Friday, August 2, 2013

A Gift of Christmas

I started writing this entry in December, 2011, but didn't finish it.  Today, in tribute to my friend Dieter Koerner, I am celebrating his life with an accounting of the lovely gift he gave me.

We have German ancestry on both sides of our family which, when coupled with a love of cooking and baking, naturally results in a collection of European recipes- most of which are more or less German in origin.  Years and years ago I found a recipe for Christmas stöllen which turned out to be pretty much soft yeast bread with fruit in it. Living overseas in the '80's and being blessed with the ability to travel we most often visited the Germanic countries of Deutchland, Switzerland and Austria. Visiting those countries, particularly at Christmastime, I fell in love with real Stöllen,and as it was so readily available, it never occured to me to try and make it. Authentic Erzegibirge Stöllen is as different from the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook version as lederhosen are different from Levi's.
 
Hubby retired in 1991, which gave us the opportunity to migrate to Payson and begin remodeling the home his folks had built there, in order to accommodate the two of us and Paul's mother, Sally. I joined the local art league and the garden club with the intent of meeting kindred spirits and the hope of building a social network in our new town. The first friendly face I encountered at the garden club meeting was that of Dieter Koerner, a smiling animated man with a German accent and twinkling eyes. Dieter introduced me to his wife, Eileen, and I sat with them during that first meeting. During the social segment of the meeting, I expressed my love of German traditions and travel, and before we all departed for the evening, Dieter and Eileen invited Paul and I to come to their home for coffee the following week. The coffee date was the beginning of a long and endearing friendship, sharing many lovely dinners back and forth, our introduction to the Koerners wide circle of friends with German ancestry, annual Oktoberfests in the Koerner Garden, and even a trip in 2000 to Dieters homeland, the former East Germany!

Dieter carefully brushing melted butter over warm succulent loaves of  Erzgebirge Stöllen
 
One Christmas season in the mid 90's, we were invited to join the Koerners for coffee in their home and were served Erzgebirge Stöllen, the traditional Christmas bread from the area where Dieter was raised. His grandfather ran the village bakery, and as a young man, Dieter became a bakers apprentice, and worked at that trade in his early years as an immigrant to the US. As you can imagine, anything we ate in the Koerner home was beyond delicious, and I just could not get enough of that sweet, firm textured bread, sparkling with its sugar crust, and brimming with golden raisins, currants, slivered almonds and a few cherries. Down the middle of the loaf ran a golden vein of marzipan, just a little tease to the palette in each slice. Dieter explained the significance and symbolism of this succulent loaf and its ingredients, but readers will have to wait until Christmas for the rest of the story and the recipe! 

What followed my raving over this amazing traditional German treat was courage to ask Dieter if he would teach me how to make it! He took me on as a willing student, and the next few Christmases, we made the Stöllen together, or he popped in to check my progress, and always tasted and tested my recipe and gave me a passing grade. The real test, however, was when visiting in Germany, Dieter insisted I explain to his cousins, in my faltering German about how he taught me, and how I baked the Stöllen every year. Most years I've assembled flour, butter, raisins, rum, currants, sugar and yeast in copious amounts and spent a day producing 7-10 beautiful loaves of Dieters wonderful, fragrant and tasty Erzgebirge Stöllen. I didn't make it last year, considering the fat, sugar and white flour involved, but today I think I'll need to renew my tradition, if only by making one loaf, in memory of our dear, sweet Dieter. You have been stolen from us, but we will always remember you and your amazing Stöllen
Rest in peace dear friend... and I'm sure God can use another good gardener!