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Posts Tagged ‘grossmutter’

Christmases past have brought the best out of me, but this year finds me with less to offer. The muse and I are splitsville, I think, and I get by mostly on offspeed stuff.

My great-grandma had something special to offer around this time of year. Her offering, unlike mine, depended less on inspiration and more on discipline and experience.

A taste of it now might be nice.

December 20, 1968.

December 20 and 21, 1968.

Stollen, just in case somebody out there doesn’t know, is a traditional German holiday fruitcake, commonly but not exclusively associated with the city of Dresden.

In addition to dried fruit and zest, it can also contain marzipan. My great-grandma had a longstanding fondness for marzipan. (I wonder if she learned to love marzipan because of stollen, or if she learned to love stollen because of marzipan.)

Like all fruitcakes, stollen is not the sexiest food in the world. If anything, it verges a bit on the frumpy. Which made it an ideal Christmastime treat for the humble, rooted folks at 1107 Hope Street.

I would love to share my great-grandma’s stollen recipe. Alas, I don’t have it, and as far as I know it’s not in the family archives.

So, in keeping with the somewhat faded and understated mood this holiday, here’s a secondhand re-gift of someone else’s stollen recipe. It’s from “The Joy of Cooking,” which everyone in the world ought to have on their shelves anyway.

I don’t honestly think anyone’s going to make stollen just ’cause they read about it here. If you do, good luck. If you don’t, I hope you enjoy whatever traditional holiday dish you choose to put on the table.

Merry Christmas.

Stollen, or Christmas Loaf

Have ready:
6 to 8 cups all-purpose flour

Combine and let stand 3 to 5 minutes:
1 1/2 cups water or milk at 105 to 115 degrees
2 packages active dry yeast

Add 1 cup of hte flour. Cover this sponge and let it rest in a warm place until light and foamy, about 1 hour. Sprinkle a little of the sifted flour over:
1/2 lb. raisins
1/2 lb. chopped blanched almonds
Optional: 1/2 cup chopped candied fruit)

Beat until soft:
1 1/2 cups butter

Add gradually and blend until light and creamy:
3/4 sifted sugar

Beat in, one at a time:
3 eggs

Add:
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp grated lemon rind

Add the sponge and enough flour to knead the dough until smooth and elastic.
Cover and let rise until doubled in bulk.
Toss it onto a floured board. Knead in the fruit and nuts.
Divide the dough into two equal pieces.
Roll each into an 8-by-15-inch oval.
Fold in half lengthwise and place loaves on greased baking sheets.
Brush tops with melted butter.
Let loaves rise, covered, until they again almost double in bulk, about 45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Bake 30 to 40 minutes until done.

(The book suggests using a milk or lemon glaze; the stollen of my memory is invariably topped with confectioners’ sugar.)

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When my family celebrated my great-grandmother’s 80th birthday in October 1966, she must have seemed like a survivor, the heart of the family tree.

Oct. 11, 1966

There might also have been a undertone of uncertainty to the celebration. After all, 80 years was a long haul by 1966 standards, and surely someone in Pauline J. (Krebs) Blumenau’s orbit must have wondered how much longer the family matriarch would be around. (She had already outlived her husband by 43 years.)

The National Center for Health Statistics says that a white female reaching age 75 in 1961, as my great-grandmother did, had an average of 9.28 years of life remaining.

“Grossee” — the nickname is short for grossmutter, German for “grandmother” — had used up more than half of those 9.28 years in October 1966, and would have been statistically on track to pass away sometime late in January 1971.

What happened next is a reminder not to put too much faith in statistics.

My great-grandmother lived almost three more decades, dying at age 107 in July 1994. She was born the same year as the patent of the first successful gas-driven automobile, and lived into the age of the Internet.

Even more remarkably, she was able to live a pretty good life for all but the last year or two. She didn’t get around that well, but her mind was still sharp, and she stayed active doing small kitchen tasks for many years. (This picture shows her on the job circa 1981.)

Grossee played organ in church in her younger years, and augmented the family income for many years by giving piano lessons. She gave my father his first instruction in piano; 40 years later, she would sit in her favorite chair and listen quietly as he played her favorites.

Grossee, reflecting on the meaning of life, 1968.

From time to time, we would press Grossee for family memories. While nibbling Tato Skins chips (a favorite of hers), she would talk about the little store her family operated in Springfield, Mass., in the early years of the 20th century; or about Otto Baab, a piano dealer and tuner she’d known decades before, also in Springfield. She would sometimes be tickled by the notion that his name was spelled the same way backwards or forwards.

Circa 1986. With my brother and a bag of Tato Skins.

My grandfather, the keeper of the calendar, was her only living child. She had been pregnant with a second son when her husband died in 1923, but the child, named Edwin, lived less than a month.

This was not a subject brought up in the family recollection sessions, and I was only dimly aware of it as a kid. I can only imagine how devastating it must have been to lose both a husband and a child in the same year, while still being responsible for raising a teenage son. The soft-spoken, shawl-clad, cookie-baking woman of my childhood must have had an inner strength I never knew; I share her personal travails only as a way to fully acknowledge that.

Grossee could also, on occasion, be firm in her opinions. In my teenage years, when I grew my hair long, she once appraised my new look by calling me a “haarich azel” — German for “hairy asshole.”

I got very little flak in general society for wearing my hair long, presumably because the young men of the ’60s and ’70s had paved the way. But one centenarian lady made it crystal-clear that she had no use for the fashion. I’ll always remember that — with a smile, I might add.

My grandparents took care of Grossee as long as they could, with admirable dedication. But by the early ’90s, they were both elderly themselves, and my grandpa had had two heart attacks. Reluctantly, they found a place for Grossee in a local nursing home, and visited as often as they could.

Early in the Rochester ice storm of March 1991. My 104-year-old great-grandma, still living at home, and my grandparents try to soldier through.

Some people mentally check out as soon as they move to a nursing home; but my memory is that Grossee remained pretty well with it for a year or so until her age inevitably began catching up with her.

I don’t remember if she had a secret to long life, except to take things one day at a time and not worry too much. On one wall of my grandparents’ house hung a stitched German proverb: “Take life as it happens, but try to make it happen the way you want to take it.” I’m not sure that was exactly my great-grandmother’s mantra, but it always reminds me of her when it crosses my mind.

I have been remiss in not specifically mentioning Grossee in my earlier blog entries. Wherever my grandparents went, I imagine Grossee went with them, and she was present at many, if not all, of the events I’ve written about.

It just seemed difficult to work her into the narrative without fully introducing her. And to fully introduce her, I realized I would need a post devoted entirely to her, because God knows she was no footnote.

So, we welcome Pauline “Grossee” Blumenau in earnest to 5,478 Days. Late? Maybe. But now that she’s here, I expect she’ll stay around a while.

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