(Above: Grandma Myrna and four of six of the Hustoft children. My father was the only boy.)
When I was a little girl, I remember receiving a special package from Grandma Myrna every Christmas. Inside were all sorts of tasty treats that she had baked herself, of course, but my eye was always drawn toward the tin carefully packed with my favorite Christmas cookie: Grandma’s Pebbernors.
(“We called this cow, “The blue one.” it was sort of dark grayish, blackish mottled. You could see a sort of blue if you were imaginative enough. An easy milker!”- Grandma Myrna)
Grandma is the unofficial family historian. My mother gave me her copy of the recipe and from it comes the voice and wise advice from Grandma herself:
“Mother made batches and batches of this, sending it to each family, to each grandchild as they got married and moved away from home… I think she changed Grandma Otthea’s recipe somewhat. She used the large recipe, made it at least four times every year. Maybe more. How did she ever do it?
I have heard that the recipe used to include pepper, therefore the “pebber”. They are small and you can grab a handful to eat, as you would nuts, which translates to “nor”, so we have pebbernor. Whether it is originally a German or a Danish recipe, I don’t know. The southern part of Denmark was influenced more by German tradition, perhaps, as it was sometimes under German rule, and other times not.”
She continues on to write variations and tips from other bakers in the family, as well as sentimental anecdotes:
“How to play ‘Mouse’. Spread a bunch (not too many) of cookies on the table. Everyone except ‘it’ decides which peppernut is ‘mouse’ while ‘it’ hides her eyes. The person who is it takes as many cookies as she can, one at a time, hoping to avoid the mouse. She gets to keep every cookie until she touches the mouse, then everyone else yells, ‘MOUSE!’ and she jumps because she has been so intent on the game that she is startled when everyone yells.”
Grandma Myrna always made Christmas special. When we would come and visit for the holidays it seemed like magic. Walking into a warm house that smelled of Grandma’s baking, seeing the tree with family ornaments, many of which were homemade, all our stockings above the fireplace- handmade by Grandma out of red and green felt with each of our names so carefully cut out, and then filled with chocolate and oranges and thoughtful toys, and to everyone’s delight- Grandpa Ted’s train set. Pure magic. Maybe she’s responsible for my Christmas obsession.
|Small Batch||Big Batch|
tsp. baking soda
Ok, let’s address the elephant in the room: ingredient number one… LARD! I know, it sounds wretched. No modern day recipes call for it anymore. Believe me, I am an advocate for alternative oils and fat sources (i.e. coconut oil, grass-fed Kerrygold Butter, grapeseed oil, Earth Balance for baking, homemade vegan butters, etc.), but the truth is, you cannot substitute out the lard. I have tried. It just does not taste like Grandma’s cookies. Pebbernors have a certain satisfying crispness to them that one can only get from using lard. So, head to your grocery store’s baking section, find the little blue box, and pull your hood over your head as you run to the checkout.
First, cream together your lard and sugar.
Next, mix in your eggs and molasses.
The molasses are appropriately named, aren’t they?
Next you are going to stir in the rest of your dry ingredients.
Once your ingredients are combined, your dough should look like this:
Now, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. I gave the dough a good knead, just enough to make it come together.
Look how pretty it is! A good lump of dough is so satisfying. Here is where you wrap this baby in some plastic wrap and freeze for an hour. When you are about ready to pull the dough out, go ahead and preheat the oven to 375°.
Roll a fistful of dough into small “snakes”, about the size of a penny in diameter.
Then slice the snakes into 1/2″ pennies.
Tray the cookies onto either a silicone lined baking sheet or parchment will do. Bake for 8 minutes (I would recommend doing a test batch with only a few cookies on a tray. I prefer the traditional crunchy cookie, but if you want a softer cookie or if your oven runs hot, try 7 minutes). I let the cookies rest once they are out of the oven for one minute. Then move them onto a cooling rack.
Now get ready to wash, rinse, and repeat because this recipe alone makes a couple hundred cookies.
I like to finish them off with a parchment lined cookie tin, just like Grandma. Merry Christmas everyone! I hope you enjoy this cherished family recipe.