Tag Archives: Swiss Mennonite

American Food Roots Honors Raisin Pie

Ida Badertscher and Gertie Badertscher

Ida Badertscher and Gertie Badertscher, 1945

One of my must-read, bookmarked websites covers everything about  American regional food.  It is packed with inspiration for Ancestors in Aprons, so I was honored when American Food Roots asked me to tell the story of Grandma Ida Amstutz Badertscher’s Raisin Nut Pie.

The pie is a Swiss Mennonite immigrant favorite, and this recipe was already more than 50 years old when Gertrude Badertscher gave me it to me when I was a newlywed. You can see  my raisin pie story at American Food Roots here–and browse through their site for more great food stories.

Christmas Cookies: Pfefferneuse (and a Confession)

Although this recipe for pfefferneuse cookies does not go back generations in my family as far as I know, it should. I feel justified in calling it a traditional cookie since its roots are Dutch and German and my own paternal line is German.

Pfefferneuse cookies and ornaments

Ornaments from our travels to Holland, Switzerland and Germany on the tray with pfefferneuse cookies.

Not only that, but I learned from the Internet, that pfefferneuse is a traditional cookie among Mennonites. My father-in-law, a Mennonite whose family came from German Switzerland, loved these cookies. He said they were his favorite among all the ones I made.  And they are  a tradition in our household ever since the late 1960s. I know that because of a little incident that I’m going to confess to in a minute.

According to my findings on the web, pfefferneuse (pepper nuts) are traditionally eaten on the date of Sinterklas–December 5 or 6 in Holland or Germany–when Sinterklas (our Santa) delivers the goods. I’m not sure where I got this recipe, which diverges from the mid-19th century origins,mainly because it does not contain pepper–which is the pfeffer in the name. Instead, it relies on other spices and anise for its peppery goodness. It also calls for coffee (although I rarely have any around so I use water or tea) and it uses some butter, which makes it a bit lighter.

But the more I searched, the more I became aware that there are approximately a zillion different ways to make a cookie that is called pfefferneuse. And of course anyone who makes the cookies a different way than you do, will refuse to acknowledge yours as genuine.  See for example, this Pinterest page.

Pfefferneuse being glazed.

Pfefferneuse cookies being glazed.

Powdered sugar, glaze or bare naked? Almonds, walnuts, or no nuts at all. Baking soda, baking powder or the original ammonium carbonate? Shortening or not? It can drive you crazy.

You can see in the picture below that, as usual, I make the cookies too large. Despite trying to rein in the size, every year, I forget how much they spread. Some year, I’d like to keep the cookie small enough that it really is a little ball instead of a flat cookie.

Now the confession of wrongdoing in the kitchen. Once upon a time when I was a young mother, my husband and I got an invitation to go to a holiday event that was somehow related to his job.  Unfortunately, I had forgotten that I had put pfefferneuse dough in the refrigerator to cool, and was running out of time to get the cookies baked  and glazed before company arrived.

So when the baby sitter arrived, and I was in my spikey high heels and bouffant hair-do, all ready to go out on the town, I informed her that not only was she watching my three little darlings–but she also needed to shape, bake and glaze several dozen cookies.  For this she was being paid fifty cents an hour, mind you.

To this day, I have no idea whether she had ever baked anything before in her life, and I can’t believe I would just dump this job on somebody who already had their hands full with watching three ornery boys. She must have really needed the few dollars she was going to make.

Pfferneuse ready to bake

Pfferneuse ready to bake

I explained to her how to shape the cookies with floured hands, told her she could wait until the boys went to bed, and put the cookies out on a cookie rack.  The cookies turned out great. I don’t know if she ever baby sat for us again.

Pfefferneuse Fruit Cake Cookies

Serves 6 dozen
Allergy Tree Nuts
Meal type Dessert
Occasion Christmas

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup dark corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup coffee
  • 3 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup candied cherries or mixed candied fruit
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon anise seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon anise extract
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water or rum
  • 1/4 teaspoon Cream of tartar
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar

Directions

Syrup
1. Combine 1/2 C sugar, corn syrup, butter and coffee in large (3-quart) saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer 5 minutes.
Dry ingredients
2. Sift together flour, soda, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg
Fruits
3. Grind or pulse in food processor candied fruit, raisins and nuts
Combine ingredients
4. When syrup has cooled, add two eggs lightly beaten, and anise flavorings. and mix well.
Combine and finish.
5. Stir in dry ingredients, then fruit mixture.
Combine and finish
6. Chill dough at least four hours--will hold for a couple of days.
7. Let dough come to room temperature, flour your hands and shape the dough into one-inch balls. Place on greased cookie sheets and bake at 350 degrees for 15-18 minutes.
Glaze
8. While cookies bake, Combine 1 C sugar, water, cream of tartar in small pan and boil until clear. Cool.
9. When glaze is cooled, whisk in 1/2 C powdered sugar.
10. Put cookie racks on waxed paper to catch drips. Dip slightly cooled cookies into glaze and set on racks. You can decorate with bits of red or green candied cherry if you wish. Let glaze harden before packing in cookie tins or plastic containers, with waxed paper between layers.

Note

Cookies can be baked and frozen and you can warm them and add glaze when you are ready to use.

When I do not have coffee on hand, I have used strong tea, but the bitterness of the coffee adds a different flavor.

Don't make the cookies too large, as when they bake, you want them to maintain their rounded top rather than flatten out.  While I generally think the bigger the better with cookies, I believe these are better in smaller bites.

 

Grandma Badertscher’s Raisin Pie with Nuts

I’m still thinking about picnics and camping, and it just occurred to me that raisin pie would be a good picnic dessert.

Swiss raisin nut pie

Single piece of Swiss raisin nut pie.

Swiss Recipe

Move over, ancestors, Ken’s ancestors are joining us in the kitchen. In reading a family history of my husband Kenneth Ross Badertscher’s family, I came across an interesting clue to the popularity of raisin pie among Swiss Mennonite immigrants.

Raisin Pie's Ida Badertscher

Ida Badertscher

Ken’s grandmother Ida Badertscher’s father, Abraham Amstutz emigrated from the Jura Mountains of Switzerland in May 1871. He married “Lizzie” Steiner in Sonnenberg in Wayne County, Ohio in 1874. Ida was born the next year.

Ida had four great uncles.  One of those uncles, Ben Amstutz,  who had also come from Switzerland with their parents, was a cheese maker of some renown. His farm became known as “Benville.”  When Ben’s youngest daughter, Elma married Reuben Hofstetter in 1913, the details of the celebration were featured in the Dalton (Ohio) Gazette.

About 100 guests were invited to the dinner at the bride’s home in Benville and about the same number, the younger ones, for supper.  Anyone who has ever been present at that place in any kind of gatherings will know that something was doing this time.

50 raisin pies besides other kinds were baked and cake–well not quite as plenty as the silver at the building of Solomon’s temple, but a plenty.  Tropical fruits as oranges, bananas, California grapes, etc., in profusion.  The happy couple were the recipients of so many presents that two beds were completely covered.

A Family Recipe

recipe for raisin pie

Ida Badertscher recipe for Raisin-Nut Pie as written by Gertrude Badertscher about 1961

I was delighted to find this reference to raisin pie, as one of Ken’s mothers, Gertrude Badertscher (married to his uncle Monroe) gave me a recipe for raisin pie when Ken and I attended a Badertscher reunion shortly after we were married in the early 1960’s.

Ida Badertscher and Gertie Badertscher

Ida Badertscher and Gertie Badertscher, 1946

Gertie is also the source of the Badertscher banana bread recipe that Kay Badertscher wrote about earlier. But what is most exciting about this recipe is that it goes back to Ken’s grandmother–and probably to Switzerland where fresh fruit would have been hard to come by in the winter time.  Since Ida was a cousin of the bride in the story above, she might have baked a couple of those pies. Gertie wrote the recipe out for me and said:

P.S. This recipe must be at least 50 years old [making it now at least 100 years old] Grandma Badertscher was using this long before Monroe and I were married.

 

 

Other Recipes for Raisin Pie

I have found a few recipes for raisin pie, but not many, which prompted me to ask on Facebook if people grew up with raisin pie, in order to see if it had a single origin or was a regional thing. Obviously (50 pies at a wedding) it was popular among Swiss Mennonite immigrants in northern Ohio.  Most replies indicated it is generally a mid-western thing, and generally in regions with Germanic roots. To some, it is known as a funeral pie, because it was one of the traditional foods shared with a grieving family.

One person mentioned that their mother made the pie with meringue, and sure enough, I found a recipe for raisin pie with meringue in  Joy of Cooking. Another person had a recipe that is made with sour cream.  Sounds delicious, and although I can find it on the Internet, the cookbooks I own didn’t have that variety. Nor did any of them have the version of Ida Badertscher–half nuts and half raisins in a pie very similar to pecan pie–without the corn syrup.

raisin nut pie

Ida Badertscher RaisinNut Pie from top. Although many recipes call for a top crust, Ida’s did not.

Of course I never make this raisin nut pie without thinking of Gertie Badertscher and her handsome square red brick house with its huge grassy lawn at the far end of Main Street in Killbuck. And I also wonder what Ida Amstutz Badertscher would think of her pie still being baked in a 21st century kitchen.

So please join the conversation and tell us–did you grow up with raisin pie? Where from?

NOTE:  I made some revisions to my Perfect Pie Crust Recipe in January 2019. One involves folding the dough.  See the many layers in this close up the crust?

Raisin Nut Pie

Raisin pie single piece showing layers in pastry.

Grandma Badertscher’s Raisin Nut Pie

Allergy Egg, Milk, Tree Nuts
Meal type Dessert
Misc Child Friendly, Serve Cold
Region American

Ingredients

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3/4 cups milk
  • 3/4 cups nuts (chopped coarsely)
  • 3/4 cups raisins (cooked, or soaked in hot water for 15 minutes.)
  • 9" pie shell (unbaked)

Optional

  • whipped topping

Directions

1. Beat eggs well. Slowly add sugar and flour.
2. Beat in milk and vanilla and melted butter
3. Stir in nuts and raisins
4. Pour into unbaked pie shell
5. Bake raisin nut pie at 350 degrees about 45 minutes, or until custard is set. If nuts brown too quickly, put piece of foil over pie for last 15 minutes.
6. Serve raisin nut pie with whipped topping.

Note

Gertrude Badertscher added on the recipe card: This recipe must be at least 50 years old.  Grandma Badertscher was using this long before Monroe and I were married.