I’m back! It has been about twenty months since I last added anything to this blog. Instead, every day in 2014 I cooked daily from another local community cook book, this time from Galt (now Cambridge). I succeeded with that personal challenge too but when the year ended I chose to spend the first months of the new year taking care of my mother and then I started a new job. The job has been great but sadly my mother died in July. I took time from work and from these blogs to spend time with her and then with the rest of my family. However, I have missed these virtual conversations and the opportunity to cook from historic recipes.
But I’m back! I was asked to talk about these two community cookbooks as part of a Christmas tea. So tomorrow I’ll be speaking at Waterloo Region Museum for their Christmas Tea & Talk. I spent today baking for the tea! We’re serving Mrs. Young’s Christmas Drop Cakes and Miss Cowan’s Shortbread from the 1898 New Galt Cook Book and Mrs. Erbach’s Christmas Cake, Mrs A.Graber’s Pepper Nuts, May Haddow’s Maple Cream, and Meda Oberlander‘s German Christmas Cookies from the 1906 Berlin Cook Book.
I’ve tested and written about all of these recipes except one. I decided one way to get back into writing for this blog was to try a new recipe. I’ve tried most of the Christmas recipes in the 1906 Berlin Cook Book except for German Christmas Cookies. The recipe’s contributor Meda Oberlander will be familiar to regular readers.
When I looked closer at the recipe I realized why I’d never tried it back in 2012. It requires two days to prepare. Cooking everyday I rarely had time to plan ahead and so I kept skipping this recipe – even when I finally had a kitchen again. The cookies are rolled out, another thing I avoid whenever possible, and that has to happen on the first day. They are baked on the second day. Knowing that today was tea baking day I went into work yesterday afternoon to start these cookies.
First I weighed one pound (about 2 1/4 cups) of brown sugar and put it into a bowl. It turned out I had a bag of sugar labelled old fashioned brown sugar which seemed appropriate. You could probably use dark or golden brown sugar too. Next I added three large eggs since that was the size in the fridge. Normally I use medium sized eggs in these recipes. I mixed the two ingredients well and then started adding the quart of molasses. Measuring a quart should be easy but is it be an Imperial quart or an American quart? Just as the American gallon is smaller than the Imperial gallon so is the quart. Canadian cookbooks, especially community cookbooks can have a mix of many types of measurements. However, since Miss Oberlander is submitting this recipe from Syracuse New York I decided to use the American quart (4 cups of liquid).
I washed two lemons and grated the rind into the bowl. I squeezed the two lemons well, so well I had to spend time removing the seeds that fell into the bowl! I didn’t have brandy handy (I was at work after all) so I used 2 tablespoons of brandy extract. Then I stirred everything well.
In a separate bowl I weighed the 2 ounces (about 3/4 cup) of citron and mixed it into the batter. Now for another challenge — when should I add the baking soda? It’s going to mix with the molasses and create a wonderful bubbling creation. I decided to add it with the flour at the end so I moved on to the spices. Okay — 1 teaspoon of all the spices — I decided it wasn’t the ingredient called allspice but rather 1 teaspoon of several spices. But which ones to use. My experience with this cookbook helps as I know that the most commonly used spices in baking are nutmeg, ginger, allspice, cinnamon and cloves and so I added one teaspoon of each of these to the mixture.
Time to add enough flour to make the dough stiff. I usually assume there will be as much flour as liquid in a recipe so that’s my starting point. I added two cups of flour with the one tablespoon of baking soda mixed in. When that was well blended I added another two cups. I’m sorry to say I lost track after that and can’t tell you how many cups in total I used for this cookie. I know that I had to keep adding flour bit by bit to get something that would roll out.
The next step was to roll out the dough and cut the cookies. How thick? What size of cookie? These are frequent challenges when dealing with historic recipes. Since the cookies are intended to be part of a tea I decided to make them small using a round cookie cutter with a diameter of less than two inches. I rolled the dough to match the height of the citron. Too thin and the citron pieces kept poking through the top and possibly burning during baking.
The cut cookies went onto parchment paper to sit overnight. I put another sheet of parchment on top as a precaution. I have to admit I only used half the dough. The remaining dough went into the fridge and my friend Jan rolled it and cut the rest of the cookies this morning.
When I arrived at work this morning I moved the cookie filled parchment sheets onto baking sheets and put them in the preheated oven at 350 F. for about ten minutes. The cookies cut this morning were set aside until late this afternoon before they were baked. Any misshapen cookies were made available for taste testing.
Meda Oberlander was a prolific recipe contributor for The Berlin Cook Book. I am now convinced that she and her sister were the ones who initiated the cookbook and compiled the recipes. Meda was born in 1874 in Syracuse New York. She was the second youngest in a family of ten children and was only fourteen when her mother died. She lived here in Berlin Ontario when her father was minister at St. Peter’s Lutheran church and then returned with her brother Frederick when he became the minister at the same church. It was while keeping house for her brother that Meda must have decided to start this cookbook. Meda never married and continued to live with her brother where ever his career took him. She died in the city of New York sometime after 1940.
Testers liked the cookies but basically they are a molasses cookie with a bit of citron inside. They are soft when first removed from the oven but crisp up later. These cookies will be good for dunking in tea. I’ll let you know tomorrow how the guests liked all the treats.
Update (Nov.17): Today these cookies were served at the tea along with the other goodies. I think everyone found at least one they liked and several people indicated these cookies were their favourite!
GERMAN CHRISTMAS COOKIES
Meda Oberlander, Syracuse, N.Y.
1 pound brown sugar, 1 quart molasses, 3 eggs, 2 lemons juice and grated rind, 2 ounces citron, 1 teaspoon all the spices, 1 tablespoon soda, 2 tablespoons brandy. Flour to make quite stiff. Roll out the night before baking.