocolate and apple caramel cream cheese pies are among family and friends’ favorites. She uses her cousin’s homemade maple syrup and substitutes honey for corn syrup.

For pies, Ferguson said, she likes to use lard or shortening in her crust. She once used bear lard on a tip she got from spending time at her family’s place up north in Carter. It’s considered “gold magic” in pie crusts, she said.

For those who don’t have time or want to try making crusts from scratch, Ferguson said, a Pillsbury crust will work.

Her neighbors especially love it when Ferguson enters contests. They get those that don’t make the cut.

“You make three or four pies. You take the prettiest one,” she said.

The neighborhood doesn’t complain when Ferguson bakes breads either.

“I can’t eat a whole bunch of zucchini bread but I can share,” she said. “My neighbors are blessed.”

Her family — three daughters, 12 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren who all live in the area — also reap the benefits of Ferguson’s expertise.

Her coworkers at R.S. Semler and Associates Insurance in Hartford, where Ferguson is a customer service representative, also get treats, regularly requesting her cookies.

Ferguson also makes one type of candy each Christmas, a toffee peneuche that has chocolate and nuts using a recipe in a company cookbook from a former employer, Ansay and Associates. That entails a precise process to get just the right texture, she said — too soft and the candy oozes out of the wrappers and too hard doesn’t work, either.

Baking and candy making, however, are not the only ways Ferguson shines in the kitchen. The Milwaukee native who graduated from Cedar Grove High School also loves cooking, a hobby that originated when she was a young adult and didn’t have much money.

She reguarly makes a big pot of chili or soup and freezes some.

“I still haven’t figured out how to cook for two,” she said.

After Thanksgiving this year she made one pot each of gumbo, beef stew and Italian beef.

Ferguson is proud of her spaghetti sauce, which she also uses in lasagna.

“I like all things Italian,” she said.

Some of the ingredients come from her own garden, such as tomatoes. She tried to harvest green beans this year but area deer took a liking to those.

Quilting and fishing are also hobbies, but during the holidays the kitchen is where Ferguson spends the bulk of her time.

She picks up new tricks of the trades by watching cooking shows on TV.

She doesn’t have a preference between baking or cooking.

“It makes people happy,” she said.

Ferguson’s recent cookie fame didn’t bring a windfall of cash, but she received 10 cookie books and perhaps something more valuable.

“I am now immortalized for years,” she said.

To download the 2022 or past We Energies Cookie Books, visit



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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Port Washington, WI 53074
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