Pf­ef­fer­nüsse more than quirky hol­i­day con­fec­tion

The durable cookie sum­mons pre­cious mem­o­ries of fam­ily.

Austin American-Statesman - - D FOOD & LIFE - abroyles@states­

ByAd­die Broyles

Sally Jo Hahn just wanted to give her dad a taste of one of his fa­vorite cook­ies for his 92nd birth­day this month.

The South Aus­ti­nite emailed me in Oc­to­ber to ask whether I knew where to fflnd any old-fash­ioned pfe­fiernüsse recipes like her grand­mother’s, which con­tained po­tash (potas­sium car­bon­ate) and am­mo­nium car­bon­ate, in­gre­di­ents used in the 19th cen­tury to add leav­en­ing and a crisp­ness to the small, round cook­ies.

When her grand­mother, Marie Rahn, and mother, An­neliese Hahn, died a year apart about a decade ago, the recipe got lost in the shuf­fle of their pos­ses­sions.

The cook­ies Hahn re­mem­bered were heav­ily spiced with cin­na­mon, cloves, anise, cardamom and nut­meg, and be­cause they were hard as nails, they shipped well and stayed good for months.

We pub­lished her re­quest and were in­un­dated with recipes. More than 30 of you sent in your own fam­ily recipes and sto­ries about th­ese Ger­man cook­ies, which are also pop­u­lar in a num­ber of north­ern Euro­pean coun­tries.

I for­warded all the notes, in­clud­ing the hand­writ­ten ones, to Hahn, and last week, I helped her make a batch.

While we were rolling out the long ropes of sticky, dense dough, I found out that there was much more to her fam­ily’s love of pfe­fiernüsse than its sig­na­ture spice.

Here’s how Hahn tells it: Her grand­par­ents and mother em­i­grated to Michi­gan from what was then East Prus­sia af­ter World War I ended. In 1944, her mother mar­ried Jerry Hahn, a sol­dier who was also from Detroit.

All in all, Hahn was de­ployed for two and a

half years dur­ing World War II, in­clud­ing fight­ing un­der Ge­orge S. Pat­ton in the Bat­tle of the Bulge, and dur­ing his time in Europe, his mother-in-law would send tins of pf­ef­fer­nüsse in his care pack­ages.

The irony is not lost on Sally Jo Hahn that her Ger­man grand­mother sent Ger­man cook­ies to her fa­ther, who was fight­ing the Nazis not all that far from the part of Europe where her grand­par­ents had left less than 20 years be­fore.

The his­tory of this par­tic­u­lar recipe, of course, led to en­tirely dif­fer­ent sto­ries, a heart­break­ing one of rel­a­tives, in­clud­ing young chil­dren, cross­ing heav­ily guarded bor­ders in the mid­dle of the night, and an­other of her dad stay­ing up late to trans­mit Morse code with the help of cof­fee so thick that a spoon could stand up on its own in the mid­dle of the cup.

For Jerry Hahn, slowly chew­ing on those rich, fla­vor­ful cook­ies from home made the nights pass a

Sally Jo Hahn lost her grand­mother’s recipe for pf­ef­fer­nüsse, a tra­di­tional cookie made in coun­tries through­out Europe dur­ing the hol­i­days. Her grand­mother, Marie Rahn (left), used to ship the cook­ies to Hahn’s fa­ther, Jerry Hahn, pic­tured on his wed­ding day with Sally Jo’s mom, An­neliese.

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