Monday, December 15, 2008

Making Christmas Cookies with Frau Schultz

I can't recall Frau Schultz's first name, but I'll never forget the afternoon in September when she invited me to her house to help make Christmas Cookies. Now, I admit, I'm not much of a Christmas person, but I have very fond memories attached to the Christmas I spent in Schladming, Austria in 1981.

Frau Schultz taught recorder and accordion in the Stadtmusikschule Schladming. She was the senior member of the faculty, with so much experience that she could identify wrapped Christmas presents that the students would give to their teachers. She insisted that all the teachers in the school have a coffee pause put into their schedule, and she always made the coffee and brought the treats, which she often baked. Frau Schultz, who had grown children who had moved away, was always very maternal towards me.

When I came to her house to make Christmas cookies, I was given a huge bowl of hazelnuts and a mechanical device used to crack them. We cracked the hazelnuts, and then ground them into a meal. We mixed them with the other mystery ingredients to make the teig. I had never cooked in Austrian before: everything was measured by weight and not by volume. After everything was mixed together, we put the dough into a container, and Frau Schultz brought it down to her basement to cure for what I imagine would be a few months.

I imagine that Schladming was a town very much like the town where "Silent Night" was written, especially at night, and especially in the winter. Unlike the glittering lights of American Christmastime, there was a softness and a lightness to the Austrian celebration. For an officially Catholic country, the celebrations in Schladming were remarkably secular; and they were filled with remarkable food. Everything was quiet that Christmas, and really kind of magical.

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