Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Child's Christmas in Queens (part 3 - by Margaret Ullrich)

After Barbara was born we didn’t have time to go to Corona very often.  It was easier to walk to the local church, St. Fidelis, instead of driving to Corona to go to St. Leo’s.  Even though Pop didn’t have to commute every day, he didn’t have any time to waste.  He was working a lot of overtime.  

I missed seeing the rest of my family.  

That September I started Kindergarten in St. Fidelis School.  Some of the good Sisters had wanted to travel and meet exotic heathens in far away places.  

Well, one Sister almost got her wish.  I was the first Maltese child she’d ever seen.  College Point had been settled by German and Irish families.  It was time for me to learn about America through their eyes. 

By mid-October my classmates started bringing samples of their mothers’ holiday baking to school.  They told me their attics were filled with apple slices which had been strung like beads on a white thread and hung to dry in their attics.  Their mothers also had pillow cases filled with cookies hanging from nails in the attic.  My friends said their mothers did this so that the cookies would be aged and perfect by Christmas.  

I loved the idea of an attic packed with bags filled with cookies.  I had never been in an attic.  Our house had a store front, but we didn’t use the attic.  Nobody I’d known in Corona used their attics, either. 

Some of my classmates brought in samples of their mothers’ cookies, the cookies that didn't have to age.  I brought some biscotti.  My friends were polite and ate the dry, double-baked bread.  Then we ate the pfefferkuchen, spitzbuben, sweet honey lebkuchen, and almond pfeffernuesse.  My favorites were zimtsterne, cinnamon stars decorated with almonds, and spitzbuben, sandwiched cookies with jam peeking through three holes in the top cinnamon cookie.  My friends called them little rogues.  

Anise was a popular holiday spice in College Point.  It was used in the springerle and the peppernuts. When I told Ma about anise, she said she used it, too, but she didn’t use as much in her cookies.  

Pop said, “If you like the taste of anise so much, you’d probably like to drink anisette.”  

Ma didn’t think that was a very funny thing to say.  I knew about the anisette liqueur.  Sometimes Uncle Des put some in his coffee when it was really cold outside.  He said it helped him feel warmer.  But, when I asked him for a taste, he said it wasn’t for little girls.  

There were also special holiday rewards.  When I helped Sister put away the puzzles, she gave me a small marzipan pig, wrapped in cellophane.  

I’d never seen a marzipan pig before.  Neither had my Ma.  When I brought the marzipan pig home, Ma put it in the china cabinet.  I was sad when it started to get moldy.  We didn’t know I was supposed to eat it.  

As Christmas approached, the windows of the German bakeries were filled with the most beautiful cookies I’d ever seen.  They were in all kinds of shapes: stars, angels, animals and wreaths.  They were decorated with coconut, jam, icing and tiny silver balls.  There were also holiday breads: glistening loaves of gugelhupf, a sweet bread filled with raisins and almonds, and fatschenkinder, small loaves that looked like babies wrapped in swaddling clothes. 

The stollen reminded me of panettone.  They both were rich butter breads, filled with raisins, almonds and citron.  I was amazed at what German bakers could do with bread.  I thought a German Christmas was beautiful and delicious.  

I planned to eat German and Italian holiday food every Christmas for the rest of my life.

To read the rest of the story please click here for part 4 and continue to part 6.
Thank you for reading.

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