Tag Archives: Mennonites

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. 🙂