just an apprentice

the Word became flesh and dwelt among us...

Monday, December 11, 2006


A Christmas season tradition around our house is the making of peppernuts. Dalina usually would come over and help with the process. This year it was Heather and the kids, keeping the tradition alive.

Peppernuts, if you haven't tasted them, are spicy little holiday sweets about the size of a nut. They may be dark and peppery, soft and light, or crisp and crunchy. It is a tradition that comes down through the Russian Mennonites.

I married into this branch of the Mennonites, by marrying a Lousiana girl with Kansas roots. This tradition was preserved by those who came to the midwest from Germany and Prussia. The tradition (along with others such as zwieback and varenika) has made its way to our table through the Unruh-Loewer clan. There is nothing quite like a hot mug of Russian tea and a plate full of peppernuts.

Here is a story from Peppernuts: Plain and Fancy, by Norma Jost Voth (Herald Press, 1978).

"It was almost Christmas in our Berlin refugee camp after World War II," says Elfrieda Dyck. "Food was scarce; coffee didn't exist. We needed something special to brighten the holidays. So we asked our refugee ladies if they would like to bake cookies and peppernuts for Christmas. 'Peppernuts! Too good to be true,' they exclaimed." The camp had flour sent by American churches, but no ovens for baking. Then, thanks to goodwill, a "Christmas miracle" worked out. Peter Dyck was able to make an exchange of flour for the use of a bakery several nights--which meant from midnight to 4 a.m. "You should have seen those women," Elfrieda continues, "sifting, stirring, baking laundry baskets full of peppernuts and cookies. Of course, they were made with what we had--flour, a little sugar, dried eggs, a little lard. But those dear ladies stretched our simple ingredients so that on Christmas Eve each of the 1,100 refugees in camp had a sack of treats with his own name on it." (Later Elfrieda Dyck escorted four shiploads of refugees to a new home in South America. The Dycks served with the Mennonite Central Committee.)


  • At 8:40 PM , Anonymous Chris said...

    Peter Dyck celebrated his 92nd birthday on Dec. 4. He remains an active MCC storyteller.

  • At 11:47 PM , Blogger Joy said...

    We bake peppernuts every year. I just finished a batch of them tonight -- the recipe is from Rachel Hiebert's (an old family friend) Aunt Mary. We made peppernuts when we lived in Central America and in the Philippines while working with Mennonite Central Committee. We bought Peter Dyck's house in 1982 when we worked for MCC in Akron, Pennsylvania. I am giving small bags of peppernuts to my co-workers at International Institute of Los Angeles, a social services agency where I work located in downtown Los Angeles. There is nothing that says Christmas more loudly than a bowl of peppernuts on the table.

  • At 2:20 PM , Blogger ~Crystal said...

    Hi, I was looking for a peppernut recipe online and came across this blog. Very interesting because my last name is Dyck and my family is from Saskatchewan, Canada. My grandfather, who has long passed, was named Peter Dyck, so this post definately caught my attention. Maybe somewhere down the line, we are related. :)

  • At 7:08 PM , Blogger Anthony said...

    This is the Germanic/Dansk Version I grew up with in Iowa. They look the same but probably taste a lot different:

    3 1/2-3 3/4 C Flour
    1 1/2 C Sugar
    1C or 1/2 lb Butter
    2 eggs
    1/4 t Black, (finely ground which means no Fancy Schmancy pepper
    grinders you panzy) Pepper
    1/4 t ginger
    1/2 t Cardamom

    Store dough in refrigerator to make stiff. Take a hand-full of dough,
    roll into a ball quickly, then roll into finger or thumb sized
    lengths. (I spread my fingers wide when I start to roll the "cord" or
    "rope" as it helps me not roll the rope too thin). Once you have a
    relatively even "rope" cut into bite sized pieces. I like to range
    from a dice sized to an almond sized piece as some will be a bit more
    golden & some will be a bit more brown once done. In other words,
    don't be too precise with the cutting. The faster you do this, the
    colder the dough stays & the less mess you'll have.

    Yields 8 Cups per batch. Store in a glass jar if possible. Let dough
    set in refrigerator 2-7 days if possible. Age a month after baking if

    Oven 325*

    Bake 7-10 minutes per shelf (2 shelves in the middle of the oven, one
    switch rotation)

    Let cool on a rack, do not bag or jar these until they are room temp
    or colder. Stick them in the garage to cool. They need to be dry
    before they go into a container. Or better yet, bring them over to my
    house & I will Power Cool them...In my stomach..Muahahaha!

    I like mine with just a bit more black pepper & I did double the
    Cardamom cuz I do believe Grandma Nealson always added more than the
    recipe asked for. So if you really want to go by the recipe, just use
    1/4 t Cardamom. Go ahead, what do I care?

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