I am just home from attending the opening of the Christmas Market at Joseph Schneider Haus and Gallery. It is a great way to time travel to a German Christmas market long ago and sample pfeffernuse (pepper nuts), sand hearts, and soft pretzels and buy some sugar plums and decorations. As far as I can tell Berlin Ontario 1906 didn’t have a special Christmas market but the regular town market and the local stores would be filled with all kinds of things needed for this holiday. Tomorrow I’m going to the Kitchener Market before a few people come over for lunch. Tonight I’m making Mrs. H. Rathman’s version of Pepper Nuts using her recipe in the 1906 Berlin Cook Book and hopefully I’ll be able to serve them to my guests.
I wasn’t sure how to start making these cookies since there isn’t any butter in the recipe. Normally I cream butter and sugar but this type of cookie starts with mixing sugar and egg and egg yolks so I followed the instructions. I separated two medium eggs and added the yolks to a bowl along with the 1/2 pound (1 cup) of sugar and another whole egg. Next I added the baking soda and was shocked to discover I was supposed to stir for 15 minutes. I set my modern timer and started to beat the mixture with my spoon. I stirred and stirred and was amazed to see the mixture change. Gradually the sugar crystals disappeared and the batter became thicker and yet airy too. I had to quit at the 10 minute mark. Although my arms have gotten stronger with all the mixing and beating of batters over the past year, I still have my limits.
The ground spices went in next — cinnamon, cloves and black pepper. You might think that adding pepper gives these cookies their name but once upon a time many spices were given the generic name “pepper” apparently. I weighed the flour next and added it. I mixed everything together since I wanted to see the texture before deciding how much peel to add. I used about 1/4 cup of mixed peel.
I rolled out the dough and used a glass to cut out the “cakes”. I placed them on a greased cookie sheet and baked at 350°F. for 10 minutes. I removed them since they were getting just a bit brown round the edges. They didn’t really look appealing but smelled good so I was eager to taste Mrs. H. Rathman’s Pepper Nuts.
Mrs. H. Rathman contributed quite a number of recipes and I’ve used several so far. She’s one of the older contributors so it is likely that this recipe was an old family favourite. Kathrine Kraemer’s parents were from France and her husband Herman Rathman was born in Germany. In 1911, the couple (73 and 64 years old) live at 91 Frederick street with their 37-year-old daughter Amelia.
Mrs. H. Rathman
Beat 1/2 pound white sugar, with 1 whole egg and 2 yolks and 1/2 teaspoon soda for 1/4 of an hour, then add 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon cloves, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, 1/2 pound flour, and as much peeling as desired, roll out about 1/4 of an inch thick and cut in small round cakes.