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Annie in Austin
Welcome! As "Annie in Austin" I blog about gardening in Austin, TX with occasional looks back at our former gardens in Illinois. My husband Philo & I also make videos - some use garden images as background for my original songs, some capture Austin events & sometimes we share videos of birds in our garden. Come talk about gardens, movies, music, genealogy and Austin at the Transplantable Rose and listen to my original songs on YouTube. For an overview read Three Gardens, Twenty Years. Unless noted, these words and photos are my copyrighted work.
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Monday, November 19, 2012

Grandma Anna's Pfeffernusse

This post was written by Annie in Austin for her Transplantable Rose blog. 

When I was a child, my grandmother made pfeffernusse cookies. My younger brother liked them better than I did, but he also liked licorice - which I hated. Anise may not be quite the same as licorice, but the flavors and scents were similar enough to turn me off. And pfeffenusse were hard! No wonder the nickname was Pepper Nuts. Adults liked them with coffee but the children preferred chocolate chip cookies. 

We didn't have the recipe after Grandma Anna died so my mom tried recipes from cookbooks and the kind of pamphlets that were often passed out with ingredients bought at the store. The results were okay, but they didn't have the same texture as the adults remembered. Years went by and Anna's grandchildren grew up to have homes of their own.

One year my sister Josie hauled Grandma's old cabinet-style treadle sewing machine up from our parents' basement, wanting to clean & polish it and give it a place of honor in her home. After a stuck-shut drawer was opened, Josie discovered a cache of silk and cotton embroidery threads, along with a tattered yellow newspaper clipping with the recipe for the pfeffernusse.

Josie kept the threads but the clipping was turned over to me - by that time I loved to bake for the family and I'd also learned to enjoy the flavor of anise.My dad and uncle gave the Pepper Nuts a thumbs-up after tasting them, agreeing they tasted like Grandma's.

There was no clue on the paper to tell us where Grandma got the recipe or how old it was, although we're sure it was in use before the mid-1950's. In a few weeks I'll use this recipe again, to bake and pack and share the cookies with my far-flung family.


Heat together until blended:
1/2 cup molasses ( I use dark full-flavored)
1/2 cup light corn syrup
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup lard (the original recipe called for lard but I always substituted vegetable oil.)

Cool the mixture for 45 minutes. Add 1 beaten egg*.

Combine the following spices and stir into the molasses mixture:

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon powdered anise (or 1 and 1/2 teaspoons anise extract)
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

Sift together 3 and 1/2 cups flour
1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Mix well. Cover dough and let stand overnight at room temperature.

Roll into 1-inch balls. Bake on parchment paper at 350 degrees F for approximately 12-15 minutes. When cool, roll in powdered sugar. Store in tightly covered tins in a cool dry place for several weeks to mellow the flavor.

* Since the dough sits out overnight I prefer pasteurized eggs for this recipe.

I have a vague idea that some of the dough used to be rolled out and cut with an angel cookie cutter to be tied on the Christmas tree as an ornament. I can remember the angels hanging, but I'm not sure if it was really the pfeffernusse dough or if it was gingerbread dough. Either one should work.

This post was written by Annie in Austin for her Transplantable Rose blog.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Blue Clerodendons & Pecans for November GBBD

         This post was written by Annie in Austin for her Transplantable Rose blog.

Our Austin gardens have flirted with Jack Frost a few times, in the hours just before dawn on clear dark nights, but Mr. Frost has not yet done the deed. The Forsythia Sage/Salvia madrensis still spreads her blossoms unmolested in the big front bed.

One Blue Butterfly Clerodendron cavorted with a Mutabilis rose a few weeks ago but their romance faded as the sun's angle changed and the shade from our two pecan trees deepened.

The rose stopped blooming and the Blue Butterflies float alone now. After the leaves fall the strong winter sun may tempt the rose to bloom again, but the clerodendron plant will die down once the temperatures drop below 30°F.

The pecan trees dominate the back garden year round, casting light shade when leafless, so we can grow a spring vegetable garden, but in late fall their shade is at its heaviest, casting a gothic gloom over the south end of the yard.

I first sang to the trees in public in March 2007 when the demise of an Arizona Ash called for a music video. That was nearly six years ago! The pecans are even more important in our little garden world so they should have a turn, too. Last weekend my husband Philo and I turned my "For A Tree That Keeps On Giving, Plant Pecan!" song into a music video, intended to amuse anyone who has ever lived with a very large, very messy tree:

I hope you'll soon be singing along ..."for a Tree that keeps on giving "Plant Pecan!"
A collection of our garden songs and videos are at our Roots in Austin YouTube station

Since so many of the plants in bloom right now are the same flowers that have been in bloom for months, they'll go in a Garden Bloggers Bloom Day List (with more photos and my best shot at the botanical names) over on my companion blog Annie's Addendum That way the rest of this page can be filled with photos of the Blue Butterflies still whirling while old Jack F. lurks in the shadows with his ice-crystal knife.

I'm not sure what name will on the tag if you buy this plant in a nursery... it could say Blue Butterfly Clerodendron or Blue Cat Whiskers, Clerodendrum ugandense, Clerodendrum myricoides 'Ugandense' or perhaps Rotheca myricoides 'Ugandense'. The zone 9 plant is marginally hardy here in Austin - a couple of my plants have lived through winters with temperatures around 18°F, but even with heavy mulching they died back hard and were slow to recover the next spring. I've tried to hedge my bets by keeping at least one plant in a container in the garage over winter.

Here's the plant that was in the garage last year, now on the patio

The Blue Butterfly plant is so lovely that I wanted more! I've had some luck getting cuttings to root in potting soil lightened by the addition of perlite. (Don't be shocked when the not-lovely scent of the cut or crushed foliage reaches your nose... it stinks!) Some of the cuttings failed but a few plants made it. They were very slow to get going, but two were finally robust enough to go to friends this spring. A third was planted here near the Meyer's lemon on the back housewall. This bed is my magic spot, with a faucet nearby, the area bathed in morning sun but protected from hot west sun and north winds, the soil regularly composted and the plants tenderly mulched. No wonder the Clerodendron is More than Happy!

Since the winter months of January and February 2012 were relatively mild, the original passalong plant from my friend Ellen had an early start in the triangle bed. Now it's more than 5-feet tall and still blooming, with wide spread branches. I took this photo this afternoon and decided to make it into a poster.

Happy Garden Blogger's Bloom Day from Annie & Philo in Austin! Please visit Carol at May Dreams Gardens to see her roundup of garden bloom posts from all over the world.