German baking a Christmas tradition
If your family opens Christmas presents on Christmas Eve there may be some Germans in your ancestry, because that is the custom in Germany, according to Tillie Ocker, who was born and raised there.
Ocker has lived in the U.S. for 25 years and is a teacher at Madras High School, but carries on her German family traditions when Christmastime arrives.
The season gets started with a celebration of St. Nicholas' birthday on Dec. 5.
"Kids put their shoe or boot out near the door with a Christmas wish list in it. And during the night St. Nicholas comes and picks up the letters and leaves behind a piece of chocolate, an orange, or some nuts and a small toy, which tides the kids over until Dec. 24," Ocker said. The custom also gives parents a heads-up on what their kids want for Christmas, and plenty of shopping time.
At their home in Metolius, her youngest son Kenny Ocker found his shoe had been filled with a large solid chocolate Santa, two candy canes, and some gold foil-covered chocolate coins. "I already munched down a ton of them," Kenny said of his haul.
Kenny's Christmas wish list included a new winter coat, Gameboy, and Pokemon Crystal game.
Advent wreaths are common in German homes. The fir bough wreaths have four candles that are lit one at a time for each Sunday in December, leading up to Christmas Eve.
The aroma of holiday baking, especially a fruited yeast bread called "stollen" is part of the German tradition.
"Every good God-fearing German knows how to make stollen," Ocker laughed, noting her's contains ground raisins, currents, almonds, citron and lemon peel mixed into a sweet yeast dough.
Christmas trees are as popular in Germany as in the U.S., but they aren't put up until the afternoon of Dec. 24.
"The living-room is closed off and the kids go out for the afternoon, while the parents put the tree up," Ocker said, noting real candles, not Christmas lights, are used on the tree.
"As soon as it gets dark Chris Kind comes. You never see him but he lights the candles and puts presents under the tree, and then the children can go in and see it," she said.
For her family's holiday feast on Dec. 25, Ocker roasts a Christmas goose to serve with mashed potatoes and gravy, red cabbage, green beans, with raspberry pudding and vanilla sauce for dessert.
"Turkey and ham are very American," Ocker said, noting most Europeans prefer goose for the Christmas meal. "In Germany we get geese from Poland that have been force-fed," which makes them plump and juicy, she said.
On Dec. 26, she said people get together and have parties with cookies and cake. Neighbors and relatives go house to house making short visits to visit and look at each others presents.
Ocker has four children, 11-year-old Kenny at home; Lisa Pulver, a 2001 Madras High graduate, who joined the Army and is station at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas; Stephan Pulver, who is in the Navy and stationed coincidentally in Germany; and Christina Pulver, who lives in Salem with 3-year-old grandson Everet.
Stephan married a Japanese woman, so Ocker is not sure how they have combined Christmas traditions, but does know they open gifts on Dec. 24.
"Christina has carried on our customs. She does traditional German baking, makes an advent wreath and her boy puts his shoe out," Ocker said.
Offering cookbooks in both German and English, Ocker shared her recipes for stollen and red cabbage.
(German Christmas Cake)
(Baking powder version)
1 1/8 pound flour
2 tsp. baking powder
7 ounces sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
a pinch of salt
4 drops bitter almond flavor
4 drops lemon flavor
1 tsp. rum flavor
a pinch ground cardamon
a pinch ground mace
4 1/2 ounces butter
1 3/4 ounces lard
9 ounces cottage cheese (drained)
4 1/2 ounces currants
4 1/2 to 9 ounces sultanas
4 1/2 to 9 ounces almonds or hazelnuts ground fine
1 3/4 to 3 1/2 ounces candied lemon peel, diced
Topping: butter and powdered sugar
Mix flour and backing powder on a pastry board. Make a well in the center and pour in the sugar, vanilla sugar, flavorings, spices and eggs. Draw flour in from the sides and mix to form a thick paste. Add the cold butter, cut into small pieces, teh lard, the cottage cheese, currants, sultanas, nuts and candied peel. Cover teh fruit with more flour and, starting from the middle, work all these ingredients quickly with the hands into a firm smooth paste.
Form the mixture into a long oval shape, then fold over lengthways to give the traditional stollen shape. Line a baking sheet with greased wax paper and lay the stollen on top.
Bake in a preheated moderately hot oven (350 degrees) for 50 to 60 minutes. As soon as the stollen comes out of the oven, brush it with butter and dust thickly with powdered sugar.
2 1/4 pound red cabbage
4 ounces lard or goose fat drippings
1 large onion
1 bay leaf
2 tsp. vinegar
1/4 pint water
3 to 4 sour apples
1 tsp. corn starch
1 Tbsp. cold water
Remove core of cabbage and cut into four sections and shred finely. Melt fat and fry onion until pale yellow. Add cabbage and cook for a short time. Add bay leaf, cloves, salt, vinegar, 1/4 pint of water and sliced apples. Cook until tender. Season to taste with sugar and salt and thicken the cooking liquid with the corn starch blended with the 1 Tbsp. water.