Fred and Rita Greenwald grew up in German families who celebrated Christmas by visiting extended family and enjoying delicious holiday foods in their Wisconsin hometown. After Fred and Rita married and started a family, these same traditions became the centerpiece of Christmas for the next 60 years.
"Advent, the four weeks of spiritual preparation for Christmas, is a very important time," says Rita, who marks the passing days and weeks with an Advent calendar and an Advent wreath.
Then on St. Nicholas Day, which will be on December 6 this year, the Greenwalds open handmade felt Christmas stockings filled with candies and fruits.
Fred remembers his family's Christmas Eve traditions. "My grandparents locked the doors to their living room for a week before Christmas (to hide the Christmas tree). On Christmas Eve, we would visit their house, and they would open the door, and we would open the presents under their decorated tree. Then we would go to my aunt's house and open more presents. From there, we went to our house to open our presents." At midnight, the family attended Catholic Mass.
Christmas Day featured a bountiful noon meal in both Rita's and Fred's homes, including kaesekuchen, a raised bread dough filled with cottage cheese, eggs and stewed prunes; sultz, a cold relish of gelatin combined with ground meats, onion and carrot, sprinkled with salt, pepper and vinegar; spicy pfeffernusse cookies; fruitcake, mincemeat pie that originally included beef trimmings saved from the meat counter in Fred's family's store; and ham.
"My mother took the ham to the baker shop where it was coated with bread dough and baked," Fred recalls. "When you peeled off the bread dough, it had some of the fat and juices baked in."
Favorite treats included fresh fruits and hand-shelled nuts; oranges fully covered with whole cloves and hung on the fireplace mantel and dried as pomanders; and various cellophane-wrapped candies that were used to decorate the Christmas tree: candy canes, twisted candy sticks, Santa Clauses made of chocolate or marshmallow, and cherries, all eaten when the tree was taken down.
Here is the recipe for Rita Greenwald's Kaesekuchen:
Makes one 9-inch pie
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
For the dough:
1 box Roll Mix.
Follow directions on package, divide, roll out and fit one piece into a pie plate and let rise. Use other half for other savory or sweet rolls.
Filling for one 9-inch pie:
12 ounces creamed cottage cheese
3 eggs, separated
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon mace
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 cup cream, half and half, or whole milk
8 prunes (placed around top of pie, one for each serving)
While the Roll Mix is rising to double in bulk, mix the filling ingredients.
1. Press cheese through fine strainer.
2. Add beaten egg yolks and remaining ingredients except egg whites.
3. Stir to mix thoroughly.
4. Fold in stiffly beaten egg whites.
5. Pour into prepared dough and bake in a moderate (350 degrees) oven for 45 minutes.
6. Remove from oven, cool slightly, sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon, cut into eight to 10 pieces while still slightly warm.