Aunt Chick’s granddaughter shares memories of colorful cookie mold inventor

Sometimes Megan Bryan feels like her grandmother, the colorful cookbook author and cookie mold inventor Aunt Chick, is channeling through her.

And that would totally be something Aunt Chick would do as she nearly never rested, always on the go chasing the next invention, inspiration or project.

Without initially telling her husband, Nettie McBirney began writing a food column for the Tulsa World in 1935 under the pseudonym “Aunt Chick.” She continued writing through the early 1950s and died in 1982.

When McBirney saw a need for a new kitchen tool or gadget, she would create it, most notably the unique and sought-after Aunt Chick Christmas cookie cutters.

Now, Bryan is helping her grandmother’s legacy live on by refining the perfect cookie dough recipes for the cutters and consulting with the owner of the company that now sells them, Gramma’s Cutters owned by Carrie Falzone. Bryan and her daughters also carry on McBirney’s philanthropic projects, such as making cookies and donating them to charities.

“My husband says ‘You are just like her,’ ” Bryan said during a phone interview from her California home. “I really enjoy it, and my kids really enjoy it, so I know that her legacy is going to continue.”

And Bryan will have no shortage of stories to tell about the colorful and memorable Aunt Chick at her special presentation Tuesday at the Philbrook Museum of Art, 2727 S. Rockford Ave.

The event is part of the museum’s 75th-anniversary celebration, and organizers are excited to have Aunt Chick’s cookie cutters for sale there in time for Christmas.

McBirney credits her Tulsa World readers with inspiring her to invent gadgets such as the wire-bottom pie panel, the waterproof pastry canvas and rolling pin sock, the handy hand — a wireframe spoon for mixing — and others, Bryan said.

As she traveled for her job and to promote her inventions, McBirney learned of cooking trends from coast to coast, including a new molding technology in Chicago with plastics. That technology sparked an idea, and she began to formulate the concept for the cookie cutters.

“She started collecting images to inspire the designs; many were from Christmas cards. But then she needed an artist, preferably in ceramics, who could help her refine the designs and adapt them three-dimensionally into mold form — hence her connection to Philbrook,” Bryan said.

“According to staff I talked to at Philbrook, she waltzed in with her cape swinging wildly behind her as she demanded to meet with someone to help her implement the first and only 3-D cookie cutters. Fortunately, Joan Nordling, the artist in residence at the time, was just that person. I tracked down Joan in Sedona a few years ago, and she reminisced of the two of them working late nights together, as they both had day jobs.”

McBirney was known for wearing capes, Bryan said, a dramatic accessory to complement her personality.

“She always had a twinkle in her eye and a funny joke to tell. She was very strong-minded. Everything that came out her mouth was completely unfiltered,” Bryan said, and that included her critique of friends’ and acquaintances’ cooking.

“I remember a neighbor came across the street with a pie, and she took a bite and said something about that crust tasting like cardboard and something about the filling … my mother was, of course, horrified,” Bryan said.

And Bryan remembers McBirney helping her with her home economics projects.

“She was very multi-talented and good with things like that,” Bryan said. “She always had a ball of yarn tucked into her bra, with the piece of yarn hanging out her top, and she would use it when she needed it. Chick was always on the go from the minute she got up in the morning. Her husband would say, ‘Would you at least comb your hair?’

“But that was her, not the least bit concerned about appearances and always on a task or a mission.”

McBirney also had a unique writing style, and Bryan described her as being “the original blogger.”

“She would often start off her articles with whatever was on her mind that day and end them with, ‘Oh, by the way, here’s a recipe!’ ”

At the event Tuesday, Bryan will also share recipes for making cookies with the cutters and tips for making the cookies come out perfect every time.

“I don’t have any ownership in the business selling the cookies now. I just really enjoy continuing the family tradition,” Bryan said.

If you cannot make it to Philbrook to buy the cutters, they can be found at or by calling 888-662-8373.

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