(This is another special posting by Suzy. I hope you enjoy it.)
Across our world and throughout all written history I’ve ever read about, holiday celebrations are all the same. Families find time to get together. Some family members may travel from great distances while others just walk next door. There are those who quarrel and snipe at each other and those who just bask in the nearness of the entire family. Some resent not being with their “own” friends. Others work themselves into a frenzy trying to make the time perfect. Sometimes family members make new connections that strengthen the family. Other times the outcomes are not so beneficent. Those family members who find it impossible to get home during the season due to distance and weather are sorely missed. As the family grows with marriages some members need to divide their time between their birth family and wedded family. If space and proximity allow, the best celebrations find a way to incorporate the new branch of family.
Then there is the food. Every culture has developed its specialties. Some peoples have created entire menus for every holiday in the year. If we are referring to a major holiday, it often takes weeks to assemble all the treats that the season requires. Aromas fill the house contributing to the holiday mood of everyone who comes home. Some try to sample early, others to hold back until the “correct” setting. Some offerings are quick and easy, while others may take several days to prepare. The best require more than one set of hands so that the very preparation of the food becomes a family event.
Since the time of my great-grandfather, Eustach Kalmbacher (Pop), the religious aspects of life have been held more individually than in a formal church. It’s a long family story about his fleeing Germany under the threat of excommunication from the Catholic Church. However, at Christmas there is often a carol sing or mid-night service. Pop was a baker. The recipes he learned in the Old Country came to the United States in his head. As he grew older, first his daughter, Katherine Kalmbacher Sellers Kulhemier, then his granddaughter, Lois Sellers Schlechter, would watch as he would bake and they would write down what they observed. Some of the versions were more accurate than others. Some produced far too many cookies for home use. There was an attempt to pare these down, sometimes with success. As the years passed and the family grew with marriages and experiences, so did the number of recipes. Everyone brought a favorite taste treat to the list of what must be prepared to make the holiday complete. We now have more than we can ever use in any one season.
Since Walt and I have been married, the Christmas baking has begun just after Thanksgiving. When the boys were babies I wore them in a backpack while I baked, and they “helped.” They learned to lick the goodies off the beaters at an early age. I did end up wearing some of the batter in my hair as part of the process. Later they became cookie decorators frequently letting imagination override tradition. We share the results of the baking with family and friends, and even so, often have cookies through March.
I’m sorry that in a blog I cannot send you cookies. Even so, we hope that your holiday season is filled with all the tantalizing aromas of the season and the support and love of family and friends. We wish you a Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year!
Here is one of Pop’s cookie recipes.
Butter Gebackene (German butter cookies)
I use a food processor now. That chops the citron very fine. A hand mixer works for the batter, but chop the citron first if you use one. The smaller the citron, the easier it is to cut the cookies later. I take a cup of the flour and whir it together with the citron. This keeps the sticky citron from adhering to the sides of the bowl or itself. Then I transfer it to a small bowl to be added at the appropriate time. We always use unsalted, real butter when the recipe calls for butter. It really does bake up differently.
½ pound (that’s 1 cup or 2 sticks) of butter.
1 pound (2 ¼ cups) sugar
Add, all at one time, 4 – 6 eggs (that’s approximately 1 cup — I’ve always used 4 large eggs)
Add and blend in:
½ teaspoon cinnamon
4 ounces of citron (This is where you use all those little chips you made earlier.)
2 pounds (about 4 cups) flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
The dough needs to be refrigerated before rolling and cutting. For me, it rolls better between 2 sheets of plastic wrap. Roll it to a short ¼ inch thick. Cut into holiday shapes. I use a roller cutter that produces hearts, stars, etc. that are about 1 ½ inches across. Set the cookies about 1 inch apart on a greased cookie sheet. Brush with lightly beaten egg white and sprinkle with red or green colored sugar. Bake at 375°F until golden (about 10 minutes).
The last word:
Part of the joy of the season is the great smells that flow from the kitchen at this time of year.
Keep your sense of humor.