I sat on the front porch today in warm 70 degree sun and had a some tapioca pudding in a vintage dessert dish from my childhood. Mixed with the smell of hyacinths in the garden below me was the scent of fresh ground nutmeg. I thought of my mother, who loved tapioca pudding with a sprinkle of nutmeg on top. The vintage dessert dish is worn and a bit discolored now, but it had all the power needed to take me back to my childhood days when mom whipped up a batch of tapioca or butterscotch pudding to enjoy after a spring or summer day playing out in the yard.
Today I listened to the little Cindy-Lou-Who-sized neighbor girls in our cul de sac who were learning to ride their tiny little “two wheelers.” One still had training wheels on, the other was circling precariously, excited at her new skills. How quickly the years have gone by. My children used to do the same, then come in for a snack. Sometimes it was Graham Crackers and milk, my childhood standard Sunday Evening Dinner, sometimes raisins and marshmallows, sometimes grapes or cookies.
I thought today how much I enjoy comfort foods I had as a child. Last week I received a small package in the mail from my cousin, Ruth, who lives in San Diego. She was here a few weeks ago for Riana’s wedding. We were talking about our childhood memories. I used to go to her house after school on the bus. Her mother gave us large saltine crackers after school every single day. The box Ruth sent had another childhood memory food: Pfeffernüße! My Mennonite Aunts and Grandmother took great pride in their Pfeffernüß baking skills. Ruth’s mother and other grandmother had the best ever little “peppernuts.” My Grandma’s weren’t as small or crisp as Ruth’s Grandma Unruh’s. Hers were small enough to fill an apron pocket with dozens. My Grandma made hers a bit larger, often dipping the tops in colored sprinkles.
In December 1981 when I was in the Missionary Training Center in Provo, learning to speak Afrikaans, I received a Christmas care package from home with Pfeffernüß cookies. I remember smelling the molasses and spices and rationing them to last me all through holidays as I waited for my visa to South Africa. They brought comfort and cheer.
I was thrilled last week to get the package from Ruth with her Grandmother’s recipe and a Ziploc bag filled with goodness. I took that little bag with me last week to the quilt retreat and enjoyed snacking on those cookies as I quilted, mindful of my Mennonite background and those I love. Below is the recipe. I’ve very grateful to have it!
3 c. sugar
1 c. shortening
1 c. sour cream with 1 tsp. soda
1 c. molasses with 1 tsp. soda
Mix together and add to above mixture:
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. nutmeg
7 c. flour
Used hands to mix well. The dough is very stiff.
Roll into cigar-sized rolls, put on cookie sheets and freeze until needed for baking.
Then slice thin, with a knife.
Bake at 325 for 7 minutes.
When baked, they are about the size of a dime or nickel.