My German American grandmother outlived the rest of my grandparents by twenty years. Emma Hoppensack Patterson was born in 1891 and died in 1987. In her entire 96 years she never learned to drive and hence, spent most days at home, refining to perfection the duties of a home-maker–cooking, cleaning, sewing and laundry.
I still remember when Dad read out my grandmother’s Last Will and Testament, the whole family gathered in her oddly vacant living room. Items in her Will revealed her earthly cares. To me, she bequeathed her sewing machine and sewing basket. To my sister-in-law, she bequeathed her recipes.
In the past few years as I’ve researched family history, I started wondering about those recipes. Grandmother used to can grape juice out of concord grapes, a taste store-bought grape juice is never able to replicate. Could that recipe be in her files? Are any of the recipes handed down from her German immigrant grandparents?
Recently, my sister-in-law and brother were kind enough to send me copies from the recipe box, recipes for cakes, sauces, pickles, blackberry and cherry wine. To add to my delight, several of the recipes are noted as being from Lucy Hoppensack and Grandmother Harm, from Emma’s mother and her mother’s mother.
This September, my German relatives Angela and Carlotta visited Seattle and brought me an early Christmas gift — Lebkuchen cookies. “We make it a rule not to eat these until Christmas,” Angela said. “But they’re selling them already in the stores.” I opened the package and bit into one, the taste redolent of cinnamon and cloves. It only took a moment to remember where I’d eaten these before: my grandmother baked these cookies every Christmas.
Leafing through her carefully hand-scripted recipes, I found them.
1 c. molasses
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup melted shortening
1 c. warm water
4-1/2 cups flour
1 tsp soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp cinnamon
Frost with 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar and 3 Tbsp. water
The card doesn’t provide further instruction. No doubt she chilled the dough several hours or overnight, rolled it out, cut the cookies into circles, then baked them about 12 minutes at 350 degrees. I remember watching her frost them when they had just come out of the oven. Yum.
Come Christmas, I’m definitely giving it a try.