I have a confession to make. When I bought this little company, Gingerbread World, a year ago I really didn’t like Lebkuchen. At least I didn’t think I liked Lebkuchen. I had memories of having to eat dried out cookies with weird icing - they tasted like cardboard. Needless to say whatever I was eating was not Lebkuchen in the true sense of the word – or it just wasn’t Schmidt Lebkuchen!!!
With considerable relief I am now able to tell you that I in fact do love Lebkuchen now that I have tried the soft chewy types that come from Schmidt’s bakeries. But – in those early days of owning Gingerbread World – the question often crossed my mind…Why do people buy this stuff?
So after many wonderful conversations and emails and letters with Gingerbread World customers I have compiled a list of the Top Ten Reasons Why Omas (and Opas, Tantes, Oncles) Love to Give (and to Receive) Lebkuchen at Christmas!
10. Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without Lebkuchen – Lebkuchen smell and taste like Christmas and Christmas smell and taste like Lebkuchen. Finding that lovely white box on your doorstep just before First Advent is a sure sign that the Holiday Season has begun!
9. Lebkuchen freezes well and can be enjoyed well into the New Year – Statistics confirm that 1/3 of New Year’s Resolutions will fail before the end of January. So when you wake up on February 1, free of those pesky plans to lose weight, you can wander over to your freezer and take out a Lebkuchen to enjoy with your morning coffee!!!
8. Lebkuchen is a celebration of heritage – Like most immigrants, German-Canadians strive to maintain a link to their ethnic identity and culture. I love talking to Omas and Opas on the phone who even after 60 years here in Canada still have a German accent.
7. Lebkuchen reminds them of their childhoods in Germany - A number of our customers have told us about making special trips as children to that part of Nuremberg where the Lebkuchen bakeries were located just to inhale the yummy smells wafting in the air. Or strolling through the local Einkaufsviertel (shopping district) and peering into the windows of the Bäckereien at the piles of fresh Lebkuchen.
6. Lebkuchen is not as sweet as North America cookies and has much more complex flavors – its good to try something different and with all the commercialization around Christmas things seem to become more and more the same. Lebkuchen is different – to tell someone it is “gingerbread” is to sell it way short.
5. The Beautiful Tins and Chests – Lebkuchen bakers in Germany have for many years offered this treat in highly decorated metal chests or tins. Lebkuchen Schmidt takes it up a notch and commissions painters and sculptors to create original artwork and embossing for their chests and tins. My favorite is almost always the Modern Nuremberg Chest with its jaunty impressions of Old Nuremberg.
4. Boxes and chests of Lebkuchen are perfect to have around the house at Christmas time to pull out and offer to guests – Even the smaller boxes contain so much Lebkuchen it begs to be shared. When guests drop by during the Holidays it is just so easy to present these special cookies on a festive platter.
3. To maintain connections with her past – to remember small details of her mother in the kitchen, of passing the plate of Lebkuchen around at family gatherings. A girl friend of mine shared with me last February that she had just taken out of the freezer the last batch of Lebkuchen her grandmother had made before she died – eating it would be another good bye.
2. Oma thinks that everything made in Germany is better (actually Opa is even more of this opinion!). And in the case of Lebkuchen…they are absolutely right! We call it “German Engineering in a cookie”!!
And finally the Number One Reason why Omas and Opas Love to Give and Receive Lebkuchen at Christmas –
The giving of Lebkuchen is storytelling – I can only imagine how many children in how many homes ask the question “Why does Oma send us these cookies every year?” The answer could be a long and wonderful story about Oma and Opa choosing to (or needing to) leave Germany to come to North America, of finding work, learning a new language, forming friendships in their new country while maintaining relationships with family in the Old, of bringing up children who are proud to be both German and Canadian, of celebrating the birth of grandchildren who have no memories of Germany of their own but who can learn from and appreciate the memories of their grandparents.
We would love to hear your stories of Lebkuchen! Use the comments option below to add to our conversation! This article is also available in German here in our Gingerbread World Blog.
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