GEORGE TOWN: The making of kuih kapit (love letters) in a rustic corner of the Ayer Itam neighbourhood here is a throwback to the old days when the entire community got together to make the biscuit.

Such a group effort to produce the popular Chinese New Year confection is still being seen here for the past 50 years.

The festivity in this community of tightly packed kampung houses begins when Ooi Ah Eng, 73, takes out her long, rectangular charcoal stove and armloads of kuih kapit moulding clamps that she inherited from her mother.

Relatives and neighbours would start dropping by to say hello and roll up their sleeves to help out.

They would start preparing the batter, breaking the charcoal up into little nuggets and working the moulds, complete with peals of laughter and banter.

Anyone who helps out gets to eat kuih kapit for free and can even bring some home.

“Sometimes, students and societies would come. I let them bake and take back the kuih kapit they make.

“In return, they help me to promote my kuih kapit but most importantly, I want them to learn how to make kuih kapit by hand,” she said.

Ooi said she picked up the skill when she was in her early 20s, learning it from her mother.

Besides getting the right mix of ingredients, she said it was crucial to get the heat from the charcoal just right.

For this Chinese New Year, they began baking early last November.

They would work daily from 8am to midnight, in two shifts. This will go on till Chinese New Year.

Among Ooi’s children helping her at home is 34-year-old Teh Guat Khim, the youngest among four siblings.

Teh, an acupuncturist, said the flexible hours of her job gave her more time to do it with Ooi.

“I’m proud of my mum’s efforts to retain the culture without the use of machines. And it provides her with a side income from selling the extra kuih kapit.”

Recalling her childhood, Teh said they would make the kuih kapit only for their family’s own consumption.

“Since about 20 years ago, as demand came in, my mother decided to bake more to sell as a pastime,” said Teh.

Back then, each tin of the snack cost about RM10, she said, but rising costs had led to them selling it at RM29 now. Apart from kuih kapit, they would also bake other types of traditional cookies for the festival.