Tag Archive | krumkake

The Best Family Tradition of All – Baking Christmas Cookies!

Christmas Cookies

Some of the traditional Christmas cookies Mim and I bake every year. The Norwegian cookies are the golden ones on the right.

For the month of December, Joan Chittister has been focusing on the role of traditions in our lives in her pamphlet, The Monastic Way. On December 11 she said:

Traditions are meant to develop us emotionally, one layer of understanding at a time. It is our traditions – the Easter eggs, the Christmas trees – that lead us back to the very centers of life. They shape us spiritually and form us socially. They are the magnets that draw us to the center of our souls.

Mom-Dad on stumpChittister left out the best tradition of all from her examples – Christmas cookies! My mom baked at least a dozen different kinds of Christmas cookies every December. One reason for so many cookies is that my parents were in a mixed marriage – my mom was Norwegian and my dad was German – so my mom felt obligated to bake both Norwegian and German cookies. Plus, she always liked to try out new recipes. I loved all the Norwegian cookies. The German cookies – not so much. My mom faithfully made the same Korth recipe for peppernuts every year, and every year they turned out the same – as hard as a rock. We let them age for at least a month, because no one ate them (except my dad dunked a few in his coffee), and then we threw the rest of them out for the birds.

Some of my fondest Christmas memories are spending a couple evenings every December decorating both light and dark cookie cutouts (sugar cookies and gingerbread cookies). My mom frosted each cookie and Danny and I carefully decorated them with every color of sugar my mom could find – red, green, yellow, blue, purple, pink, and multicolor nonpareils. We also used red-hot candies, and little silver and gold balls. Sometimes we would even cut up red and green gum drops to make leaves and berries to decorate wreathes. Our cookies were almost too beautiful to eat, although that never stopped us.

By Christmas we had stacks of cookie tins filled with hundreds of cookies. Even though we ate heartily, there’s no way we would ever eat that many cookies. But my mom had a better idea anyway. Just before Christmas she boxed up a selection of cookies for a lot of the older people in Cambridge who didn’t bake their own Christmas cookies, and we made a delivery run a day or two before Christmas.

When I was in my twenties and living with Mim in Chicago, baking Christmas cookies together was one of the first traditions we established. We had to negotiate on whose recipes to use. Over the years we’ve worked it out. We use her mom’s recipe for Krumkake and my mom’s recipe for Berliner Kranzer. We carried over the tradition of making lots of different kinds of cookies – more than we could possibly eat – and solved that problem by hosting the coffee hour after church the Sunday closest to Christmas. Our Lutheran church in Chicago had lots of retired Swedes as members, and Norwegian cookies were close enough to Swedish to bring back pleasant memories on their taste buds.

Christmas Cookies at Resurrection

The cookies are arranged. The candles are lit. The postlude must be starting. Mim’s ready to pour coffee.

When we were in our forties we moved back to the farm in Cambridge. Soon afterwards, Mim’s mom had a stroke which left her paralyzed on one side. She came to live with us for the next five years. I can still picture her sitting at the dining room table in her wheelchair, rolling out Kringla, a doughnut-like soft Norwegian cookie, rolled by hand into a pencil-like shape and twisted to look like a pretzel. She also helped us decorate cookies. One day our youngest niece Emily joined us to work on decorating cookies together. What better activity to bring multiple generations together than decorating Christmas cookies!

From left to right - Marian frosting cookies, Emily decorating, and Selma and Megabyte supervising.

From right to left – Marian frosting cookies, Emily decorating, and Selma and Megabyte supervising.

Seven years ago, when we moved to our condo, my sister Nancy, who lived nearby, came over to spend a day baking Christmas cookies together. I think we baked about six different kinds in that one long day. By the end of the day we were exhausted, but we had something beautiful and delicious to show for our efforts. And it was fun working together, using the cookie-baking skills we had learned from our mother. The next year my sister passed away. Last year around Christmas time Mim and I went to see our niece Michelle, Nancy’s daughter. She served us Christmas cookies – just the like ones her mom used to make. The tradition continues.

Cindy, my brother’s daughter, is also carrying on the Christmas cookies tradition. Even though Cindy is gluten intolerant, she enlists her nieces to help her bake and decorate some of the most beautiful cookies I’ve ever seen.

Joan Chittister has it right –

Traditions are meant to develop us emotionally, one layer of understanding at a time. It is our traditions – the Easter eggs, the Christmas trees, [the Christmas cookies!] – that lead us back to the very centers of life. They shape us spiritually and form us socially. They are the magnets that draw us to the center of our souls.

Now I need to get back to baking cookies. We’re trying three new recipes this year, plus baking most of our family standards. I plan to bring a selection to my brother’s family. I guess I might pack up a few cookie tins for some friends, too. But I don’t think I have to worry about the cookies not getting eaten. Our 93-year-olds like our Christmas cookies just as much as our youngest nieces and nephews, and the next generation beyond them…

Emily w decorated Xmas cookies

 

All I Want for Christmas

Sears Christmas CatalogIn the 1950s, the day the SEARS CHRISTMAS CATALOG arrived in the mail was just about the best day of the year. I’d sit down in the living room, flip to the toy section, and spend the next hour or two looking at all the toys, page after page after page. When I got to the last page of toys, I’d go back to look again at the toys that I really wanted. They were usually on the cowboy page. I’d much rather dream about getting a ranch set than a doll house. (That’s probably why I still take such delight in setting up my “Bethlehem ranch” set for Christmas. My crèche has over 100 pieces, and is still growing!)

One year my mom tried to change my interests and she got me a big beautiful doll for Christmas. I cried when I opened the package. My mom gave up trying to change me, and got me a ranch set with a ranch house, corral, horses, and several cowboy figurines the next year. I couldn’t be happier. I finally outgrew the cowboy stage and drooled over chemistry sets in the Sears Catalog. One year my parents really splurged and got me the biggest chemistry set in the catalog. The next year, when my parents remodeled the kitchen, I was given the old hoosier to keep in my room as my laboratory. That way I didn’t have to take over the whole dining room table whenever I wanted to do chemistry experiments.

Hoosier that became my chemistry lab in my bedroom.

Hoosier that became my chemistry lab in my bedroom.

The other side of Christmas presents – the giving side – soon became even more exciting than the receiving side. Most Decembers I’d spend two or three hours working in the barn every day, stripping tobacco. (That’s another long story for another time.) I earned two-cents a lath – equal to about five minutes work. On Saturdays, I’d sometimes work all day. By the time I had earned between $5 and $10, I was ready to go Christmas shopping. Typical presents were a model car or airplane for my brother, a pen and stationery for my sister, a box of candy for my mom, and a tie for my dad. I felt rich with all the money in my billfold to be able to buy all those presents.

Over the last few years, Mim and I have changed some of our ideas about Christmas shopping. Whenever we’re in a store, any time of the year, and I see something that I’d really like to have, but I can’t quite justify that I  need it and that I should spend the money on it, Mim will say, that can be your Christmas present, and vice versa. That’s how we justified spending $16 on a monthly planner notebook for 2013 for Mim, and how we justified spending $300 on a Samsung Galaxy Note II smartphone for me last week. (I think I’ve mastered this new way of looking at presents better than Mim has!)

But the five things I really want most for Christmas this year are:

  1. Krumkake – and other homemade Christmas cookies, especially the Norwegian kinds.
  2. Good roads so that I can get to the Christmas services I’m scheduled to play for this year – all eight of them.
  3. Time to spend with my family and best friends.
  4. Quiet time to think about how much God loves me – and vice versa – probably relaxing time sitting at the piano, not necessarily completely quiet.
  5. The opportunity for everyone to experience a moment of God’s peace.
Part of the Fontanini creche I've been collecting since 1984.

Part of the Fontanini creche I’ve been collecting since 1984.