The fact that there’s rarely anything new about Moravian cookies, the paper-thin spice cookies made for centuries in and around Winston-Salem, North Carolina, is a part of their charm. But this holiday season, an old name in the Moravian cookie world has made a reappearance. The Wilkerson family, descendants of one of the cookie’s major innovators, has launched Wilkerson Moravian Bakery to make the delicate and delicious treats—and ship them nationwide.
The Moravian church is one of the oldest Protestant denominations, dating back to ancient Moravia (modern-day Czech Republic). Initially settling in Pennsylvania, a group of Moravians migrated south by foot to Bethabara, Bethania, and Salem, North Carolina, in the 1750s, bringing with them their traditions, such as their spice cookie, rich with ginger, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, nutmeg, molasses, and brown sugar.
Of all the people who have mixed, kneaded, rolled, cut, and baked Moravian spice cookies over the last three centuries, Dewey Guy Wilkerson is among the most well-known. A devout Moravian who taught Sunday school every week, he started baking with his in-laws in the 1920s at Jones Brothers Bakery in Greensboro, before settling in Winston-Salem in 1930 and creating a bakery of his own.
“He kept experimenting with the techniques of making these traditional cookies,” says Chelsi Wilkerson, Dewey’s great granddaughter and the president of Wilkerson Moravian Bakery. “He kept rolling them until they were thinner and thinner, and he realized that the thinner they were, the more people liked them.” Soon, other bakers were trying to emulate his super-thin cookies. (For the record, the Wilkersons claim theirs are still the thinnest on the market.)
His bakery eventually became Dewey’s, one of the most prominent purveyors of the cookie. But in 2011, the Wilkerson family sold the company, and for the last decade, they have only baked for friends and family. Last year, though, the family launched a new bakery as a pop-up throughout Winston-Salem, and this year rebranded it under the family name and established a storefront for this holiday season, with hopes of finding a permanent location in the near future. “My great grandfather first opened his shop during the Great Depression, and we opened during COVID,” Wilkerson says. “I feel like we’ve brought it full circle.”
The cookie shapes symbolize different themes, such as the twelve days of Christmas, the circle of life, and the twenty-six-point Moravian star, which represents hope. They also come in six flavors including sugar, lemon, and butter rum, which is inspired by Blackbeard and contains Kill Devil Hills rum from the Outer Banks. The Wilkersons are currently developing a seventh flavor—chocolate—and samples may be found locally this season. But the crowd favorite, of course, is the flagship spice cookie. “That’s my favorite, too,” Wilkerson says. “We really do get a lot of tears and emotions when people eat it. For me, it brings up memories of my childhood and what our house smelled like growing up. It just tastes like Christmas.”