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Best Pennsylvania Dutch Cookie Recipes

Every December, the kitchens of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, make their wonderful Christmas cookies prepared from traditional Moravian recipes.  Christmas in Bethlehem means not only the birth of the Christ-child but it is also Bethlehem's birthday. 


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On a snowy Christmas Eve over three hundred years ago, Count Zinzendorf, the leader of the Moravians, took shelter in the little town's one log dwelling. Noting that humans and beasts shared the same roof, as they had on that first Christmas in Bethlehem in Judea, the Count snatched up his candle and led the way to the stable, singing:

"Not Jerusalem,
Only Bethlehem."

As the strains of the Moravian hymn died away, he turned to his followers and said, "The name of this place is Bethlehem." It has been ever since.

Moravians have always been devout, and through many years and troubled times their faith has expressed itself in kindly hospitality in the name of Christ as well as in worship of Him. From their earliest days in the wilderness the Moravians have offered food and shelter to all comers, whether they were Indians, Revolutionary soldiers, or the Marquis de Lafayette. And because Christmas is the climax of their year, generations of Bethlehem housewives have toiled long and lovingly to make the Christmas holidays memorable. 

There is much visiting around at Christmas time in Bethlehem, and Bethlehem still is hospitable. Thus cakes and wine are frequently brought forth and the Moravians have developed Christmas cookies to superlative perfection.

Recipes for the famous Moravian cakes and cookies are passed from family to family, just as the same cookie cutters have been preserved from days and are still in use. The shape of a Moravian cookie is a reasonably indication of its content, since probably it has been made in the same shape with the same ingredients for a century or two. 

It is true that some modern innovations may have made their way into the Christmas cookie field, but it would be considered a shabby household in Bethlehem that must resort to brownies or hermits for Christmas, when there are so many traditional recipes that are intricate and delicious. There used to be a saying in Bethlehem that you could estimate not only the housewife's culinary skill but the family's financial status from the quantity and variety of its Christmas cookies!

Bethlehem is also the home of the Putz. Every family has a creche, as elaborate and detailed as can be contrived, to place under the Christmas tree. This Nativity scene, deriving from the German word putzen, to decorate, has been shortened in Pennsylvania Dutch to Putz and has come to mean whatever-decorates-the-space-under-the-Christmas-tree. It is particularly a creche, but the term may include a toy village or an electric train, if the family wishes to elaborate. Putzing-visiting around to see the Putzes-is a Bethlehem holiday custom. It is also the occasion for the appearance of the holiday cookies and for general good will.

Bethlehem's loveliest Christmas custom by far is its candle-lighting service. This is beautiful and deeply religious. Anyone who has ever seen how myriads of twinkling candles can light a darkened church, who has whiffed the mingled odors of beeswax and balsam, who has followed antiphonally a small girl's singing of "Morning Star, O cheering sight ..." has experienced one of the most moving Christmas services in the world. 

Then, when he has passed through the shining, candlelit gantlet of his singing neighbors and gone forth into the snowy evening, he has been truly in Bethlehem at Christmas.

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Pennsylvania Dutch Did You Know?

The Pennsylvania Dutch come mostly from what is now Germany rather than the Netherlands. Logically, their language too is ultimately a derivative of Palatinate German, not Dutch.


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