For the past week or so our Sievers Facebook friends have seen a series of posts featuring the childhood rememberances of Christmas from Walter Schutz. Walter was born in 1900 and grew up in Milwaukee on Holton Street, about three blocks from the Milwaukee River. He had a remarkable memory, going back to his very early years. Sharing excerpts (and the illustrations of Marguerite Jewell) from his book, It Was Fun Being Young, is one way of weaving a thread of traditions from the early 1900’s through today. Through December we’ll be sharing more of Walter’s Christmas and New Year’s memories on our Facebook page.
He writes, “It was only a week or two before the 25th that children and their parents thought about and generally planned for the festivities. On a Saturday, parents would take their youngsters downtown to Gimbels, the Boston Store, or Chapmans, the elite place to shop. Schusters had a store only six blocks away, so I would get there more than once. All of these would have animated window displays and a lot of glitter. This limited exposure to the ‘goodies’ made a deep impression and no youngster would ever forget it. There were only a few places where Christmas trees could be purchased. In our neighborhood, it was Ellenbecker’s grocery store. The tree would appear Christmas Eve in all its glory, with white flickering candles, giving the front room a feeling of mystery and excitement. This was before non-drip candles so a big white sheet was spread out and pinned to the carpet. During the week when the candles were burning, someone was always present to watch the tree.”
“The ornaments for the tree were quite simple. Included were a number of wood turnings my father had made years ago of white holly, ebony, walnut and red cedar. They were in the shape of acorns, apples and pears; each turned on a lathe, some of which were gilded. I was told that at my parents’ first Christmas, my father fashioned one in the form of a walnut and in it he hid a diamond ring as a present to my mother. The tree stood in a square low frame stand made to look like a picket fence with corner posts. There was a small Santa Claus about 10″ high who stood below the tree right next to the trunk. His garment was soiled with dripping candle wax, a sort of badge attesting to his loyal and constant service to our family.”
“We also had cherry wax ornaments. They were made of two red or yellow balls with wire to be draped over a branch. It was considered great fun to try and pass them off to someone as original sugar treats. No one ever was fooled by this trick, but it was great fun pretending. The tree had garlands of pink popcorn or small, round colored sugar balls in white, green and pink. After Christmas was over, these garlands of colored candy balls were fun to eat. We would cut strings of them, ten to fifteen inches long, and pass the string through our teeth to peel off the candies. It was nice to take along a string or two and eat the candy on the way back to school after lunch.”
“About two weeks in advance, my mother began the cookie and cake baking ceremonies. She baked Pfeffernusse which had a distinctive clove and cinnamon flavor. She put the dough in a big brown bowl, covered it with a towel, and set it on top of the black walnut bookcase in the dining room. She also baked Lebkuchen, a very complicated recipe with a sugar-ice frosting and Springerle. All of these were delicious but were never touched until the 25th of December. Most of them became quite hard as the weeks passed and I remember placing a Pfeffernusse on my spoon and soaking it in my cup of coffee. In all of this and other Christmas baking, I remember one word: Hirschhorn Saltze, which must’ve been a seasoning.” (Looking for this, I came upon hirschhornsalz, or baker’s ammonia, used in German baking to make cookies extra-crisp.)
“Perhaps the highlight of the Christmas baking activity was the stollen my mother baked. It seemed to be a two-day process guarded by strict procedures. The stollen were made of yeast dough which would rise when placed close to the hot air of the furnace ducts. At a given time they would be slipped into the oven and almost at once the whole house would be filled with the aroma of cardamom and other spices and Christmas had arrived. In later years my wife Sophie was taught the ritual.”
Courtesy of Chris Spisla, we are sharing a German Christmas Stollen recipe with you. (The photo above show the result of my efforts.)
Café Selmarie’s Christmas Stollen Preparation time: 30 minutes; Soaking time: 12 hours or more; Rising time: 2-3 hours; Baking time: 40 minutes; Yield: 1 loaf, 16 slices
1 c. dark raisins
1/4 cup dark rum
1 1/2 Tablespoons active dry yeast (not quick-rising)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup whole milk, heated to lukewarm (105 to 115 degrees)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Grated rind (yellow part only) of 1/2 lemon
1/4 teaspoon each: almond extract, ground cardamom, grated nutmeg
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, thoroughly softened
1/2 cup each: mixed chopped candied fruit, chopped almonds
1/4 cup finely diced citron
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
1 1/2 Tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
- At least 12 hours before, mix raisins and rum in small bowl, cover and let stand at room temperature.
- Stir yeast and 2 teaspoons of the sugar into warm milk in bowl; let stand till foamy, 5 minutes. Mix flour, remaining sugar, salt, lemon rind, extract and spices in large bowl. Add yeast mixture, stirring to form a crumbly mass. With wooden spoon, stir in softened butter, forming soft dough. Turn out onto a floured surface; knead until smooth, about 5 minutes. Dough also can be made in a food processor.
- Put dough into large bowl, cover and rise in a warm spot until doubled in bulk, 2 to 3 hours.
- Heat oven to 325 degrees. Punch down down to remove air. Combine raisins, candied fruit, almonds, citron. Knead into dough.
- With rolling pin, roll dough to an oval, about 8- by 10-inches. To form the traditional stollen shape, make an indentation down the length of the dough, placing it slightly off center. Fold one long side over, so it overlaps by about two-thirds. Transfer to a greased baking sheet. Bake until golden, about 40 minutes.
- Carefully transfer stollen to wire rack. While warm, brush melted butter over and sprinkle with granulated sugar. When cool, sift confectioners’ sugar over top.
A couple of hints from Chris: “Use slivered almonds and soak them overnight in milk. This is an Oma trick that softens the almonds. Use the leftover milk to proof the yeast. I use chopped Door County dried cherries and dried apricots in place of the mixed chopped candied fruit.” And as to Pfeffernusse and Lebkuchen, “Lebkuchen – there are 2 schools on that, the soft kind and the hard kind. I have made the hard kind before. I like the soft kind better so I go out and buy my Lebkuchen this time of year. If you are lucky enough to live near an Aldi’s or World Market, they have really good Lebkuchen from Germany. The good stuff.” The same comments were shared about Pfeffernusse. The stollen recipe was printed in the Chicago Tribune about 25 years ago.
Walter wrote about his gifts as a young boy. “There was always a moderate exchange of gifts. For me, usually, I received some toy my father had made. One was a darling two-wheeled Irish cart with shafts to fit a play horse I had received the previous Christmas. The horse itself was about fourteen inches high so you can get the dimension of what the wagon was like. The horse was covered with actual horse hide in black and white. There was also an ornate railroad station to go along with a wind-up train, also received the previous year. “Santa was really my father”, Walter wrote. “He made an all-wood locomotive at least 20 inches long with spoke wheels, piston rods and other minute details. The entire engine was hollow and it was fun when he blew smoke from his pipe into the cabin to see it come out of the smokestack. Also, he made a farmer’s sleigh with separate front and rear runners. It could be taken apart, like a puzzle. It was about 18-20 inches long.”
“Other presents included clothing. I do not remember what my brother and sister received: I suppose I was too wrapped up in my own joyous world. A family joke that lasted for years was the gift my father always received, a clip-on tie. There were no shirts with collars at the time. Shirts had a collar band with a button in front and back which held the collar in place. When we were all dressed up for the Christmas meal, my father never wore a tie because he was certain there would be one for him under the Christmas tree. It never failed! The family bought all of its men’s clothing from Bert Bagley’s store on Third St. near North Ave. A week or so before Christmas, my brother went into the store and the clerk told him my sister had been in a few days before to buy him a tie. My brother discovered what the design was and bought an exact duplicate. On Christmas Eve, just before we were to get our gifts, my brother came to the table wearing the exact same tie that he was about to receive from my sister. It was funny to everyone except my sister and personally, I do not think it was a very nice thing to do.”
We’ll stop here for now. If you aren’t on Facebook, we’re certainly willing to continue the series here, too, just let us know and we’ll share more of Walter’s childhood remembrances very soon.Share Sievers with Friends...
Mary Reithmeier says
Loved the stories, and could just taste the goodies as they are all part of our Christmas story, too, must be Wisconsin! Were the Pfeffernusse ever cut with a thimble? They were at my uncle’s house!
Carolyn Foss says
I hope you’ll have some of those goodies on your cookie tray this year. Using a thimble, now those are some small cookies! It must’ve resulted in many, many dozens. Happy holidays from all of us at Sievers!
Pat Smith says
Loved your Walter stories. I just discovered bakers ammonia a few years ago, and my Springerle cookies are so much better.
Carolyn Foss says
Thanks, Pat! Interesting to hear your results using bakers ammonia, I’d never heard of it before. All the best in the new year from your friends at Sievers!
Mary Dow Ross says
Oh thank you, Carolyn. I’ve loved reading this. I am not on Facebook, so please continue to share if you are willing.
The stollen recipe looked interesting and reminded me that Carl (one of your other weaving students from the Ross household) used to make about 75 Swedish tea rings for teachers, friends and other kind people in our life. I’m not sure the mixer ever stopped running during the two weeks before Christmas.
Happy Holidays to you all. Stay safe.
Carolyn Foss says
Great, I would love to share another installment. It has been so much fun reading Walter’s words. Swedish tea rings…oh my goodness! We had those at home, too. They’re not only delicious, but beautiful. I can’t imagine making 75 of them. It’s been a long time since I’ve had one, so I see this as a good reason to add it to my baking list soon.
Carol Bockhop says
Wonderful that you took the time to bring these memories of Walter to us. Thank you so much. Please keep them coming. Learned so many things I never knew. The ammonia that I had never heard of. Have a Blessed Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year.May next year be better for the school.
Carolyn Foss says
Hi Carol, It’s been so much fun and I will definitely send another post with more. I could probably fill months worth with all of Walter’s stories. Take care, Merry Christmas and the best to you in the new year from your Sievers friends!
Pamela Jacobs says
Giving away baked goods is still one of my favorite traditions.
Carolyn Foss says
Mine, too! Baking and giving are equally wonderful. Happy Holidays from your Sievers friends.
Melanie Bauer says
This was so much fun to read ! Thanks Carolyn. I have often thought that Walter was one the sweetest and most interesting men I ever met. Now we know where the train fascination came from. He was so talented and a great story teller. As demonstrated above…such a vivid picture he paints.
Carolyn Foss says
Thanks, Melanie! It’s been so much fun to share these stories, it’s like I’m hearing his voice telling them. He’s one of those people that lives on long after they’re gone. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from all of us at Sievers!
Polly Renk says
This was GREAT fun to read and wish that Christmases now could return to the simple ways of life. I am now in my 80s and all my Christmases as a young person are planted firmly in my memory bank. Thanks for doing this. i am not on Facebook. Would love to continue reading about Walter and his growing up years.
Carolyn Foss says
Hi Polly, We’re glad you enjoyed reading Walter’s Christmas memories. One thing he had written was that “it was only a week or two before the 25th that children and their parents thought about the festivities. In contrast, there are commercials on TV in September. In a way I feel sorry for little children today. We give them so little to look forward to.” I’ll definitely be posting more of these stories. Merry Christmas!
What a fun “read”! Thank you for sharing.
Happy holidays to all of you in this crazy time. I look forward to the day when we can gather again for classes. Cheers!
Carolyn Foss says
Thanks, Lauri, and our best to you in the new year!
Linda Hoppe says
Thanks for reminding me about Walter’s stories. I loved when he would come down to the Paper Making Studio, when it was in barn and sternly tap that cane to the floor, with a mean look on his face and then disclosed his official business for being there. STORY TIME, and we all stopped everything, and listened to his stories. Great Memories, that I hold close to my heart.
Just might have to get that book out and have a good Christmas read.
Take care, be well, and hope you enjoy all of the JOYS of this special season. Love, Linda p.s. don’t forget to look for the Star of Bethlehem tonight.
Carolyn Foss says
It’s been a lot of fun to revisit these stories and we can hear Walter’s voice as we read them. He’s definitely one of those people that even though he’s gone now, he’s still with us in many ways.
We could probably share snippets of his book for the whole year!
Merry Christmas! Love, your Sievers friends.