Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Jan. 4, 2013
Family pfeffernuts - take two!
Five days before Christmas, youngest daughter Katie texted me: "How long does it take peppernuts to set?"
Katie had been looking for something personal to give her dad as a Christmas gift. Every Christmas for years, husband Art's mother Donna had given him and his brother Tommy the little German cookies. But Donna baked her last peppernuts during the 2008 Christmas season. She died the following June at the age of 99, and we haven't had any since.
While pfeffernusse - the German spelling - come in many forms, no pepper is involved, but they are spicy. So I reminded Katie that Donna always said to give them about two weeks after baking so they could fully absorb the flavors of the various spices and anise extract.
I asked if she had the recipe. She didn't, so I began searching for the 3-by-5-inch index card that Donna had written her recipe on. I had kept it by my computer so that I could scan it someday.
Dang! It wasn't there. Then I remembered Art had taken it to his work to scan. Could I find it in his papers and, if I took it, would he notice it was gone?
The next day, I went to town to search for the recipe card. Art's desk appears to me to be utter chaos. But he always seems to be able to find what he is looking for, so I was afraid to rearrange things much.
Katie came to help and discovered the card under a bunch of papers. I didn't want the card to "go missing" from Art's desk. I asked her to type the recipe quickly so I could return the original.
Then she went shopping. I emphasized that she was to get lard and not vegetable shortening because Donna always said the peppernuts didn't turn out right with vegetable shortening.
Katie called to confirm she was to get anise extract and not anise seed.
A few minutes later, she called again. She wanted to know whether walnuts were her grandmother's choice of nuts.
The following day, with just three more to go before Christmas, she began! Partway through the process, she realized she didn't have a sifter, so she texted me to ask for ours. I caught Art before he left the house and told him to take the sifter into town. To "cover" what Katie was really making, I told him she was baking sugar cookies for a party she was going to.
Once she really got into making the cookies, she discovered how hard it was to cream the lard by hand and requested our mixer. I took it into town.
Katie had a couple of other problems. She didn't have measuring cups for dry ingredients, so she improvised. She asked the "S" voice on her smart phone how many cups were in eight ounces. The response was "one cup." Katie then used an eight-ounce plastic cream cheese container to measure the flour.
She tried to use Donna's trick for remembering how many cups of flour she had measured, but that went awry. Donna would put down a pen or pencil for each cup of flour she added so she knew when she had the required six cups. But part way through, Katie couldn't remember whether she put her pencil down before or after she added a cup.
But she looked at the amount in the bowl and decided it was fine.
When she mixed the spices together, she forgot whether she had added salt, so she dumped that batch and started again. That left her a bit short on anise.
Whereas most kids like to play with sticky things, Katie always hated that. So having the sticky batter all over her hands while mixing it did not leave her a happy camper. I received a couple of texts along the way telling me of her frustration.
I didn't hear from her for awhile and then she texted a picture of the peppernuts on the cookie sheet.
"Do these look done?" she asked.
I told her they did, but she should sample one to make sure. She cut one in half to see if it was done inside and then she squeezed it back together.
A later text had a photo of the finished peppernuts in two bowls.
"Think there are enough?" she asked, adding a winkie face.
On Christmas Day, the package with the peppernuts was one of the last gifts Art opened. He was pleased and Katie was proud.
We also call them pfeffernuts, a mix of German and English. Six years ago this month, I wrote a column,"Family pfeffernuts," about Donna teaching us how to make the cookies. At the end, I asked, "So will the pfeffernut tradition survive another generation?"
Now I can truthfully say that it will.