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European Union

(by Désirée Willmes)

My family is made up of different nationalities, so Christmas was always the culinary

highlight when everyone got together in our house in the Sauerland in


My mother’s mother was born in Spain. Her father was born just outside of Salzburg in

Austria, emigrated to South America when he was 18, and in his mid-20s made it to the northern coast of Spain where he fell in love with my abuela, Consuelo.

Dad´s parents were both from the Sauerland, but it was as if they were from two different countries too. During World War II, my opa was a soldier in the Wehrmacht, the unified armed forces of Germany, and was deployed to Norway. While he was away,Oma Mia hid a young Jewish girl in her basement for almost a year. Opa never knew this. I sometimes wonder what he would have done if he had found out.

Opa was not happy that my dad had married a “foreigner.” He made my mom’s life very difficult. But at Christmas time, there was peace in the house, and we would celebrate a German-Spanish feast.My mom tried to recreate her own happy memories of growing up in Spain by having big family lunches or dinners at our house, despite the fact that she was not accepted. My brother and I also experienced rough times at school and in the community for not being 100 percent German. Once my swimming teacher almost drowned me as he wanted to teach me to swim like a "good German.” The kids used to call us "knoblauchfresser," which means "devourers of garlic." Germans in our little village considered garlic disgusting and used this term for the Spaniards and Turks, the so-called "guest-workers.” (Italians were called spaghettifresser.) Thanks to our love of garlic, my mom eventually convinced the local butcher´s wife to use garlic in "fleischwurst" (a bologna-type sausage). When my brother and I had birthdays, Mom would bring amazing food treats to school—maybe it was a peace offering so that the kids and teachers would accept us, or maybe, since Mom has always been in love with food, it is the one thing that brought her peace.

My oma was an angel, the only one to protect my mother from her husband. She taught my mom to cook hearty German meals like sauerbraten, goulash, grünkohl, and wirsing, and she taught me, at a very early age, how to make the typical spritz-cookies called weihnachtsspritzgebäck. The most fun part was pushing the dough through the cast iron meat grinder, which had a special cookie attachment in the form of a star stencil. I used to love making "O" shapes with the dough while singing "O Tannenbaum.” We would start baking on St. Nicholas Day, just in time for the Advent season.

Christmas Eve was a somber occasion—a true silent night. Opa did not like any fuss or jolliness. I’m not sure if I ever saw him laughing. The meal was dark rye bread with cured pork sausage and potato salad. But Christmas day was a whole different story: After we opened the presents that the golden-locked Christkind had left under our tree, all of my mom´s siblings and their families would arrive, with my abuela and abuelo.

Abuela never liked Germany. She had emigrated at the age of 64 and refused to learn

German, but she and Oma seemed to have invented their own language. I don’t know how, but they understood each other, with a bit of rivalry.

(Oma and Abuela with my brother and me on the day of my baptism)

The solemn German Christmas carols were exchanged for jolly Spanish villancicos. My uncle Pepe would sing and make music with a makeshift instrument: an empty diamond-shaped anise liqueur bottle, which he scraped with a spoon. One could actually dance to the Spanish carols, to my opa´s dismay. Once the dancing started, he would silently leave the party.

After the singing and dancing, we were all more relaxed. The Christmas meal started with seafood tapas, Spanish tortilla, chorizo and ham, followed by hearty German food, including a goose, red cabbage, and potato dumplings. Desserts included wine pudding, a nougat candy of Moorish origin called turron, and polvorones: crumble cookies that we squeezed in their wrappers before eating them. The feast was followed by the German tradition of kaffee and kuchen. The mothers and grandmothers cleared the table (of course), followed by sobremesa. The word literally means “over the table” but represents a time spent digesting, relaxing, and enjoying each other´s anecdotes and company. Our Christmas sobremesas would often last until late in the evening.

To this day, I miss these fusions of cultures.


Désirée Willmes lives in Connecticut where she works as a court interpreter.

Spritzgebäck (German spritz cookies)

(The word "spritz" originates from the German word “spritzen,” which means to squirt. The

cookie dough is squirted through a grinder, cookie press, or pastry bag. When I grew up, making spritzgebäck was a family affair, requiring at least two people: one to turn the grinder handle and to push the dough into the machine, and one to cut the right amount of dough for each cookie, placing them on a tray. A third person can monitor the baking time and a fourth can dip the cooled cookies in chocolate.)

6 c. plus 3 T. flour (I like spelt flour, as the cookies are crunchier, and spelt is healthier than white flour)

2 1/4 c. (4 sticks plus 4 T.) grass-fed butter

2 c. sugar

3 T. vanilla sugar

6 egg yolks

2 T. milk

4 t. baking powder

1/2 t. rum, vanilla, or almond extract

pinch salt

Combine all ingredients for dough in a mixer, then remove to counter and knead

with your hands until smooth and firm.

Cover and let rest in a cool room overnight, or refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375 F.

If using a cookie press or pastry bag, let dough come to room temperature.

Press dough through a grinder, cookie press with a star tip, or pastry bag.

Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, and bake for approximately 10 minutes, or until they start to turn golden brown.

(I use a 17 x 11 cookie sheet and can fit 12 - 15 cookies.)

Transfer to a cooling rack.

For chocolate glaze:

7 oz. semi-sweet chocolate

Bring water to boil in the bottom of a double boiler, and lower heat.

In the top of the double boiler, melt chocolate, stirring occasionally.

Dip one end of cookies in the chocolate, and place on racks to set.

Cool completely before storing in an airtight container.


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