Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Making of a (World-Famous) Tradition

We had an absolutely superb day yesterday celebrating Lepkuchen Day! Wow! It was awesome! DH and I decided that, in terms of Lepkuchen Day, we have finally "arrived." This was our fourth year celebrating, and we finally made everything we wanted out of it.

Here's how our Lepkuchen Day history has gone:

Year #0 - We experience Lepkuchen Day at our friends' house. We are instant converts. 

Year #1 - I couldn't get DH to take me seriously about wanting to celebrate it ourselves, so I made Lepkuchen and DH slept through it. That was it for that year.

Year #2 - We didn't get around to making any cookies because we had just bought a house, so we just went over to our friends' house and ate theirs.

Year #3 - We make a big batch of lepkuchen, but we forget to get our invitations out until something like 1-2 days in advance. We end up having a total of one visitor.

Year #4 - Yesterday!

Well, we got a super-late start. Our open house was 9a till noon, but I figured, "Ah, shucks, no one will actually come right at the beginning," with the end result that I was just serving breakfast and starting to preheat the oven when "Ding, dong!" - in walked two sets of neighbors (including the parents of the woman who used to own our house!). I valiantly tried to conceal the scrambled eggs on the table and did some scrambling of my own to hurry some lepkuchen into the oven so that they could have some to eat before they left.

We had an awesome time getting to finally know some of our neighbors. After that we had several waves of church family drop by, so we actually had three hours of steady visiting for a total of 11 guests - a 1000% increase over last year! (An improvement like that won't be possible to make twice in a row!)

We got all (or most) of our lepkuchen made by 1:00, and then we decided to skip nap time and head straight over to our friends' house for their 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. Lepkuchen Day open house. We ended up staying for three and a half hours and had a splendid time visiting with them and their visitors while baby slept in a back room and our eldest played enthusiastically with the toys they keep for their grandbabies.

It was the best Lepkuchen Day ever. Seriously, Lepkuchen Day is now one of my favorite holidays. It's a wonderful, delicious, fellowship-filled day that has all the makings of a beautiful holiday, but instead of the sadness-tinged nature of Christmas (I always know that Christmas means the end of the Christmas season) it has all the excitement and anticipation of a holiday season just beginning.

I came to thinking afterward that Lepkuchen Day may be the answer to a prayer for me as well. I have been wanting to start some sort of annual neighborhood gathering, but I haven't been able to figure out how to do it. My parents' neighborhood has always had a yearly July 4th block party, which was always a ton of fun, and I've wanted to do the same thing. However, I am a rotten hostess, being among the socially awkward of the world, and I have been very fearful that my attempts to host a July 4th party of our own would be a terrible flop. Lepkuchen Day, which I can handle much better because I'm more of a cook than a hostess, might just be a yearly gathering that we can host for our neighborhood (as well as our friends!), and perhaps it will spur someone more socially-inclined to host a proper block party of some sort or other. Just a thought.

So, in the interest of having one composite article about Lepkuchen Day, I am going to cut and paste from yesterday's article, explaining the history of the holiday, and then I'm going to add "Lepkuchen Day traditions" down at the bottom (so if you've read yesterday's writing, just scroll down to the bottom.


About six years ago, we met an absolutely delightful couple, Dale and Pat. Dale's mother had made a habit of making Lepkuchen in November before Thanksgiving, so when Dale married, he and his wife created their own "official" holiday - Lepkuchen Day, to be celebrated on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, and to be dedicated to the making and eating of Lepkuchen cookies.

We thought it was a splendid idea, and after enjoying a Lepkuchen Day at their house (they hold an open house on L. Day to welcome neighbors and friends), we decided that we simply had to join in the fun. We were newly married, and needing some traditions of our own that weren't just adopted from our individual families, and so Lepkuchen Day became our new holiday tradition.

Tomorrow we will celebrate our fourth Lepkuchen Day (or third active Lepkuchen Day, to be honest, since we skipped one when we had just bought our house). I am so excited! I have three batches of Lepkuchen Dough waiting in the fridge (it's made a week in advance), and we have invited our friends and neighbors to join us (last year we had a grand total of one guest, but it was something!). I am really looking forward to it. Lepkuchen Day has become a very real holiday to us, and we love it!

And so, may I be the first to wish my gentle readers...

..... A Very Happy Lepkuchen Day!

And here is the recipe! 

~ Lep Kuchen ~

There are certain things that are nice to know, especially when the world seems to go not well -- the King is coming, my family loves me, and at Christmas there are Lep Kuchen. The following recipe goes back more generations than I know, but probably came from Germany where the K's and H's (my mother’s family) have their roots. Enjoy making the batter, listen to Christmas music while baking them, and then savor the taste...and the memories. DFK

INGREDIENTS (Use high quality ingredients only)

• 2 lb. brown sugar
• 5 eggs (large)
• 2 tablespoons molasses
• 1 teaspoon allspice
• 1 “ nutmeg
• 1 “ cinnamon
• ½ “ ground cloves
• ½ cup whiskey (Seagram’s 7 Crown is very good.)
• 1 teaspoon baking soda (Dissolve it in the whiskey.)
• 1 cup chopped walnuts (If you buy walnuts that are already chopped, be sure to check them for any pieces of shells.)
• ½ lb. pitted dates (Use very cold scissors or knife to cut up into pieces slightly smaller than a raisin. Better to cut up your own dates than to buy already chopped ones.)
• 1½ to 1¾ quarts flour (This is about 2 lb. Use a liquid-measure container.)
• Box of powdered sugar (for the glaze) and a pastry brush


A. The Batter
1. Cut up the dates and the walnuts (check for pieces of shells).
2. Thoroughly mix brown sugar, eggs, molasses, spices, and baking soda dissolved in the whiskey.
3. Stir in nuts and dates.
4. Add flour slowly (i.e., ½ quart at a time). Dough should be sticky, but not gooey. Don’t add too much flour. 1½ to 1¾ quarts usually is just about right.
5. Mix well. Use hands to blend ingredients.
6. Allow dough to stand 1+ week in covered container in refrigerator.

B. The Baking
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Spread a thin layer of flour on the cutting surface.
3. Have moist hands and moist rolling pin (cold water) to pat down and roll out dough (about ¼” thick, more or less to personal preference).
4. Cut dough into diamond shapes using a cold, wet table knife.
5. Use a non-stick cookie sheet.
6. Bake 8-10 minutes. Test the first tray to determine if you need to bake them shorter or longer.
7. Allow the cookies to cool, then spread a thin glaze on each. Make the glaze by adding water to powdered sugar until it forms a pasty consistency (a little thinner than Elmer’s glue).

1 batch makes 85-100 of the best cookies on earth.

* My own note: Since I don't like to spend all day rolling out cookies, I do slice-and-bake. The night before L. Day, I roll the dough into logs and wrap in plastic. They're a bit too soft to do just refrigerated, so I pop them in the freezer a few hours in advance so they're semi-frozen. I'm going to experiment to see if they can be sliced when completely frozen, and if that works, I'll post here. Yesterday I discovered that the colder they are, the better (and less stickily) they slice. Also, you can dip your knife in water to keep it from sticking.


Lepkuchen Day Traditions

(1) Our friends D&P make Lepkuchen Day the day that they first play Christmas music. I can't pull that off, since I start playing Christmas music in something like February (and I cheat - I really start in January), but it's a great way to do it.

(2) Our friends also make it a tradition that the first song that they play on Lepkuchen Day must be their family's favorite Christmas song. We didn't find that out till yesterday evening, so it was too late, but we'll do that next year.

(3) Our friend Dale has special air-bake cookie sheets, the "sanctified cookie sheets," that are used for nothing but Lepkuchen. They are carefully wrapped and stored and are brought out for nothing but Lepkuchen Day (and are thus in terrific shape). We may get around to this!

(4) Lepkuchen Day is also a day for inviting friends and neighbors over to visit. This is the part that makes it so special! Thanks so much to everyone who joined us yesterday! (And to those who wanted to, but couldn't!) Friends can eat snacks (this year I made apple cider in a crockpot and put out chips and salsa... I am so stinking proud of myself) and help glaze lepkuchen while they visit. We send everyone away with a plate of lepkuchen (as well as all they can eat while they're here).

(5) After Lepkuchen Day, we give Lepkuchen to neighbors and friends. We have some in the freezer for everyone who requested it and our near neighbors, plus our midwife, our mail carrier, etc.

(6) In each package of cookies that we give out, we put a paper tag that reads, "Life is hard, but at least there are Lepkuchen." Our friends this year also started putting a little paper with the history of Lepkuchen Day, and I think we'll do the same next year.

(7) This one is ours! We put a sign on all the doors that said "Happy Lepkuchen Day" and gave what is, to us, the classic Lepkuchen Day quote: "There are certain things that are nice to know, especially when the world seems to go not well -- the King is coming, my family loves me, and at Christmas there are Lep Kuchen." - Dale K.

(8) As Lepkuchen Day approaches, we post manic reminders on social media sites, as in, "Only six months till Lepkuchen Day!" By the time Lepkuchen Day actually arrives, most of our friends and acquaintances are pretty well convinced that we are either unbalanced or actively insane.

(9) We uphold Lepkuchen Day traditions with a religious fervor that drives said friends and acquaintances to the same conclusions reached in point #8. Our friend Dale is the master of this, but we do our best to tread in his footsteps.

(10) We take lots of pictures! This one we completely flopped on. Completely. Not one picture (any pics taken were done post-event.) Next year when you're over, remind us to take pictures! 

And there you have it! This year across the nation there were five families (plus one to come) celebrating Lepkuchen Day, so, as Dale puts it, "The Lepkuchen Day revolution has begun!" If you're looking for a superb annual tradition, join us next year!

And as they say.... Only 364 days till Lepkuchen Day!

No comments:

Post a Comment

I love to hear from you! All kind and thoughtful comments will be published; all inconsiderate or hurtful comments will be deleted quietly without comment. Thanks for visiting!