ND ROOTS January 31, 2022
You have heard it before. “It’s not if it happens, it’ when.” That’s right, I got a virus, and I am still downloading the effects of stuffy sinuses. We all know the most significant part of having a mid-winter cold is how good it feels to feel good again. And, taste. Oh, how good food smells and tastes after a week of being ill.
Naturally, after having some chicken tomato rice soup on Sunday, I had this incredible urge to make cookies. After all, I had been sleeping for nearly as long as Rip Van Winkle, mainly on the couch. With the nice weekend weather, I took a walk Sunday afternoon during halftime of the first football playoff game. Both games preceding the Super Bowl were exciting if you like that sort of thing.
Sometime at the start of game two, I headed for the kitchen, forced some butter to room temperature and dug out my mother’s chocolate chip cookie recipe. Unlike the Toll-House recipe, this cookie was crisper and had pretty cracks running through it if adequately baked. It was never my favorite as a child, but we had little choice.
My children weren’t very fond of them either. They called them kitchen sink cookies because I usually added whatever we had in the house by way of chocolate chips, nuts, raisins, coconut and oatmeal. This recipe is a proper “dunker” cookie.
It had been a while since I baked for our household. My usual fare is bread for the farmers market and, recently, breakfast pastries for a church retreat. I’m grateful I have a way to spread my oven-lovin’ around the community, so we don’t have to eat all the baked goods I make in a month.
Oh, these cookies were fabulous. I hit the nail on the head with the correct amount of flour, the perfect scoop of dough on the cookie sheet and the proper amount of time in the oven. Instead of raisins, I used craisins but no coconut. I loaded that dough with dark chocolate chocolate chips and plenty of chopped walnuts (even if I had to take a loan from my local bank to purchase them). I hope my mom was watching from heaven with a smile on her face.
Rather than wait, we had to try one hot out of the oven. The chocolate was still soft and gooey. It was okay. The second cookie was cooler and absolutely divine. I know it’s difficult to wait until bread and cookies cool off before indulging, but I have found over the years the flavors develop if you allow them to cool first. That, and you won’t burn your fingers grabbing them off the cookie sheet. Just an FYI, bread needs to cool thoroughly to bake entirely and is so much easier to slice if you give it a few hours on the rack. If you cut it right away, you are sacrificing the rest of the loaf for that one heel, dripping with butter. Yep, I do it all the time, mostly because I can.
I know the next question you ask is, “can I have the recipe?” Yes. I think my mother would be greatly disappointed if I didn’t share, so here it is. ENJOY.
This is a cookbook published in 1975 by my church in Gackle. You can find a reproduction (think Christmas gift) at https://library.ndsu.edu/grhc/order/cookbooks/cookbooklist.html.. You can find another recipe at the bottom of this post. Please ask any questions in the comment area of this blog. And, listen to the Main Street Eats episode airing today at 3 p.m. on Prairie Public Broadcasting. You can download the podcast at a later date by clicking the link on the home page of this website, or visiting theirs.
A Prairie Legacy memory
(brought to you in part by the Tri-County Tourism Alliance)
It was not a rabbit. It was
Pfeffernusse: – a German Russian Tradition.
Pfeffernuesse are traditionally a firm cookie that nearly always showed up on the Christmas goodie table at my house. They are classified a "dunker" by most people. A cookie made just for that cup of coffee after a big meal. The spices in Pfeffernuesse are quite complimentary to an after-dinner aperitif maybe only if you are a dedicated German from Russia.
These are a cookie like a fine wine -- they get better with age. Sometimes our batch lasts until Easter time when they are at their peak flavor. The flavors include ginger, cloves, cinnamon, maybe mace; blended, of course, with dark, cold coffee and honey.
The two standout flavors are pepper and anise. Hence the name "PepperNut" or Pfeffernusse.
Round and small, Pfeffernuesse look like tiny snowballs with a fresh coat of powdered sugar. They are of Dutch or German origin. Recipes can be found all over the internet, but the vintage cookbooks and recipe cards from my childhood require a strong German-Russian hand as they incorporate up to 10 pounds of flour in a single batch.
"What," you may ask could I do with that many cookies? Oh, like fine wine, Pfefernuesse age with time. If they become too hard for your palate, place the heel of your bread in the container, it will soften them. You may need to re-sugar them before serving, but they will soften up quite nicely even if you don't have them stored in the freezer.
Baking flavorful Pfeffernuesse cookies requires fresh spice and a specific type of anise. Anise the spice is not star anise that you may find in Chinese Five Spice Powder.
Our anise is a seed.
Spice is part of a plant, other than leaves when dried can become a flavoring ingredient in cooking. Spices can be produced from seeds (anise, cumin, coriander, mustard, and many others), bark (cinnamon), fruit (peppercorns, vanilla), roots (horseradish), or flower buds (cloves). If you are fortunate enough to find whole cinnamon and nutmeg, you can grind or pulverize in a mortar and pestle you very own very fresh spices.
The anise that makes the best cookies is an essential oil. You can find anise ground, whole or as an extract. But, I prefer the oil for cookies, since the flavor is more intense and stays with the cookie.
Olive Nation, King Arthur, and Amazon are just a few places to source anise oil. Be sure and purchase from a baking supply company to make sure you are receiving food grade oil.
If you are unfamiliar with anise, it is akin to the flavor of black licorice; which is the only true licorice there is. Perhaps Pfeffernuesse are an acquired taste, one that stems from Christmas on the prairie in German-Russian country. But, we will save more on GR Christmases for future posts.
Accept no substitute for the homemade variety of this traditional cookie. SO, here is my recipe and a second smaller one for you to bake this weekend. Don't forget to allow the cookies to age until Christmas; unless you drop one on the floor - those are always fair game.
Main Street Eats episode on carrots.
When one brags about the size of garden vegetables grown in your own garden, there has to be a point of reference as to the actual size of the vegetable. One day while posting carrot photos, someone asked me to show how big those carrots really are. So, here we are, my spouse and I, showing off our carrot harvest using a butcher knife as reference.
Carrots are such a joy. They usually store in the root cellar so we can enjoy carrots at our Easter meal in the spring. You can make carrot cake, carrot soup and more. So download the Main Street Eats with Root Seller Sue podcast on carrots HERE .
Learn how simple it is to make a soup from your squash and carrots in upcoming segments.
If you are experiencing an over-abundance of apples this fall there are many recipes for canning, freezing and eating that harvest. The simplest and most well-received cake I have ever made has got to be German Apple Cake.
No, I don't know why it is called German Apple Cake, except that it resembles a German Apple Pancake with cream cheese frosting.
Maybe it's the frosting that does it but you have to try it. It mixes in a single bowl, bakes in an hour and wow, it's fantastic.
Try it, and let me know what you think.
Sue B. Balcom
Writing, or maybe talking, comes naturally to me and under the guidance of a great newspaper editor I have acquired skills that led me to author four books.