Search This Blog


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Christmas Recipe: Pfeffernusse

Hello All!

I wanted to start off by saying THANK YOU to all those who came out to our Luminary Event this past weekend. The event was a HUGE success and it means a great deal to everyone involved at the Memorial to see so many caring visitors supporting us! The Memorial had over a thousand visitors this past weekend; more than double the last two years. One of the most important duties the National D-Day Memorial has is making sure the memories of our fallen soldiers continue on for future generations. Our mission would not be made possible without the support of you all. We are truly thankful to have you part of our foundation. I also send a big thank you to the Virgina Moose Association for sponsoring this event. You all have made it possible for us to share these important memories with so many wonderful people.
Onward to cookie making!

Pfeffernusse Cookies
I hope you are having a great morning so far and you are not too stressed about the holidays yet! There are only 8 days until Christmas, can you believe it? I am sure you have already made your holiday treats, but I thought I would share a special cookie recipe with you all, one that was popular during World War II and today! The Pfeffernüsse cookie is a delicious spice cookie, popular in Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands. This particular cookie is special in my family’s household because we are both of German and Danish dissent and my grandparents, and great-grandparents, made these during the holiday season, despite the shortages during WWII. Obviously, since this particular cookie has a German connection, not all Americans were eager to make them during the war.  But as we all know, there were, and still are, a rather large number of those with German ancestry living in the country and the tradition has been kept by them.

The Pfeffernüsse is also known as pepernoten in Dutch, päpanät in Plautdietsch, or peppernuts in English. The origin of the cookie is not clear, but the traditional Dutch belief is that the pepernoten was connected to the feast of Sinterklaas, which is celebrated on December 5 in the Netherlands, the 6th in Germany and Belgium. Sinterklaas, as you may have guessed, is when children receive their gifts from St. Nicholas, or Santa Claus. For the Germans, the cookie has a closer association to traditional Christmas celebrations and has been part of European holidays since the 1850s. 
Woman baking cookies, 1940s.

It is commonly believed that the name pfeffernüsse indicates nuts within the cookie, although many varieties do not contain any nuts at all. However, the cookie is meant to be small, like the size of a nut, which may have had a hand in its given name. Also, throughout time, bakers have created their own unique recipes for their cookies; however, the common theme is the spices used and the use of molasses and honey to sweeten the cookie.

If you are unfamiliar with the pfeffernüsse cookie, then you can compare it to the Kruidnoten cookie or Russian Tea-cakes; commonly mistaken, both have a nutty, spicy, flavor and are of similar shape to the pfeffernüsse.

The cookie recipe I will use is from a cookbook from the 1940s titled: The Christmas Cookie Recipes: December 1944, BY The Home Service Bureau; The Electric Company, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Jo’s Pfeffernuesse

4 eggs

2 cups sugar (use honey or molasses if short on sugar)

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon black pepper

¼ cup finely cut candied orange peel

¼ cup finely cut candied lemon peel

¼ cup finely cut candied citron

4 cups enriched bread flour

1.  Beat whole eggs until light and fluffy.

2. Gradually add sugar, beating constantly.

3. After last of sugar has been added beat 15 minutes using high  speed of mixer.

4. Add cinnamon, cloves, pepper, finely cut orange and lemon peel and citron.

5. Fold in flour by hand.

6. Shape a little less that a tablespoonful into a ball. Place on greased cookie sheets.

7. Back at 400 degrees about 15 minutes.

8. Makes about 7 dozen.

Let’s get baking!! 

Take care,

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Flames of Memory/ Our D-Day Fallen: Private First Class Jack G. Powers

Hello Everyone!

D-Day Luminaries. Picture provided by Mark East Photography
Three days from now the entire Memorial (and road leading up to the site) will be lined with luminaries for our "Flames of Memory" and "Christmas in Wartime" Events. Each light in honor of a D-Day fallen soldier, all 4,413 of them. Also, there will be luminaries dedicated by loving family members of their own fallen soldiers through various conflicts. It is a beautiful and moving reminder of the sacrifice and bravery of our Allied soldiers on one of the bloodiest invasions of World War II, as well as the brave men and women who have given their lives in service of their country. It would be a privilege for you all to come out to the site and support us and our heroes. December 12 through the 14th, 6 pm to 9pm, and the site will be open (free admission) to all those who want to pay their respects.


I would also like to take the opportunity to introduce you all to another of our D-Day Fallen, Private First Class Jack G. Powers. A loving and caring member of the Bedford Boys and community.

PFC Jack Powers

Jack Powers was an extremely lovable and caring man, recalled his sister Eloise. He and two of his brothers enlisted into the National Guard and were eager to set off on an adventure. At twenty-one years old, Jack and his brother, Clyde, stood on the train platform, while the band played, awaiting the train to New York.

Jack was a skilled musician and dancer. He practiced guitar daily and could jitterbug better than any man in town. Jack’s uncle Harold Wilkes was also in formation on the platform. You could say it was a family affair. In fact, the Powers brothers’ were one part of thirty-three sets of brothers who stormed the beaches on D-Day.

While in England, Powers received the rare honor of being chosen for the 29th Division’s Rangers, an elite combat unit, essentially the American version of the British Commandos. Company A was improving by leaps and bounds in England. Many of the men gained at least seven to ten pounds of muscle over the course of their training and many other talented soldiers were selected for advancement. 

Since Power’s was promoted to the Rangers unit, that meant being separated from his friends and family. Even though he was excited and honored to be part of the elite group of men, he still missed his Company A family. When his Rangers unit was disbanded, Powers was upset that he had spent so much time training apart from them, but was eager to return. So eager in fact that he was considered AWOL for a bit and was stripped of his sergeant’s stripes by Captain Fellers.

PFC Powers grave in Normandy.
When it came time to launch the invasion, Powers was very nervous and seemed distressed, which surprised some of the men because Jack always came across as level headed and calm. The ex-ranger was just as nervous as the rest of the men.

Powers did not make it through the invasion but his brother Clyde had. Like so many other sets of brothers, many lost one, if not all, of their family that day. Clyde was overcome with sadness at the loss of his brother but he had to continue on with his mission, just like so many others, including fellow Bedford Boy Roy Stevens, who lost his brother Ray. Each man dealt with his grief differently. Some took it out in their fighting, killing as much as possible, while others suffered in silence, frozen by sorrow. Clyde, in particular, suffered survivor’s guilt at the loss of his dear brother.

I hope you all will be able to join us and I recommend bringing some tissues because you will be moved to tears.

Take care and keep warm,

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Oh Christmas Tree!

Hello Everyone,
Festival of Trees, 2014

Christmastime is finally here! A time for peppermint hot chocolate, twinkling lights, and Christmas trees galore. Speaking of Christmas trees, the locals around the Memorial have probably noticed the influx of Christmas cheer within the Bedford Welcome Center because of the Festival of Trees celebration. What’s that you ask? The Festival of Trees is an annual Christmas celebration where local businesses and organizations compete for the best decorated tree within a pre-determined theme. The locals are encouraged to come out and vote in order to determine the top three, who will then equally distribute the winnings. This year’s theme is Christmas on the Home-front, 1944 and after previewing the trees, I must say this year will be a close one for sure! Of course the National D-day Memorial is represented and I am partial to our tree, but nonetheless, please take the time to visit the Welcome Center and vote for your favorite tree. The trees are up from November 19, 2014 until December 31, 2014, so the voting has already begun! The Welcome Center will also have extended hours on December 5, 12, 13, 14, and the 19, until 9 pm, so you will be able to enjoy the beauty at night. The 12th, 13th, and 14th also coincide with the Memorial’s Luminary Project, so you will be able to enjoy both events for the holiday season. I implore you to visit both events this season; it will put you in the holiday mood and give you some perspective on those lost and holiday hardships for the soldiers.
In the spirit of the theme, let’s talk about the history of the Christmas tree! How did the tradition begin, how did it evolve, and how has it changed today?

The Beginning
Pagan depiction of the use of evergreens
Since the beginning of time, evergreens have had a special meaning for people in the winter. Pines, spruce, and firs stay green all year long despite the cold, hence why people used such lush vegetation during the holidays. In some countries, it was thought that evergreens could keep away evil spirits in the night. Also, before Christianity, the pagans believed the Sun God was sick or weak during the winter and the longest night of year, known as the Winter Solstice, marked the turning point for him to regain his strength and the use of evergreen boughs reminded them of the promise of spring and summer. In fact, many cultures used evergreens to symbolize the renewal of spring, such as the Egyptians, early Romans, the ancient Celtic people, and even the ferocious Vikings.
Martin Luther and family around their first lit tree.
As many of you might know, the German’s are associated with starting the Christmas tree tradition we know and love today. Did you know they also began the traditions of advent calendars, gingerbread houses, and our cherished Christmas cookies? Christians of the 16th century began to bring in whole trees, not just boughs, into their homes to be decorated. Some Christians would build wooden pyramids and decorate that with the evergreens and candles to symbolize the birth of Christ. In Germany, it is believed that Martin Luther, Protestant reformer, was the first to use candles upon the tree because it reminded him of the brilliant stars in the night sky and the beauty had to be represented on the tree.
The Royal Family decorating their Christmas Tree, 1840s
Despite such an early start for the Christmas tree tradition, it was not until the 1830s that the first Christmas tree was put on display in America. Ironically, Pennsylvania German settlers brought the tradition to America much earlier, in the 1740s, but it took nearly one hundred years for the Christmas tree to shed its pagan stereotype in the minds of American Christians. One of the reasons why it took so long for the Christmas tree to become popular in America was because of the New England Puritan’s strict observance of Christmas celebrations. They believed decorating Christmas trees, singing carols, and overall joy would violate the sacred birth of Christ. Strict penalties were handed out to any of those who were partaking in those ‘heathen traditions’. These strict laws stayed true until the 19th century when the enormous influx of German and Irish immigrants changed the American tradition. England also saw a change in tradition in the 1840s when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, who was German, were illustrated in the London News decorating their own tree with their children. Anything done by the royal family, particularly Queen Victoria, instantly became popular with the country. Within fifty years, German ornaments were extremely popular in the United States and were shipped overseas on a regular basis and, of course, Americans preferred having the biggest tree possible, while European traditions call for a more modest tree of about four feet in height.

Modern Era of the Christmas Tree           
Decorating the Rockefeller Center tree, 1930s
The most famous Christmas tree display, at least for Americans, is the Rockefeller Center tree in New York City, New York. The tradition began in 1931, when construction workers of the Depression era placed a small and simple tree in the center of the square, the next year they did the same, and then the next; shortly, Christmas tree lights and decorations were added. Today, the tree typically has over 25,000 Christmas lights!
Not surprisingly, World War II caused another great change for the Christmas tree and brought us even closer to what we expect today. Since many of the prized Germany and Japanese made ornaments were no longer being shipped overseas, the Corning Glass Company of New York began their glass ornament production, virtually eliminating the need for anything else! Also, ribbons and bows were scarce because of the material used, as well as the fir trees themselves. Lumber was needed for the war effort, so production began on artificial trees to fill in the void.
White House Christmas tree, 1944.
The traditions we know and love can be seen throughout most of the world, especially in Protestant dominated countries, with a few variations. Most cultures decorate an evergreen tree in various was, but many Catholic dominated countries tend to focus more on the Nativity scene, connecting to the roots of the holiday, like Italy and Mexico.

Tree Trivia
The first commercialized selling of the Christmas tree was not until the 1850s in the United States.

The tallest living Christmas tree is about 122 feet tall and 91 years old, in Woodinville, Washington.
The first National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony held at the White House was in 1923, by President Calvin Coolidge.

Christmas trees are grown in every state, including Hawaii.
WWII soldiers decorating a palm tree for Christmas.

It was not uncommon for many soldiers on the front-lines, in World War II, to decorate random trees around them, or to chop one down for their makeshift headquarters.

World War II soldiers in the Pacific theater used palm trees to replace their traditional trees from back home.

I hope to see you all at our Luminary Nights and the Festival of Trees!

Take Care and don't forget to vote for your favorite tree (a.k.a the D-Day Memorial's tree), 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving in the 1940s

Thanksgiving dinner, Italy, 1944

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

I hope you all are going to enjoy copious amounts of delicious foods and reflecting on all the things to be thankful for this year and in your lives. Does this day make you wonder what Thanksgiving may have been like in the 1940s? How would people possibly be able to have a full Thanksgiving meal amidst the rations and shortages? Not surprisingly, they managed to make the holiday the best it could be with what they had, always making the most of any situation. I would like to begin by sharing a poem by an unknown soldier on the frontlines…

They’re celebrating Thanksgiving on this very day,
My thoughts are at home, though I’m far away;
Soldiers choosing their prized turkey for Thanksgiving, 1943
I can see everyone, eating dinner deluxe,
Whether it is chicken, turkey or even a duck;
The fellows over here won’t whimper or moan.
They’ll look to the next one and hope to be home.
Truly and honestly, from way down deep.
They want you to be happy and enjoy your feast.
These holidays are remembered by one and all.
Those happy days we can always recall.
The ones in the future, will be happier, I know
When we all come back from defeating the foe.

Thanksgiving in the 1940s

Norman Rockwell painting, "Freedom of Want"
Often referred to as ‘The People’s Holiday’, Thanksgiving Day is a holiday that is neither a religious, state, nor a political holiday. The holiday was born from the nation and has remained so since the birth of the nation; the coming together of varied peoples. From the first Thanksgiving, to the Thanksgivings of the 1940s, not much had changed. The holiday still meant family coming together to celebrate the good fortunes of life. Not even the Second World War could change that for America. In fact, the Norman Rockwell painting, “Freedom from Want”, became the token image for the holiday. The spirit of the holiday could have been dampened by all the shortages, rations, and restrictions, but the people would not let that happen.

As everyone knows, Thanksgiving is always the fourth Thursday of the month of November. Many people believed Abraham Lincoln made the day official in 1863, but he did not. In 1939, the last Thursday happened to also be the last day of the month and retailers were worried about the shortened shopping season for Christmas (back then it was custom to wait until after Thanksgiving to begin the Christmas season). Franklin D. Roosevelt decided to change the holiday celebration to the third Thursday of the month. With any major change, the new date was quite unpopular across the nation, with eighteen states refusing to comply. For three consecutive years, thanksgiving was held on two separate dates, the old date nicknamed the ‘Republican Thanksgiving’ and the new date the ‘Democrat Thanksgiving’ or ‘Franksgiving’. But even President Roosevelt knew the date change had no real effect on retailers and decided on October 6, 1941, to reestablish the fourth Thursday of November as the official day of Thanks.

Thanksgiving for our Soldiers

Basting a turkey in the field on Thanksgiving
Throughout the U.S. involvement overseas, military officials did their best to provide a traditional, hot holiday meal for the soldiers overseas. In 1943, the American people sent two liberty ships fully stocked with Thanksgiving supplies for the soldiers. Everything was included, turkeys, trimmings, cranberry sauce, and even various pies, all sent throughout the European and Pacific theaters, all the way to the frontlines. Those lucky enough to be stationed on board one of the Navy’s vessels received excellent food all the time, but Thanksgiving was particularly scrumptious for the servicemen. Despite the good intentions of the higher ranks, every man missed their families, especially during the holidays, but the soldiers had each other through the hardest time of their lives. However, no Thanksgiving could quite compare to the ones held at home. Some men observed that the feeling of Thanksgiving wasn’t there, not like at home.

Challenges with Rationing and Shortages

1942 was the year of the first wartime Thanksgiving and even though sugar was technically the only rationed item in the grocery, shortages of meat and butter created even more of a challenge for cooks. They also had limited access to certain traditional spices because they came from areas now occupied by the Japanese and cargo space needed to be reserved for wartime supplies.
Carving the turkey, Thanksgiving Day

Things were no better by 1943 and 1944. Not only were meats, butter, and sugar being rationed, but cheese, fats, and canned or processed foods were as well. Some folks would save their ration stamps for the holidays and use innovative techniques to create the perfect meal. Ironically, even though chicken and other birds were not rationed, finding a turkey for your own table was quite a chore since many of the birds were shipped overseas for the servicemen!

As if the food shortages were not enough, tire and gasoline rations made it difficult for family’s to gather together under one roof. However, even smaller, intimate gatherings were just as important as big family reunions.

Interesting Trivia

  • Since so many young men were drafted, America’s favorite sport, football, was put on hold for the war. But in 1943, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Pittsburgh Steelers combined their teams in order to fill their rosters and the team was nicknamed the ‘Steagles’.
    Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, 1940
  • Rubber was the hardest material to come by because 92% of our supply came from Japanese occupied lands. Everyone had to do their part to aid in the war effort, even Macy’s Department Store. Macy’s famous Thanksgiving Day parade used marvelous, gigantic rubber balloons for their annual parade. The balloons were donated to the cause and shredded for scrap rubber, thus cancelling the parade for the duration of the war. America would not see another parade until 1945.
  • Benjamin Franklin suggested the national bird for the newly founded country of America should be the Turkey because it was a “much more respectable bird” and “a true original native of America.” Instead, we prefer to eat the bird.
  • Abraham Lincoln was not the first President to urge Americans to celebrate Thanksgiving. George Washington, John Adams, and James Madison all issued proclamations regarding the holiday.
  • Gimbel’s Department Store in Philadelphia was the first major store to host a Thanksgiving parade and not the famed Macy’s Department Store.
Thanksgiving Day Football Game, 1940s.
  • Cranberries were actually used by the Native Americans in the first Thanksgiving dinner, as well as for their daily medicinal needs. Today the meal is incomplete without the delicious fruit.
  • The first Thanksgiving football game was held in 1876, about the same time the sport was officially recognized.

I hope you all enjoyed!

Take care and Happy Thanksgiving,