The closest I come to being a Belgian is that a step-grandfather of mine was from the Alsace Lorraine area when it was held by Germany. Alsace Lorraine is currently part of France. Half of the rest of my ancestry (my mother's side) is a little more German, coming from the Frankfort area. Though we often think of Belgians as speaking Dutch, Flemish, or French, there are nine municipalities of Belgium that are German speaking. Less than a month ago, Nov. 15, they celebrated Day of the German-speaking Communities of Belgium.
Now why would I be thinking of Belgium at this time of the year? Belgian cookies, of course. They seem to be a Christmas tradition here even though there is no reason they could not be made at other times of the year and probably are.
Before coming to Minnesota I don't believe I ever heard of Belgian cookies, but for the last 35 years or so, I have stood by the stove for hours in November and December to make those cookies. And none of those really modern Belgian Cookie Irons that make four at a time. Nosirree! It is one at a time at our house.
By celebrating our family Thanksgiving on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, it freed up Thanksgiving Day in order to make the approximately 20 dozen - one after the other after the other.
But the cookies are oh so delicious being mostly butter, sugar and a little flour with a dose of brandy (flavored or unflavored) thrown in - or maybe some for drinking while the cookies are being made?
Those German-speaking communities of Belgium as one might surmise, were at one time part of Germany and in the 20th century, they went back and forth between Belgium and Germany, ending up in Belgium after WWII.
The communities are on the eastern frontier of Belgium between the Netherlands, Germany, and Luxembourg. The population of about 75,000 is a little less than 1 percent of Belgium's total population.
Some years ago, my wife and I took a river cruise up the Rhine River, stopping off in the Alsace Lorraine area in the town of Strasbourg, France. I remember the imposing Strasbourg Cathedral de Notre-Dame there. The Cathedral was started in 1015 C.E., but was substantially rebuilt in the Gothic style beginning in the 12th century. From the 1300s through the 1700s the Cathedral was considered to be the tallest building in the modern world with its single tower rising about 450 feet above the ground. The Cathedral itself is a bit unusual by having just one such tower.
Climbing up into the tower gives a grand view across the Rhine to an area of Germany called the Black Forest.
The view also looks toward Switzerland to the south and across part of France to the east and north.
In the Cathedral is an astronomical clock. The original clock was built in the 1350s and ran for about 150 years. It was reworked after a lengthy delay and by the end of the 16th century a new clock was constructed. The last rebuilding of the clock was in 1842. Most days at 12:30 p.m. there is quite a show at the clock as figures of the 12 apostles appear in front of a figure of Christ. They bow before Christ while a cock spreads its wings and crows.
The original organ was built in the 13th century with some of the casing around the organ dating from the late 14th century. Though not as spectacular as the stained glass windows of the somewhat earlier Chartres Cathedral, the stained glass of the Strasbourg Cathedral nevertheless delights, especially since some of the windows date from the 12th to 14th century.
There are some other great ethnic treats at this time of the year. For quite a few years now, we have visited Tyler on the first Saturday of December for the Danebod Christmas Festival. My primary interest is in stocking up on a few kringles. Not being a cook myself,
I would describe a kringle as a sweet, buttered bread folded around a filling with icing on top. The kringles from Tyler are generally about 18 inches long and about four inches wide.
For those who know me, I much prefer a cherry pie for my birthday rather than a cake so it is no surprise that one of my favorite kringles is one that is filled with cherry. A second favorite is one filled with almond paste with a few almond slices in the icing on top.
Incidentally, I don't eat all of the kringles right away. They can be easily frozen and keep for a couple of months at least, provided, that is, that you can resist eating them faster.
Though I have never been a big fan, we also usually come home from Tyler with some fefferness. That is one of several spellings of the treat. Other spellings are: pfeffer neisse, pfeffernuese, and pimpernsse. There are many different recipes for fefferness but the basis of course is flour, then often cardamon, allspice, honey, sugar, mace and white pepper.
Fefferness generally is interpreted as pepper nuts and some recipes may call for ground nuts, but no nuts at all is quite common. Ah, the Christmas season- it is wonderful.
Until next time: Oh, Fiddlesticks!