A Word About June Meyer's
A month and a half before Christmas my Mother would start baking many cookies to see us through the Holiday Season. Hungarian cookies usually are made from butter or lard, dried fruits, nuts of all kinds, sour cream, cream cheese, spices and lemon zest. Very old recipes usually do not contain baking powder, but rely on lots of eggs. It was common for a cookie recipe to call for 24 egg yolks.
As a child, I remember the whole family sitting around the kitchen table, picking the nut meats out of the walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, and almonds. We would pound the nuts open with a hammer and use the nut picks to pick out the meat. One for the bowl, one for the mouth. My Mother would yell at us to not eat so many, she needed them for the cookies. My Grandmother sat at the table with the nut mill she brought from Hungary and milled the nuts for the cookies and strudels. Other nuts were chopped for sprinkling on top of cookies. It was a wonderful day when nut companies started selling shelled nuts in the store. Something was gained but something was also lost.
Some cookies were rolled out and cut with the old cookies cutters from Hungary, some were pressed into an ancient copper cookie mold in the shape of a bundle of wheat and gently knocked out. Other cookies were rolled in the hand and baked and then rolled in powdered sugar or sugar and milled nuts.
Pounds of dried Apricots and dried Prunes were cooked on the stove with water and sugar to make the Lekvar for Kipfils and cookies. No store bought Apricot or Prune filling can compare with the home made. Lekvar will keep for a year in a covered jar in the refrigerator, longer in the freezer.
The cookie most beloved and treasured was the Linzerteig (dough from Linz, Austria). It meant that we children would be helping to cut the cookies out and decorating them.
The old cookie cutters were large and small. Hand made and soldered more than 150 years ago, the cutters were black with many years of use.
Hearts, Diamonds, Spades, Clubs, Crescent Moons, Stars, Suns. No Frosty the Snowman, or Rudolph, no Christmas trees, no Angels. Just the celestial bodies and the suits of cards. I have an uncomfortable suspicion that these cookie cutter symbols are more pagan than Christian.
After the cookies were cut from the dough, we would coat the top of the raw cookie with some egg white that was beaten with a few drops of water, and then sprinkle some decorations on it. Colored sugars, mixtures of chopped nuts and sugar, half of a candied cherry or a dab of Lekvar.
Baking would go on for weeks. The washing of the Cookie pans were my job. It was a never ending job. The wet dish towels hung over the oven to dry. Pans going into the oven and pans coming out of the oven. Cookies burn very quickly if they are not watched. You can always tell by smell when the cookies are done. There is a fine line between "done" and "burned". This was serious business!
At least 20 different cookies and three kinds of Strudels, Walnut, Poppy Seed and Raisin would be made. Trays of Kipfels with assorted fillings, Prune, Apricot, nut, and cheese would be made before the baking was finally done. All of the family cooking pots, roasters, and cookie tins were filled with cookies. We had a stairway leading up to an unheated attic. Every step held two pots, or roasters. The cookies would keep fresh till they were made into gift platters for our neighbors, friends, and co-workers.
My mother never forgot anyone. All received a generous platter of Hungarian Cookies, Kipfels, and Strudels for Christmas. She was much appreciated for her loving labors. This was the way it was done in the old days. She continued this practice all her life, until her 70's when she died.
My sister Theresa and I inherited not only the cookie recipes, but all the cookie sheets, strudel pans and cookie cutters, molds and the willingness to continue this Christmas Cookie tradition, but on a more limited scale.
Regards, June Meyer.