Growing up in Pennsylvania I always looked forward to Christmas. We usually had a good deal of snow and, because I come from such a large family, there was always a lot of activity. The neighborhood I lived in was rural and there were lots of kids and we took Christmas seriously, especially Caroling. Every year a gang of us would devise our caroling plan of attack fully cognizant of which houses were most inclined to pass out cookies or candy for our efforts.
The parish we belonged to, Queen of the World, was about half a mile away and there was a lovely woods with an old logging trail that we could walk through. I have a lot of memories of walking to Midnight Mass with my friends Kathy Olson and Sue Breindel through those woods all dusted with snow. Of course once boys entered the equation there were snowball fights both coming and going. I remember one Christmas when I had this fabulous hat. Of course it got pummeled with snowballs on the way to Mass and I sat through the Mass with melting snow running down the back of my neck. All of that was a very long time ago.
One of the things my family took pride in was making a lot of our own Christmas gifts. Every year we had a party on Christmas Eve to exchange our family gifts and it was always exciting to see who made what. Knitted and crocheted scarves and mittens, quits, home-made edible treats, hand-stitched samplers and ornaments. I have a vivid memory of my sister Chris hiding in the bedroom frantically crocheting trying to finish an afghan before it was her turn to present it to the lucky recipient.
Even after I moved away I came home at Christmas time loaded down with stuffed animals, homemade dolls, hand-knit sweaters. It got to the point where it was ridiculous. One year I baked dozens of delicious coffeecakes that I wrapped in colored cellophane and tied with ribbons. Problem was they didn't keep well and by the time they were transported 1500 miles and unwrapped they were coated with green fuzz --- festive but inedible. And then there was my stollen...
Christmas stollen originated in Germany in the fifteenth century. Stollen is generally made from a butter-rich yeast bread which is loaded with candied, marinated fruit. I was living in Marblehead when I decided to make a Christmas project of homemade stollen. I decided I would make all the fruits to include and started in October by filling a huge jar with golden raisins and warm apricot brandy. I let it sit in the sunshine overlooking the ocean with the thought that perhaps some of the scent of the sea would soak into them. I found directions for making candied orange and lemon peel which was absolutely delicious.
My friend Trudi and I took a trip in to the North End to look for glacé cherries and the marzipan I wanted to put inside. Trudi had lived in Italy for many years and knew about such things. It was quite an adventure and we came home with cherries, marzipan, three different kinds of nuts, and some beautiful silk ribbon to wrap the loaves.
The making of the stollen was quite an operation. The dough was beautiful, silky and rich. I kneaded into it all the goodies I had collected and, after the first rising, made loves wrapped around a core of marzipan. I do not have words to describe how delicious the house smelled as they baked. All the while I was working on them I was thinking about our family Christmas Eve party and what a delicious treat they would be. We always had the same food Christmas Eve. Mom made a big batch of her “whopper” soup and homemade rolls. Jack brought his home-made smoked venison sausage. Anne made Wedding Soup, Lisa made her cheese and broccoli soup. Chris & Beth made different soups that were always delicious. One year Beth made a cold apple-cinnamon soup that I still remember. I was very much looking forward to adding my home-made stollen to the festivities. I just knew everyone would think it amazing.
So the stollens were dusted with powdered sugar into which I had sprinkled some silver sugar to add sparkle. They were garnished with the cherries and wrapped in tissue. I delivered smaller stollens to friends in Marblehead and packed the biggest one, the one that would earn me all kinds of Christmas praise, to make the journey to Pennsylvania.
When I arrived at my parents' house it was mid-afternoon of Christmas Eve. The only person home was my sister Beth. Her husband had taken their two boys somewhere and everyone else was either out doing last minute errands or had not arrived yet. While we gabbed I arranged my magnificent stollen in the middle of the huge kitchen table in my mother's bright kitchen. Beth had just made a pot of coffee and we sat down to chat.
Beth is seventeen years younger than I am. We have never really lived in the same house together because I went off to college before she was even walking. But, of course, we are still sisters and it was wonderful to have some time, just the two of us, to catch up. So we drank coffee and gabbed and then --- well --- we decided to sample the stollen. And sample it... and sample it... and sample it. It was every bit as delicious as I knew it would be. We were both very impressed. I told her the whole story of the making of it and we decided to see how it tasted with a glass of wine. Let me tell you, it was even better than with coffee!
It was a delightful afternoon and as the sun went down over the snowy hills outside the kitchen window people started arriving loaded with presents and soup and treats and goodies. And what they found in Mom's kitchen was two slightly inebriated sisters and about 3 inches left of stollen. Three measly inches...
Well, I'm sure it was a lovely Christmas Eve. I'm sure everyone had good time and that all the food was delicious. And I'm sure everyone believes me when I tell them how wonderful the stollen was. Maybe some year I'll try to make it again. This time I'll mail it to them.
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!