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Memories & Musings

By  Cheri Simms
When I was a kid in the 1950’s I loved this time of year. What could be better than celebrating Halloween, my birthday, Mom’s birthday and Thanksgiving all in the same month? Well sort of: my birthday is right after Halloween and I felt like it was in the same month. We started by carving pumpkins and ended the month eating them. I always thought my Granny carved our Halloween pumpkins kind of weird; I didn’t know why but she used to cut lots of the pulp out of the pumpkins before we made the faces in them and the next day we had pumpkin pudding for dinner. Granny was quite frugal and did not even waste the seeds. She dried some for the next year planting and fixed toasted pumpkin seeds for Grandpa.

Granny started the family tradition of pumpkin desserts every week in November and we also had pumpkin pie for Christmas. Mom and I continued the tradition for many years too. Granny also made “pepper” cookies for Grandpa in November and December and sometimes she made pumpkin pepper cookies. I did not eat the pepper cookies; I have never cared for pepper and the name did not sound inviting either. In my later life, when attending a party hosted by a friend, I was served a most delicious cookie and I asked the hostess for the recipe; she obliged and told me that it was a family tradition to make pepper cookies or “Pfeffernusse” for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“Pfeffernusse”; could that be the cookie Granny made and called pepper cookies? I asked my aunt and her answer made sense. Grandpa could not say “Pfeffernusse” so they just called it pepper cookies but my aunt pronounced it like “per- fin- noose” so my whole life I have pronounced it like “per-fin-noose”.  Today I have discovered it is pronounced like “feffer-nus”. There are two little dots over the “U” so good luck pronouncing it correctly!

An online dictionary states: “Pfeffernusse;

“A lot of people have to do a double-take when they see the name written for the first time. The first part, “Pfeffer,” means pepper, and the second part, “Nuesse,” means nuts. 

Of course pepper and nuts, that makes a lot of sense; but it has lots of other goodies in the recipe: cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and of course, “pepper”, but that’s ok since I found out that I really like the cookie. It is sad that none of us kids have any of Granny’s recipes but it has been fun over the years to try to recreate them. Her pumpkin cookie recipe has been a challenge though; I still can’t seem to get the ingredients right. It is almost like mincemeat and pumpkin and I have made it both with “Nonesuch” mincemeat and all homemade ingredients. My cookies are good but something is definitely still missing.

My Mom’s family is American by way of Kentucky, lower New England and England. My guess is that they were all indentured servants but the aunts were all very proper, poor but proper, and valued their English heritage highly. No one in our family has done a heritage search but many of the foods my Granny and Great- Grandmother made were traditional British recipes with southern adaptations. Granny made pumpkin pie two ways, one was the recipe we traditionally follow with pumpkin puree and the other was a two crust pie with pumpkin chunks, apples and raisins. I have always wondered about this pumpkin chunk pie and upon research discovered that it is a seventeenth century pie. The web site “ Shakespeare and Beyond” states “When early modern Britons first encountered the Cucurbita pepo, they named it “pumpion,” a word derived from the old French word pompon, and the classical Greek pepon – both of which meant “melon.” The orange squashes were first mentioned in the English language in a plant book printed by Peter Treveris, called The Grete Herball, produced in London in 1526. In metropolitan Britain, pumpkins were seen as a special food, expensive and exotic. But in the British Atlantic colonies, pumpkins, pumpkin leaves, and pumpkin seeds appeared in the bowls and on the tables of many different kinds of people. They continued to hold a valued role in the diets of indigenous Americans, and they were consumed by rich as well as poor white women and men”.

The above certainly explains why my family made chunk pumpkin pie and I will share this recipe with you. I have made it several times but substituted more raisins for the currents which is what Granny did. I would imagine currents were too expensive in Granny’s lifetime.

Enjoy Pumpkin Season!

Pfeffernusse Cookies
Ingredients
* 1/2 cup molasses I used 
sorghum molasses
* 1/4 cup honey
* 1/2 cup unsalted butter
* 2 eggs beaten
* 2 teaspoons anise 
extract
* 3 1/2 cups all-purpose 
flour
* 1/2 cup white sugar
* 1/2 cup brown sugar
* 2 teaspoons cinnamon
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1 1/2 teaspoons baking 
soda
* 1 1/2 teaspoons ground 
cardamom
* 1 teaspoon ginger
* 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
* 1 teaspoon black 
pepper
* 1 teaspoon ground 
cloves
* 1 teaspoon allspice 
ground
* 1 cup confectionery 
sugar more if needed

Instructions
1. Combine butter, honey and molasses in a pot and melt over low heat on the stove. Do not boil! Remove from heat and let cool.
2. Beat eggs and anise extract together and stir into honey mixture. In a large mixing bowl add the flour, sugars, spices and salt and mix together well with a spoon. Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture and stir till makes a stiff dough. Chill about 3 hours in the refrigerator.
3. Remove from refrigerator and roll into small balls with your hands or you can cut some of the dough with cookie cutters. (I did some both ways. I made some bite sized ones for my grandson and several different sizes) The dough is easy to work once it comes out of the fridge. Place on sprayed or greased cookie sheets. Bake in preheated 325 degree oven 15 minutes.
4. Remove from pan and let cool. Roll in confectionery sugar. Store in airtight container and allow to sit for a couple days before serving. Makes about 4 dozen cookies depending on size you make them. (https://thesouthernladycooks.com/holiday-pfeffernusse-cookies/)

Hannah Woolley’s Pumpkin Pie: A pumpkin pie recipe from 17th-century England
 Ingredients:
* Two unbaked pie 
crusts: one for the top of 
the pie, one for the 
bottom
* 2 cups of peeled, sliced 
squash (butternut or 
sugar pumpkin)
* 2 cups of peeled, sliced 
tart apples (Northern 
Spy, Cortland, or Granny 
Smith)
* 3 tbsp. butter
* 1/4 cup of raisins
* 1/4 cup of dried
 currants
* 1/4 cup of sugar
* 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
* 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
* 1/4 tsp. cloves
* 3 tbsp. sherry (we 
recommend a dark 
sherry, such as Oloroso)

Directions:
Heat the oven to 425F. Peel the squash and apples and slice them into pieces that are roughly the same size: 3 inches long, 1 inch wide, 1/4 inch thick is a good guideline. Melt 1 tbsp. in a frying pan and sauté the squash until softened, about 10 minutes. Combine the cooked squash, apples, raisins, and currants in a bowl. Toss them gently with the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and sherry. Set aside. Place the first (bottom) pie crust in a pie pan, allowing for two inches of crust to drape over the sides. Layer the squash/fruit mixture into the pie. Dot the top with the remaining 2 tbsp. of butter. Cover with the second (top) crust, crimp the edges, and cut a few vents in the crust to allow steam to escape. Bake at 425F for fifteen minutes, then lower the temperature to 375F, turn the pie, and bake for another 50-60 minutes. Total baking time is between 65-75 minutes.( https://shakespeareandbeyond.)

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