[Christmas Morning, 2015]
So many things I could write about, so many things to say: about my mother, who is ninety-two and failing, about my complicated relationship with the original Patricia Wild, about my memories of childhood Christmases and trying to relish my mother’s stollen—but so much I want to say feels private. Like a thought or an insight that comes from that small, still voice within me during the quiet of silent worship but, by its intimate and personal nature, makes clear this thought/insight is not to be shared but is, rather, “bread for home.” Bread sprinkled with powdered sugar or, as was the case with my mother’s stollen, slathered with buttercream icing and filled with red and green candied fruit.
So I will simply say this: This Christmas after opening our stockings we did not eat my mother’s stollen. (She hasn’t baked in years.) Instead we thoroughly enjoyed a “secret stollen recipe passed down from generations of esteemed pastry chefs in the Hamburg region of Germany . . . made with hazelnuts, candied fruit, rum raisins and a sumptuous spice blend,” a specialty of pastry chef Bjoern Boettcher, my oldest daughter’s Brooklyn neighbor.
It was delicious. (Happily, Chef Botcher uses au naturel candied fruit.) And tasted like what I believe my mother, who’d grown up in a German-American family, had yearned to share with her family and neighbors. (Every year at Christmas, our kitchen turned into a Christmas stollen factory!) Like the angel chimes from my own childhood, a magical memory I wanted to share with my children and have, I have come to think my mother had tasted a stollen a LOT like what we’d enjoyed this year —and wanted to replicate that sweet experience for us. But, busy with child-rearing and keeping up with my father (talk about complicated!), she never had time to do the kind of research a pastry chef eager to make his mark on the culinary world would dedicate to such a quest. So, I’m betting she simply tore a “stollen” recipe out of some fifties women’s magazine because it approximated what she so fondly remembered and, like she had to do in so many ways, Pat Wild Made Do. (Those hated red and green candied fruit? Fifties fare, right?)
I’m hoping Chef Boettcher’s delicious and magical stollen will become a family tradition. But as I’m savoring his sumptuous spice blend, I pray I’ll be able to also taste my mother’s fervency with every bite.