VINTON–Margarete Thompson lives in Vinton but she and her family celebrate Christmas with German traditions and recipes. She came to the America from Germany in 1970 to marry a soldier in the United States Army. She brought with her many customs from her homeland, which still remain a part of her life today as a gracious hostess and much-admired cook. Many of those traditions involve the celebration of Christmas—food, decorations, and customs.
One of her most delicious recipes is for the traditional German Christmas Stollen (which Thompson says is also available at the new Aldi grocery store in Roanoke.)
Margarete Thompson’s German Christmas Stollen
10 oz. raisins
3 Tbsp. brown rum
4 cups plus 2 Tbsp. all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 and 1/2 cups butter, not margarine
2/3 cup sliced almonds
2 oz. candied orange
2 oz. candied lemon
pinch of salt
zest of 1 lemon, grated
1/2 Tbsp. nutmeg
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. milk
3 pkg. yeast
1 stick butter
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup powdered sugar
On Day One, the night before baking, combine the raisins and rum and cover. Gather all the remaining ingredients, except the milk, and leave them out on the counter to reach the same temperature.
On Day Two, bring half of the milk to a lukewarm temperature, add the yeast, and let rest 5 minutes. Add 1 Tbsp. sugar and 3 Tbsp. flour, stir well, cover, and let rest 20 minutes. Add remaining flour, nutmeg, lemon zest, sugar, salt, remaining milk, butter, and almonds. Knead until well combined. Add raisins, candied orange, and candied lemon and gently fold in. Let rest for one hour. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Form the dough on a floured surface into the desired shape which can vary. The important thing is to form it higher than wide because it will expand super wide when baking. Bake for 50-55 minutes. Brush with 1 stick melted butter immediately after it is removed from the oven. Sprinkle with sugar and then dust with powdered sugar. Let cool completely. Wrap very tightly in aluminum foil and wait for two weeks before eating. It will be well worth the wait.
Thompson grew up on a very productive farm in Volkach which is situated in the wine region between Nurnberg and Worzburg. Her family raised practically everything they ate including sugar beets, wheat, and potatoes. There were fruit trees and a vineyard. She says she and her brothers didn’t play much—they worked in the fields, but while they were not spoiled, they were well-loved by their parents.
Thompson’s first husband passed away in 2002. She married Barry Thompson, Vinton’s Finance Director, Treasurer, and newly appointed Interim Town Manager in 2008. She travels to Germany every two years to visit her two brothers and their families there. She says her husband has embraced her German traditions, especially those involving Christmas.
In Germany, one custom is for the parents, not the children, to decorate the home and tree on Christmas Eve and make it festive. Families attend midnight mass and exchange gifts on Christmas Eve—brought by the Christ Child, not Santa, and spend Christmas day visiting family and friends, which usually involves coffee and cake. Gifts in Germany are mainly for the children.
At the first of December, families begin lighting the candles on the Advent Wreath, which has four red candles, unlike the pink, purple, and white used here. Another candle is lit each week as Christmas Day approaches.
Thompson recalls that her mother spent the entire month of December making and boxing cookies to share with guests. Parents also make ornaments and crafts with their children to be used to decorate the tree.
The manger scene is very important in German Christmas customs and the focus of the season.
On December 6, Santa arrives. Children place their shoes outside their bedroom doors so gifts can be left there by the Holy Father (Saint Nicholas), who is dressed in white, and his attendant Knecht Ruprecht. Children who have misbehaved get switches in their shoes; the good ones might receive a chocolate Santa, nuts, and fruit.
In large towns in Germany during the Christmas season, the marketplaces in the center of town are closed off to traffic and rows and rows of booths decorated with lights and greenery are set up with handmade crafts, fragrant gingerbread, pastries, other baked goods, and mulled wines, gifts, and tree ornaments on sale. Nurnberg has the most famous marketplace–said to attract two million visitors each year—the Christkindlesmarkt.
The Thompsons decorate their home beautifully for Christmas, but one of the most treasured displays remains out all year—miniature replicas of the town square in Margarete’s home town of Volkach. The church, school, town hall, and other buildings date from the 1400’s and earlier. She can point out the window of her classroom on the upper floor in the replica of the old school house. Thompson said the custom in Germany is to preserve old buildings, not tear them down.
She says that families who are well-off celebrate Christmas with a meal of stuffed duck or goose, purple cabbage, and potato balls which are made from potatoes boiled and then put through a press. Ingredients are added and then the potato balls are simmered and served covered with gravy.The less well-off might have Brats, beets, potato salad, and fish for their holiday meal.
Thompson creates German dishes year round. She makes her own Spaetzle (noodles) with a press, schnitzel, and German sauces. She says thatmany of her German recipes contain ingredients which are slightly different in Germany than in the U.S.
She says sauerkraut and white asparagus soups and salad are popular in Germany–bread not so much. Rye breads are eaten at dinner; Danish, other pastries and rolls are eaten as breakfast. Coffee is very popular, more so than tea.
Margarete Thompson’s Terrassen Cookies
2 sticks of butter
1 cup sugar
3 cups flour
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 rind of lemon
raspberry dessert spread (or any flavor) to hold the pieces together
Mix butter, sugar, flour, vanilla, eggs, and lemon rind together into workable dough. Place into refrigerator for one hour. Roll dough out and cut in 2 or 3 different sizes of the same shapes. Bake at 350 degrees for 11 to 12 minutes. Stack the different sizes of the same shapes together spreading the dessert spread between each to hold them together. Dust with powdered sugar.
Margarete Thompson’s Heinerlie
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 and 1/4 cup semi-sweet dark chocolate bar
1 and 1/4 cup Crisco
In a water bath, melt Crisco and chocolate. Take off heat and let cool. Mix powdered sugar with eggs and stir until creamy. Add to chocolate mix and pour into small muffin cups. Refrigerate until hard. (Normally in Germany the mix is layered between 4 x 8 inch Communion wafers not available in the U.S.) Let set up overnight and cut into diamond shapes.
She says that the German people are very outgoing and hospitable. They love to visit family and friends and “always put out a spread” when company comes, as she does herself.
Thompson says that she loves living in America, but she is very proud of her heritage and still calls Germany her home.