The cookies could not be resisted.

Boy Scouts grabbed fistfuls. One girl took four and then came back for more. An officer from the Department of General Services filled up plastic bag for her co-workers. Any time a cookie tray appeared light on treats, Gov. Martin O'Malley's staff whipped out a fresh batch.

On Saturday afternoon, as part of a Maryland tradition, O'Malley threw open the doors to Government House for the holidays, allowing visitors to wander through the public section of the executive mansion and admire decorations free of charge.

After waiting in a line that stretched around the house onto Lawyers' Mall, guests posed for photos with the governor and his wife, Katie, in front of an imposing fir. Then they were ushered into the State Dining Room, where they were rewarded with a silver bowl full of hot cider and twelve trays of holiday cookies.

The standard confections were available: chocolate chip, peanut butter, molasses, macadamia nut and pecan Russian tea cookies coated in white sugar.

But this year Chef Medford Canby debuted new flavors, including a date-and-walnut pinwheel and a pumpkin seed chocolate chip cookie laced with chili flakes.

Victoria Enaife, 8, and her sister Maryan, 6, approached the spread with a plan: Each girl took a white paper napkin embossed in gold ink with the words "Government House," unfolded it and used it as a plate.

The girls got eight before their father, Ayo, detected the size of their haul. "No, no, no," he cried out.

Guests included Sen. Ulysses Currie, a Prince George's County Democrat who was recently acquitted on bribery charges, who lined up with his family and enjoyed the holiday treats.

The Government House chefs started baking cookies a week ago and produced 12,000 cookies.

It might sound like a lot, but Canby, who's been cooking for the state's chief executives for the past 27 years, said the cookie heyday came during the Schaefer administration. The governors' ovens then churned out 24,000 for the holidays.

"We've scaled back," Canby said.

Even so, he oversaw the creation of 20 different kind of cookies for the holidays this year. And he made 1,200 brownies and 800 holiday "bars" including a pecan variety and one with raspberry and white chocolate.

Some of the goodies were put out Thursday for a holiday party open to state employees. Leftovers are stored in tins and will be offered at subsequent holiday events. (For fresher cookies, angle for an invitation to one of O'Malley's early parties.)

While munching, guests admired the two Christmas trees in the mansion, each twinkling with white lights that reflected on gold balls and pale pink bows. The holiday decorating the house took two days. The governor's trees came from Lowe's Bayshore Nursery and Garden Center in Stevensville.

Bands and musical acts performed in one room. From time to time the O'Malleys took a break and listened. Guests were allowed to stay as long as they wanted.

By the end of the day Maryland's first couple had greeted 902 visitors. After the last photo was taken, O'Malley turned to his wife and hugged her.

The famously fit governor said he hadn't yet had the chance to try a cookie.

annie.linskey@baltsun.com

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