Lebkuchen

Lebkuchen much like our family's own, appropriated from the website whatscookingamerica.com with grave appreciation

Reading a novel today for a few minutes as I ate lunch, I stumbled across the quote that compelled me to sit down and write this (first draft of a) poem and then send it off to my kids. It’s about as out-of-season as I could possibly manage, and it means I may not get the laundry done. My only imaginable defense might be to mutter darkly about the creative process.

Merry Christmas!

Lebkuchen

. Macaroon Hats, Hazelnut Fingers, Vanilla Paisleys:
. c
ookies listed in a bachelor shepherd’s cookbook,
. f
rom James D. Doss’s novel The Shaman Laughs

She was my first wife’s Oma, grandmother, a quiet angular
twinkling kitchen presence, heart and hands dispensing
sustenance she’d brought within her all the way from Berne.

The greatest of her cookies, the sturdy redolent foundation
of every Christmas of my grown-up life, the file card
with its hallowed recipe now dog-eared and yellow with age,

were her Berner lebkuchen: citron, honey, coffee,
cinnamon and cloves, the rinds of orange and lemon,
all worked into a stiff dough that was pounded in a crock

and set covered at the back of a closet for a month or two.
Roll it out half an inch thick to bake slow and long,
then glaze it, barely, with egg white and powdered sugar.

She’s gone, of course, with most of her recipes. Her daughter,
too. And this next generation of us are already marching away.
But every winter solstice, two of our daughters bring a tin

of lebkuchen to the family Christmas. When I google its name,
I get stuffy etymologies alleging its connection to Egyptians,
or the word ‘loaf,’ or something about crystallized honey.

My family has no time for that. Some say it’s leben, life,
but others of us tsk: It’s obvious! It nourishes the body, leib.
No good at all at sweise Deutsch, and far too academic

in far too much of my life, I let them enjoy their argument,
one of the ways we tribes of primates practice bonding.
Bring your tins of cookies, daughters. The word means love.

Berner Lebkuchen: The Recipe

2 lb sugar
2 lb flour
5 eggs
1/2 lb shelled nuts
1/2 lb citron
5 T honey
3 T milk
1 tsp baking soda, dissolved in a little cooled coffee
4 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp ground cloves
grated rinds of 1 orange and 1 lemon
juice of one lemon

Mix the ingredients then knead vigorously on a floured board. Pound into a ceramic crock and let rest in a cool place for 3 weeks or more. Then roll out 1/2 inch thick on a heavily floured board. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Let the finished cookies cool.

Glaze: 1 egg white with as much powdered sugar as can be worked in. Brush on lightly and flash in a hot oven for about 1 minute. When the glazed cookies have cooled again, cut them into 3/4 x 3 inch bars. Potentially, they’ll keep for months in a covered tin, but you won’t have the will power to let that happen.

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5 Comments

  1. slpmartin said,

    March 13, 2010 at 3:59 pm

    I like the emotions shared in this poem..thanks.

    • billnoble said,

      March 13, 2010 at 4:11 pm

      That’s the fastest comment I’ve ever received! If I could give you a cookie right now, I would! 😉

  2. September 27, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    I have had 2 omas as well, being from Belgium. I know the cookies, I have never made them. But before I set out to start my Christmas cookies in October, why let the dough sit so long? In any case, thanks for the recipe and the words.

  3. Bill Noble said,

    September 27, 2011 at 1:32 pm

    No idea why so long, but at least 4 generations have insisted. 🙂 I suspect it’s because the dough is very, very stiff and the complex flavors take a long time to diffuse and mingle fully.

    Oooo, it’d be very sweet if you made them! (Could we come visit?)

  4. Bill Lawson said,

    April 14, 2012 at 3:20 pm

    My old notebook reads
    X488 Desert Transit
    March 1974
    Dan Johnson
    Diane and Craig Littlefield
    Cristina Kessler
    Julianne and Virgil Frizzell
    Bill Lawson
    Bill Noble
    Dan O’Brien
    Tom O’Brien
    Mike Talley
    Peter Capp
    and I am reminded of Great Horned Owls at Cottonwood Creek
    and Blll Noble
    among other wild things.


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