Family Traditions: Peppernuts

One of the best parts of getting married for me was marrying into a family rich with it’s own traditions. The Morford clan is known for its epic board game collection, its hereditary ping pong skills, biscuits and sausage gravy, and….peppernuts. Pepperwhats? The first time I went home with my husband for Christmas almost 8 years ago, I was introduced to the oddest cookie I’d ever seen. It looks like a dog biscuit, and yet it’s perhaps one of the most addictive treats I’ve ever known. They are tiny and crunchy and can be eaten by the handful. The Morford men are known to receive pillow cases full of peppernuts at the holidays, although in my time I’ve only seen them in huge tupperwares and jars. They are a staple at Christmastime.

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Few things make my husband happier than sitting down at night in front of a football game or Netflix cuddled up with his bourbon and his jar of peppernuts. And since few things make me happier than my husband, I’m intent on filling his peppernut jar annually. From the beginning of my relationship with my husband, it was clear that I would take on the tradition of baking them annually, and I hope I will be able to carry forth that tradition and pass it on to my kids.

After years of apprenticing my mother-in-law in the kitchen, I have taken on baking these myself for the past two years, and two years ago it dawned on me that the rolling of the dough is quite similar to playdough. This gave me the idea to host a peppernuts party for toddlers who could easily roll the dough in balls, snakes, and cut it with plastic knives into the thumb-sized nobbins. Last year, I hosted 20 toddlers for the first annual Peppernuts Playdate, and this year I’ll host at least half a dozen.

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Another tradition I have picked up from my in-laws is service to others, especially this time of year — so each year, I dedicate my peppernuts party to someone. Last year it was military kids, and this year, its to the Peninsula Food Bank. Baking and donating go so well together.

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So, if you’re looking for an easy, addictive cookie that lasts for weeks (months, really), and can be made by toddlers and non-bakers alike, I urge you to add the peppernut to your holiday baking repertoire.

The recipe I inherited is somewhat vague, so I’ve included it here with some of my notes on how to make the baking process go smoother.

Peppernuts (taken from the German pfeffernusse)

 

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This recipe, made in full, will use the better part of a 5 lb bag of flour (which you won’t even find listed on the original recipe card). You can feel free to half the recipe, and it halves quite easily.  The “half batch” will make enough to fill two large tupperware containers, or 6-8 tins.

 

 

 

 

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Full Recipe

3 cups sugar

3 cups shortening (Crisco)

2 cups light corn syrup

1 cup cream (I use whipping cream)

1/2 cup milk

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon cloves

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 eggs

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I recommend a stand mixer for this recipe, or a very large bowl and a hand mixer. Regardless of what you use, you will need to make this in two “batches.” In the bowl of the stand mixer with the paddle attachment, or in your large bowl, add half of the sugar (1.5 cups), Crisco (1 cup), and corn syrup (1 cup). Add one egg. Add 1/2 cup cream, 1/4 cup milk and 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. nutmeg, 1/4 tsp. cloves, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon baking powder. Once incorporated, using a full 5 lb. bag of flour, start adding small amounts of flour. Keep adding until the dough is the consistency of playdough – if you are using a stand mixer, it will start to lock up- don’t let it burn out the motor, but when it starts to lock up, that is enough flour. If you want to measure, there are about 17 cups of flour in a 5 lb bag- so you will need somewhere between 8-9 cups. Scrape out the dough completely, but don’t clean the paddle or the bowl. Put the dough in a large tupperware container or bowl.

 

Repeat the entire process with the other half of the ingredients until the bag of flour is gone.

Prepare a sheet pan with parchment or silpat.

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Taking about 1 cup of dough at a time, roll into a ball and then into two “snakes”. Using your thumbnail as a guide, and a knife, cut thumbnail sized chunks of dough and place them on a sheet pan. They won’t puff up much so you can put a lot of them on the pan and quite close together. Bake for 15 minutes at 350. They are done when they are slightly brown on the bottom. Cool slightly (2-3 min) and then you can use your hand to knock all of the cookies off and onto a baking rack (they aren’t delicate).

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Enjoy – they wont last long which is why we try to make 10,000 of them at once!

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Advent(ures)

I’ve been searching for meaning. Meaning in a season that seems to revolve around Santa, elves that do the parenting for you for a few weeks, spending money you may or may not have, stress, weight gain, zero downtime, and a lot of musts and shoulds and expectations. I know that it’s supposed to be magical, but it hasn’t felt that way for me for a long time. Christmas seems less about Christ’s birth than ever. Ask my husband and he’ll give you a spiel about Paganism, Saturnalia, fire hazards and lying to your kids about a fat man breaking into your house. Sorry for anyone who has been to a Christmas cocktail party with him in the last, er, lifetime, he can be a bit of a (historically accurate) buzz kill.

When I had children, I resolved to resolve some of the inner turmoil I was feeling. I felt that, in order to be a good parent, I had to really believe in the season, and strive to create traditions for them that would feel like…home. I wanted to be able to explain to my kids why we celebrate the way we do, and why we are celebrating in the first place.

Whether you eat braised short rib lasagna on Christmas Eve (looking at you Gina, and wow was that a Christmas Eve to remember), or Chinese food after Mass, or whether your traditions revolve around Santa, cookies, Jesus, elaborate gifts or more, your traditions must mean something to you. You must be able to defend them.

Why are those traditions important to you?

Growing up, Advent was synonymous with a chocolate calendar with little perforated doors. My sister and I alternated days of putting that little wafer of molded milk chocolate on our tongues. When I started my own my family, I identified Advent as a season of anticipation, and I have always been an anticipation-junkie.

For me, waiting for a vacation, or anticipating a reunion has always been as sweet to me as the actual event, so it makes sense that Zac and I have centered our traditions around Advent, as a way to reconnect around the values that matter most to us: togetherness, undivided attention, quality experiences, memory making and giving back to the people who hold up our little family.

The Medium

 

Your calendar can be elaborate, it can be virtual, or it can be a small DIY project that you put together during a naptime. My friend Starr has an Advent calendar that is an elaborate wood structure, hand-painted, a work of art. My friend Katharina has a gold and white inspired tree with sachets attached that glitters in the way only German Chirstmas decor can do. My friend Megan made one herself that matches her stunning winter white and gold decor scheme. My sister-in-law Carey made one from solo cups once that inspired me before I even had kids. Mine is from Pottery Barn kids, and takes two seconds to hang and fill with paper. Because our advent season centers around experiences, I don’t need for it to hold much.

What follows is a template for advent, should you choose to take on this tradition with your family.  You can mix and match these to create a calendar that works for you and your family, and I’ll let you in on a secret, you can switch up the papers/days as the month goes along – the key is being flexible. This is not meant to be something that adds a lot of extra work to your plate – if it does, it shouldn’t be a tradition in your family. I want you to revel in your traditions, question them, reform them so they constantly work for you, and include your family in them as much as you can as they grow. As a mama, it can feel like the work of the holidays falls straight onto your shoulders alone, and that can be really lonely.

The Mix

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The mix that I’ve come up with has 6 categories. Use these 6 categories to choose your activities, and assign them to days. If you are working parents with kids in school, the bulk of your experiences will fall during the weekends, where the weekday activities will be light. If you are home with kids all day and looking for ideas, you may center more of your experiences during the week and keep the weekends light, as holiday month weekends are always busy on their own. As the month goes on, you can always adjust these. In our home, the majority of our celebrating will be done in the days leading up to Christmas, and the day itself will be mostly lazy, with 1-2 gifts, and a lot of snuggling and eating, playing and FaceTiming with family.

  • Making Things: clove oranges, popcorn garlands, cotton ball snowmen, homemade snow globes, cutting snowflakes, signing Christmas cards, coloring wrapping paper, painting ornaments, watercolor place card settings, or any number of crafty crafts you can find – this is not my forte, but I can google stuff and if it’s not too messy, I can roll with it. I love to host these as play dates so there are more adults around and the supplies can cover multiple kiddos
  • Baking Things: holiday appetizers (to be frozen and popped in the oven for impromptu guests), your family’s favorite cookie, classic sugar cookies, instant pot lemon curd, freezer biscuits, monkey bread for Christmas morning, rolling pigs in a blanket, making egg nog, making a gingerbread house or scene
  • Giving Things: cookies for the mailman, goodies for the UPS/FedEx delivery men, teacher gifts, assembling kits for the homeless, shopping for kids for the Angel Tree, sending care packages to the military stationed abroad, delivering gifts to those in need, volunteering at a local shelter
  • Dollar Store Things: dollar store, dollar section at Target – I’m talking stickers, window decals, light up necklaces, gold chocolate coins, coloring books,
  • Big Days Out: tickets to see the Nutcracker, plans to see a Christmas parade, attending a Christmas concert, caroling, a wagon stroll to see Christmas lights, visiting Santa, attending a live Nativity, ice skating
  • Chill Nights In: decorating the Christmas tree, unwrapping and setting up the Nativity, opening up the box of Christmas books, reading Twas the Night Before Christmas, watching a Christmas movie with popcorn, dancing in the house to Christmas movie

Here are a few of our Advent highlights from last year:

Opening new ornaments

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Making a Christmas appetizer together

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Holiday cookie baking (peppernuts!)

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Wrapping for military kids

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Caroling at a Nursing Home

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Seeing Madeline’s Christmas

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Making pine cone ornaments

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Hot Chocolate for breakfast

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Holiday Light Stroll

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Ornament Making with friends

 

Seeing the Nutcracker

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If you’ve read this far, hopefully you’re thinking about the traditions that are important to you, and if Advent is the one that resonates with you, I hope you’re inspired by these ideas. I’d love to hear how you anticipate Christmas in a meaningful way – let me know in the comments or on the Facebook Page.

Cheers,

Sarah