John’s grandmother came to America in the late eight hundreds with her family. They were looking for a better life for themselves and opportunities for their children. They settled in the Detroit area to raise their family. The family expanded and produced many branches. One of the branches was John’s grandmother , Helen. She taught the three girls to make many recipes and Polish dishes. These dishes were served for the holidays.
As a new wife, I witnessed the productive efficiency of Christmas cookie creation. One person rolled the dough, another cut out the cookies with cutting forms. The third scooped up the cookie and slid them on to a baking sheet. This cookie must have been a favorite. Some of the recipes made many dozens of cookies. As the cookies age, the texture changes from a hard to a soft chewy confection. The best flavor peaks in two to three weeks. They are stored in a tight container.
John noted that his mother had to hide some of the batch so there would be cookies for the holidays. You may ask,”How many cookies does one family of five people need.”
In john’s moms family there were six children, three boys and three girls. The parties started with Christmas Eve at Grandpa’s house going through New Year’s Eve. Each family hosted a dinner with family members bringing more food to share.
Grandpa Smolinski made kielbasa a traditional polish sausage. He ground the meat, added spices to the raw meat then stuffed the mixture into sausage skins. The sausages were hung to age before cooking. John’s mom and dad picked New Years to host the gathering.
One year, there was an ice storm late that night. Many of the family stayed overnight to avoid the ice until the streets were cleared. John recalls letting his dog, Mike out the back door to relieve himself. Mike, slid from the back steps, across the drive finally stopping in a snow pile. Neither the people nor the dogs went out again that evening.
The family members moved farther from each other. The gatherings were dropped except for Christmas Eve at Aunt Laurie’s and Uncle Joe’s. Unexpected guests were given gifts reserved for such an occasion. I found out about this when we stopped there on Christmas Eve with our young daughter. Ruth even received a special toy from Santa himself in person.
The joy and sharing of these memories remind us of the importance of family, church and community for immigrants to America. As I knead the cookie dough and cut the shapes of circles, bells and trees, the tradition of gathering and sharing the goodness of the past year mingles with retrieved memories.
Whatever special foods are in your childhood, try to make and serve them as a tribute to those who have gone before us. The lemon/anise recipe is below.
Springerle (Anise ) Cookies
Preheat oven to 350 Degrees
One pond powdered sugar
One teaspoon lemon extract
4 cups flour
One teaspoon baking powder
In a 1/4 cup very hot water
Two teaspoons anise flavoring
3 tablespoons anise seed
Beat eggs until light and fluffy . Stir in sugar, beat until combined then add lemon , anise and anise
seed . Mix flour and baking powder and add to mix
Cool the dough in the refrigerator for one hour.
Roll out to 3/8th thick and cut into desired shapes.
Put on greased cookie sheets or parchment paper . Bake for 12 to 15 minutes . When cool store in a
covered container for 2 to 3 weeks before serving.
Makes three dozen cookies.
December 12th 2022