By Mark Wieser,
We are celebrating Founders Day in Fredericksburg this week, and not just any Founders Day – it’s the start of our 175th Anniversary Year and that’s nothing to sneeze at! As I so often refer to the Fredericksburg Home Kitchen Cookbook, I thought it would be fun to give you some history on its origin and to share an old time cookie recipe from the old country.
The first edition of the Fredericksburg Home Kitchen Cook Book contains many interesting recipes that I would have thought to have been unusual in 1916—an Oyster Cocktail, for example. Oyster Soup was not so surprising as canned oysters were readily available but finding so many recipes for fresh oysters for a town so far from the sea seemed a little odd. Perhaps the ladies simply wanted their collection of recipes to appear more sophisticated. A Mutton Stew might have been more at home here. Finding Mexican rice dishes perhaps was a clue that culinary tastes were changing but finding five recipes for doughnuts revealed more about their popularity as do the three recipes for Hermit cookies which were apparently quite popular and remarkably, contain all the ingredients found in Lebkuchen – a traditional German cookie recipe.
I always had assumed that the Fredericksburg Home Kitchen Cook Book was published by our local Parent Teachers Association, but that apparently was not entirely the case. The Texas Congress of Parents and Teachers (PTA) was first organized as the Texas Congress of Mothers and Parent-Teachers Association in Dallas in 1909 and whose goal was to carry out “extension work,” which included, among other things, “to raise the standards of home life.” One could assume that creating new dishes to feed a family might have fit in that mission. I just could not determine whether the Ladies Auxiliary of Fredericksburg, Texas, was part of the local PTA, but my Sixth Edition (1948) clearly noted that it was. I have never seen the 2nd through 5th editions to determine when the change was made.
Locally, the task to do a cookbook was done by its four officers—two of whom I knew personally, and one of whom was a regular of my mother’s every other Thursday afternoon bridge club. They were Mrs. H. Goldchmidt, Mrs. Emil Riley, Miss Elizabeth Hanisch, and Mrs. Robert (Nannie) Striegler. Their preface included a hope that any proceeds might “smooth over some of the rough places along the road for our school, its teachers and its pupils.”
The Ladies Auxiliary introduced their book by writing about Cooking and Culture on the Pedernales and described the rolling prairie around Fredericksburg as one “dripping with the violent torrential rains or seared and parched…by summers’ drought” …but one which “submitted to the ax – tocsin of human progress. In homespun cloth, astride on shaggy ponies, the lads and lasses wend their way to the log schoolhouse on the hillock, summoned by the peal of the forefather of all Texas school-bells.” The ladies were obviously proud that the importance of education among our pioneers had led to the formation of some forty schools throughout the county. Their book, however, was intended to benefit only one—the Fredericksburg Public School. And, their introduction continued, “There is loud rejoicing here for what has been achieved…for nestled among these lovely hills—a city bright and fair, … led by a wise council, and crowned by the fairest of all temples—a perfect SCHOOL-HOUSE.” Their introduction was a bit much, but one should try to read it all. Nothing like that would every appear in print today.
The purpose of the cookbook was not to just raise money for the school, but to promote the idea of a new beautiful high school building. That goal, as it turned out, was still nearly a quarter century away. It became however, the building I knew as my high school building and which today serves as Fredericksburg Junior High. That building was eventually built about 1939 and was nearly identical to the photograph included in their 1916 cookbook.
The cookbook committee, as would be the case for the next seven decades, was to ask members to submit recipes. They needed not necessarily be original, but simply ones that had been acquired and made by them. Many, perhaps like my mom, had clipped dozens of recipes from newspapers and magazines hoping one day to make them. Perhaps it was expected that the task of housewives was to keep introducing new dishes to their families. And perhaps it is why sharing recipes is still so popular.
Their cookbook also threw in a few practical helpful hints for housewives—from removing stains using salt and lemon juice, to keeping clothes pins in a hot oven until ready to hang out one’s washing on a cold day, and how to bake Castor oil in a recipe so children would not know that they were taking their medicine. Remarkably, that recipe closely resembled Lebkuchen and may have contributed to its demise. A final note submitted by Mrs. Louis Wright included advice on How to Preserve a Husband, but with no reference as to its original source. As it turns out that recipe first appeared in the Jubilee Cook Book published in 1897 and continues to be giddily popular and reprinted and modified to this day.
Remarkably, in scanning through the microfilm of the Fredericksburg Standard for 1916, I found no publication notice by the paper nor any advertising for marketing the first edition of the new cookbook. It would appear the ladies sold their copies simply by word of mouth, but they had solicited advertising from local and area merchants. These give us an insight to what products were available in local groceries and fresh produce markets. The amazing thing is to note which can still be found on grocery shelves a century later—practically none save for Pioneer Flour which got its start here.
Perhaps what is even more remarkable is to recall that our moms once had to rinse rice under running water before cooking to remove the talc in which the rice had been dusted giving it a pearly-white appearance. Just image that being permitted today. In fact, some imported rice may still be. And who among us still sorts through the pinto beans to remove small rocks? That was once a common practice on our kitchen table. These were steps that everyone knew to do. Much like the taste of a good Lebkuchen—forgotten.
Lebkuchen is generally identified with Germany. It is generally thought of more at Christmas. The 1916 edition of the Fredericksburg Home Kitchen Cook Book had recipes for a White Lebkuchen submitted by Mrs. W. J. Jung and one simply noted as Lebkuchen submitted by a Mrs. Roehm. Hers was a recipe for making a cake. The three for Hermit cookies brought the total recipes devoted to Lebkuchen to five. However, the first time I ever recall tasting Lebkuchen was while spending Christmas in Germany in 1969.
As it turns out there are many types of Lebkuchen. They all generally contain spices, honey or molasses and nuts. Crusaders are generally credited with bringing spices to Europe from the Holy Land nearly 1,500 years before Columbus’ voyages changed European cuisine forever. The ‘leb’ in Lebkuchen refers to the word for life. Kuchen, of course, means cake, but this cake is more akin to an unleavened cake and likely so because the early monks along the Rhine River Valley preferred it that way. I have often mentioned the number of great spices the New World gave us, but it is difficult to comprehend that our European ancestors and likely much of the world once lived with no pepper, no nutmeg nor cinnamon nor any of the wonderful spices we today seen to hardly notice. The remarkable advantage of these spices is that they not only made foods taste better but also served as preservatives.
Lebkuchen is first noted as having arrived in Germany at Ulm in 1296. By 1370 Munich had its own professional Lebkuchen baker. Yet it was in Nuremberg that Lebkuchen became especially noted as its home. These small cakes are sometimes better known as Pfefferkuchen or, more familiar known as Pfeffernüsse. Other spices that have found a home in Lebkuchen include cloves, cardamon, coriander, ginger, and mace. Nuts used in Europe included hazelnuts, walnuts, and almonds. In Texas, pecans were the obvious substitutes of our pioneers. I found the following recipe among my mother’s handwritten notes.
1 pt. water
¼ lb. lard
¼ unsalted butter
3 lbs. brown sugar
10 ¾ cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 pkg citron
1 qt nuts
Combine all ingredients.
Pour into large pan,
Cover and let stand overnight.
Cut into cookie size pieces.
Bake at 375ºF for 10-15 minutes.