Every Christmas I make Stollen, German Christmas bread with fruit and nuts. And every year I experience a near panic about whether it will turn out. This year I decided to try to a new recipe from my very fancy, award winning bread book. However, because it is a high-brow culinary recipe, the bread is quite dense, which is what good bread should be. But, being just a plain old housewife, sometimes I just want an over-abundance of yeasty, bubbly, big bread that rises up and spills over the side of the pan, and domes the plastic wrap. Why? Because it it looks better. You see where the angst comes in. Or, I suppose I should say I’m a plain old Hausfrau. Though, part of this year’s angst comes from the fact I couldn’t cut the bag of icing sugar open properly because I didn’t have any sharp scissors. (I covered the counter – and my cell phone – in it.) This automatically precludes me from being a proper Hausfrau, as I believe sharp scissors are imperative in the kitchen for cutting off the beak of any Grimm-esque talking birds which have found their way into your house. Or Grimm-istch. Whatever.
I know my tag line says “residually cynical,” but I also would describe myself as “residually German,” since the last ancestor of mine from any Heimat left for citizenship in the Commomwealth 80 plus years ago. Yet as Canadian as I act the rest of the year, for some reason I resurrect all these weird Teutonnic food fetishes at Christmas. Hence, the Stollen angst. Or maybe Stollenangst would be the term, to go with my Mutterschuldfreude (mother guilt joy). Then there’s the Pfeffernüsse cookies. These can best be described as round little balls of playdough that have been sweetened and spiced with ginger, and then left out on the counter to almost dry. Then someone coats them in a white glaze, and maybe dips them in chocolate. I’m eating one right now, and it’s freaking awesome. Who cares that I got them from the drugstore when I was searching for extra bows. ( I didn’t find any.)
Stollen to me, and Pfeffernüsse, and Lebkuchen (spice cookies — yes, there are more) for that matter, aren’t just Christmas treats. They’re un-remembered memories. Memories of people who came before me, the ancestors who farmed the hamlets of Burkovina, who toiled in the coal mines of Silesia, who nursed sick infants across the Atlantic in steamer ships, who bore the first child in a sod hut all alone in the dark days of November. These are the people I don’t know, who never left any records, or diaries, or blogs, other than their descendants. They are who I am trying to remember. So this food takes on a greater meaning then how much the bread rose, or if I used the proper spice mix. It’s the only way I know of connecting to those that came before me, and who sacrificed so that I could enjoy the life I have now, and in turn pass it along to my children. And it is also an act of hope, that someday, somewhere, an angst filled mother will be debating whether to force rise her Christmas bread. Someone will able to do that, because I was here doing this right now. And that woman will be doing it, as an act of trying to remember me.