Christmas Peppernuts

The last time I ate our family’s version of peppernuts, it was in a February that seems very long ago now. Mr. Glad and I were at Pippin’s when she pulled a slab of dough out of the freezer, left over from her Christmas baking. My hands weren’t sticky so it was easy to take pictures that I saved to put with the recipe “someday.” Trying to post every day this month along with Pom Pom has prodded me to make good on promises I’ve made in this regard.

This cookie is a version I cobbled together from the assortment that fill the pages of Peppernuts, Plain and Fancy, given to me at least 20 years ago by my Dutch homeschooler friend Anita.  I just now found my little copy, about 5×6″, on a remote shelf and browsed through it for only the second time. When I first received the book, I was looking for the likeliest of the 26 varied recipes to try, but after traveling from front to back and from Paraguay to Russia and back to Kansas, I decided to take ideas and ingredients from several of them.

I had forgotten until tonight that not all of the varieties in the book are even spicy, like true pfeffernusse are. I found a couple of recipes for White Peppernuts, and ingredients as different as ammonia and lemon, peppermint and fresh coconut. As you can seen from the few pages I have shared, these are true Family Recipes, some of which have unusual sources and have been passed down through many generations.

“Original peppernut recipes probably were copied from the Germans, Dutch and West Prussians when Mennonite families moved about Europe in search of religious freedom. Then, when our grandparents left the Ukraine for America in 1874, they brought this lovely tradition with them, baking peppernuts in their ‘grasshopper ovens’ those early Christmases on the Kansas prairies.”

Some years it can be hard to find fruit-flavored jelly candies in the stores; they are a version of gumdrops, not gummy candies, and aren’t spicy, and it seems their availability is subject to trends. I don’t want to use spice drops because there is already plenty of spice in my recipe. The easiest way to dice the candies is to dust frequently with arrowroot or cornstarch. In the photo down below that is what makes the pieces white.

One year I had a much larger batch of dough than this recipe makes, and I was using it from the freezer for many months after. I didn’t always have time to make “nuts,” so I cut bar-shaped cookies and they were good, too!

CHRISTMAS PEPPERNUTS

½ stick butter, 2 oz.
½ c. honey
1 c. sugar
2 eggs
¼ c. milk
½ T. soda in ½ T. hot water
1 tsp. lemon zest
4 c. white flour
6 oz. diced, fruit-flavored jelly candies
2 c. toasted almonds, chopped
2 tsp. ground star anise
½ tsp. cinnamon
2/3 tsp. ground black pepper
¼ tsp. nutmeg

Mix all, form dough into large “pancakes,” and freeze. While still firm, cut into “nuts” or bars. Bake at 350 degrees 8-10 minutes on greased foil on insulated cookie sheets.
Should be golden brown if you don’t want them cake-y.

Be careful now! Remember that “Old German maxim” quoted on the page above:

That which really tastes
oft us trouble makes.

These do really taste. 🙂

10 thoughts on “Christmas Peppernuts

  1. We’ve been told what an apple a day might do…but what of a post a day? You surely are doing it.
    I hadn’t heard that German maxim before…but surely have experienced it!

    I enjoyed the reminder of how even a simple collection of recipes is a window into a people’s history.

    And I was touched by the special memory of these cookies on a February day.

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  2. Ammonia! Lord, have mercy! My mother used to love pfeffernusse, and I made them every year for her with my Betty Crocker recipe. I don’t think I’d have wanted to make them as small as is recommended above!

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  3. Many people are horrified at the addition of Ammonia in baking but should realize this ammonia is ammonia bicarbonate and if you can’t find it you can substitute baking powder. I don’t think the resulting cookies would be as tasty though.
    I used to make Peppernuts by the hundreds but haven’t now for some years.

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  4. What a lovely set of memories to go with your recipes! I had never really known what Pfeffernusse or peppernuts were. The pictures are really helpful to give an idea of what the recipes will produce… and so interesting that there are so many varieties!

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    1. Oh, I see what you mean! I like little snacky foods, savory and/or sweet, and mochi – yes! The Doll’s Festival sounds interesting… I want to read more about it. Do you like the doll festival? Did you ever read any of Rumer Godden’s doll stories? Most people haven’t. She has a couple about Japanese dolls: Little Plum and Miss Happiness and Miss Flower. Not that I think you need more books to read. 😉

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      1. As it happens, I seem to remember that I have a post on Doll’s fest from a few years back [fossick, fossick, fossick – ah, here it is: https://wordpress.com/post/orientikate.wordpress.com/527%5D I’ve grown to appreciate it more over the years. Have not read Godden’s doll stories – think I’ve only read two of hers, the one about the nuns and the abbey which I LOVED and the Black Narcissus, which made me nostalgic for India. And as for ‘need’ in relation to ‘read’, well… I’m rarely short of a book and am certain I would feel quite disorient(ikate)d were that to happen!

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  5. Oh, I love this and I want to make some! I couldn’t find gum drops at my store (it’s getting worse and worse, running out of things all the time and NO mincemeat either!)
    I do want to make these and I think my granny may have made them when I was small because they look familiar.
    I’m going up to look at my Searchlight cookbook and an old Christmas cookbook I have.
    Thank you, dear!

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