Tag Archives: Barossa Valley

Honey Biscuits – My Grandmother’s Recipe.

Today, the forces of chaos which govern my scrambled egg existence, conspired together to prompt me to sort out my Grandmother’s recipe for Honey Biscuits. I am an Australian of German descent on my mother’s side, and my grandmother’s Honey Biscuits were as much a part of Christmas as my mother’s traditional English-style Christmas cake and my Christmas pudding. The biscuits were round with half a blanched almond stuck in the middle like the star perched on top of the Christmas tree. They lived inside big glass jars from another time zone, which always seemed strangely magical (even when they were empty).

These Honey Biscuits were very special, but they were also my grandmother’s thing. I’ve never seen my mother make them, although she’s always been an accomplished cook and was famous for her Sponge cakes, which were typically served with lashings of passionfruit icing and a thick layer of whipped cream.

Not having the recipe until after my grandmother passed away, I found an alternative in a German cookbook my grandparents had given me. These were very nice, definitely German and reminiscent of the Honey Biscuits, but were definitely NOT THE SAME!!

I don’t know if that really matters. Or, whether it’s just the spirit of the thing that counts. Moreover, I guess you’ve got to ask at some point whether you really want to keep on eating food from 200 years ago every Christmas just to satisfy tradition. Or, do you try something new? Indeed, do you make Christmas food that you and your current day familyactually like and is more in keeping with your usual fare?

Being a lover of history, ceremonies and traditions, I’m all in favour of going retro one day a year and having the same old same old. Without the carving of the Christmas ham and the lighting of the Christmas pudding along with my aunt’s Mango and Avocado Salad with cashew nuts, it just wouldn’t be the same. Actually, you can add scorched almonds and shortbread to the list. However, what I really love about Christmas lunch is catching up with the extended family after another year and seeing how everyone’s changed. Or, indeed, how some have stayed the same. I come from a large family too, so that makes for added excitement, a swag of personalities and stories. Moreover, there’s always one of two who enjoy too much Christmas cheer.

However, this year our Christmas will be rather different, as we will be hosting Christmas Day at our place with only my Mum, Dad and possibly brother coming over. This has sent us into quite a tailspin and we’re currently in the throws of carving up an old piano and trying to vacate the loungeroom to get the new floating floor down in time. It’s a nightmare, but at least I now have a pile of cookbooks to exit the house.

It was sorting through these cookbooks, which took me back to my grandmother’s Honey Biscuit recipe. You see I found a recipe book from Hahndorf, the German-Australian village in South Australia which my grandfather and three generations before him called home…”Recipes From My Grossmutter”. I also found “The Barossa Cookbook”, which was published at the end of WWII. The Barossa Valley is best known as a wine-producing region, and it’s not far from Hahndorf. So, when it came to sorting out this recipe, I thought this cookbook was almost a sure fire bet. After all, it’s one of those community cookbooks where people contribute their favourite recipes and their names are printed down below.

Fortunately, although I’ve never made my grandmother’s Honey Biscuits, I do have her recipe and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen her make them. However, while this sounds like I’ve got it sorted, the handwritten recipe didn’t inspire me with confidence. Had she left something out? It was also written in pounds and ounces, which always does my head in, and is almost a surefire recipe for catastrophe.

1/2 lb Honey

1 lb Sugar

4 eggs

4 teas bicarb soda

a little acid

a few drops of lemon essence

Flour – flour enough to roll out.

After she lists the ingredients, she seemingly inserts herself into the process, and it soon becomes clear that my grandmother is leaving the main road and making her own way cross-country. There’s what the recipe says, and then there’s HER WAY which she introduces as “I use”. She then proceeds to halve the recipe, which seems fair enough, as I reckon the full amount would keep the entire Von Trapp family in biscuits from one Christmas to the next.

However, it’s the next bit which really captures my attention: “I beat the egg whites till stiff, add sugar and beat for awhile then add the yolks and beat again.”

Why does she separate the eggs and beat up the egg whites by themselves? This is what you do for making sponge cakes. However, as I glanced through the other recipes for Honey Biscuits in the Barossa Cookbook, nobody else mentions that! So, why did she do it? Was it her special secret which produced feather-light Honey Biscuits? Or, was she just making more work for herself?

I don’t know, and that’s one of the reasons I’ve decided to post her recipe on the blog. I need help. Do any of you know why this is so? If so, please explain.

The other thing I’d like to address is what constitutes your authentic German-Australian Honey Biscuit, and how does it compare to the German original? Or, is there a German equivalent?

I thought the Honey Biscuits were a form of Lebkuchen. However, there seem to be quite a few differences. Most notably, the Lebkuchen is heavily spiced where my grandmother’s recipe only calls for a little allspice, and also doesn’t contain any butter. My grandmother’s recipe definitely produces a honey-flavoured, NOT a spiced biscuit. Apparently, that’s because Germans living in the Barossa and isolated areas of Australia, couldn’t procure the spices “back in the olden days” and produced their own baking dialect in the same way they came to speak: “Barossa Deutch” (Barossa German). However, there are also variations of Honey Biscuits which are a lot more spicey and more in keeping with their authentic, german heritage.

So, there is this sense of recipes migrating from the mother country and being translated and adapted to the new one, with Australian-Germans putting their own stamp on this old tradition. On top of this, you have people like my grandmother who do their own thing, experiment, adapt; which is perhaps in keeping with that very same pioneering spirit which saw my ancestors embark on ships for an unknown country almost at the bottom of the globe, and hope for the best and have a bit of faith.

So, which version of the Honey Biscuit is the real McCoy? Which should I bajke and carry forward to my own children?

I wasn’t sure. However, an inspiring solution hit me in the face this morning, after I’d had time to sleep on it. That is, you can make variations on the Honey Biscuits just like you can do with Refrigerator Biscuits where you can add nuts, peanut butter, chocolate chips or even turn them into Jam Drops. The sky’s the limit. So, you can also make a batch of Honey Biscuits where some taste more like honey and you can add the spices to the rest. After all, nothing is set in stone – even traditions. They can always be taken forward and adapted- themes and variations.

Have you ever tried making Honey Biscuits and how does your recipe compare to my grandmother’s recipe? Meanwhile, in addition to baking the Honey Biscuits, I’m going to have a go at making authentic German Lebkuchen from a recipe over at Daring Gourmet. She even making her own candied peel and spice mix, so it could be a bit much on top of getting the house ready for Christmas, but isn’t Advent the season of insanity where we always do, spend and eat too much? It’s too late for me to challenge that this year, but January is only round the corner along with an end to 2020. I know for many, that will be the be st Christmas present of all!!

Best wishes,

Rowena

Here’s the link to the “Authentic German Lebkuchen Recipe” if you’re feeling daring.. This recipe is based around ground nuts, has no flour, and seems heavily spiced: https://www.daringgourmet.com/traditional-nuernberger-elisenlebkuchen-german-lebkuchen/

Cooked with Love

Last Saturday night, we were going to have a German Food Night to celebrate what would have been my grandfather’s 100th birthday. However, true to form, we wandered off course and ultimately ended up where we were meant to be. As John Lennon said: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

You might recall that we had Irish Night a few months ago to commemorate when one of my Irish ancestors arrived in Sydney 160 years ago https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2014/06/06/irish-nightcelebrating-a-journey-from-cork-city-to-sydney-1854-2014/. Well, we were going to use my grandfather’s birthday as a catalyst for sharing my German heritage with the kids. My mother’s family has German ancestry and in 1992 after I finished university, I actually lived in Heidelberg, Germany for about 8 months with a German family.

Moreover, in addition to wanting to share my cultural heritage with the kids, these cooking projects are also part of my ongoing efforts to teach the kids how to cook. This process has taken quite a holistic approach as we’ve moved beyond simply trying to replicate a meal or bake cakes and biscuits, to learning more about the ingredients themselves, nutrition, caring for the environment and also the meal’s cultural heritage. It’s amazing just how much both you and your kids can learn simply by cooking a basic meal.

Of course, any kind of cooking and eating, involves bonding and that never goes astray especially in our frenetic modern world. In too many households, the family meal is on the endangered species list.

Just to explain our German heritage.

My grandparents in the 1940s

My grandparents in the 1940s

My grandfather was a Haebich born in the German-Australian town of Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills, South Australia. While his Paech and Hartmann ancestors had arrived onboard the first ships of German immigrants back in 1838, Johann George Haebich and family had arrived a little later in 1846 onboard The Patel. George Haebich set up his blacksmithing business in Hahndorf’s main street and in the late 1850’s and built the family home which is known as “Haebich’s Cottage”. It is a substantial ‘fachwerk’ (basically a timber skeleton with infill of pug [straw/mud], brick or stone) cottage. This was where my great grandfather was born and it provided quite a family hub, along with the blacksmith shop next door. We are very proud to be able to point to Haebich’s Cottage and say that’s where we’re from…or, at least, that’s where a part of us came from. The house is no longer in the family.

The Kids and I outside Haebich's Cottage 2013

The Kids and I outside Haebich’s Cottage 2013

Up until World War I, the Adelaide Hills and the Barossa regions had pretty much been a German enclave within Australia and a mixture of German and English were spoken. Anti-German sentiment during and post WWI, suppressed much of this German heritage and Hahndorf had its name anglicised to Ambleside and it was only changed back around 1938 to honour the centenary of German settlement in South Australia.  We believe that my grandfather’s parents spoke German at home when he was quite small but as WWI progressed, they started speaking English instead. This became apparent as Papa aged and sunk deeper and deeper into the ravages of Alzheimer’s Disease and he spoke more and more German before talking less and sleeping more.

Getting back to our celebratory dinner…

As much as I love German food and we had liverwurst on rolls for lunch and made Honey Biscuits, as the day drew closer, I realised that these German main courses didn’t resonate with me and were quite foreign. They weren’t what my grandfather ate. His favourite meal was undoubtedly Honey Prawns from the local Chinese takeaway. They appealed to both his love of seafood and his incredible sweet tooth. While it would have been easy just to order takeaway, that defeated what I was trying to achieve, share, convey.  No! We had to have something home cooked.

After all, isn’t there something magical even mystical about home cooking? As any home cook will agree, it has to do with that special, magic ingredient… love. Love pours straight from our hearts and into the saucepan, mixing bowl or the old battered roasting dish, binding family together with glue. That is, unless you want to be purely scientific and say it has something to do with our genes.

There is also something extra special about celebrating those precious, special occasions in your own home where the photos almost talk to you through the glass and their aged frames and several lifetimes of tea cups, table cloths, precious read and re-read books all morph together into some kind of memory soup. Memory soup is a regular on our menu both because I have always loved those extra-special, old family stories and have wanted to share them with our kids. I have also wanted our children to know where they come from…the much bigger picture. Our family tree is a huge, sprawling giant with massive branches spreading from Sydney to Perth, Tasmania, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and back to Ireland, Germany, Scotland, England, Poland and maybe even a touch of France. Surely a tree this big, must have enormous roots which tunnel so deep into the earth that it could never fall down. It is anchored deep into bedrock, giving our family such stability…at least in theory!

When you are making memory soup, the dish itself also has to have meaning…deep and personal meaning. Of course, I’m not talking about the roasting dish here but the food…the recipe… itself.

This was where I was having trouble. I was struggling to remember what my grandparents ate. Then all of a sudden, like being hit by an ancient Greek thunderbolt or the proverbial flying brick, inspiration struck my otherwise dim and empty head. We had to have Roast Duck. We could only have Roast Duck for Papa’s dinner. While living in Marburg in rural Queensland, my grandfather used to raise and sell ducks to supplement their income and in later life, a beautiful farming family used to drop a duck off for my grandparents each Christmas.

Duck it was.

However, that’s when things began to get complicated. Of course, this thunderbolt hit less than 24 hours before the big event and although I’ve never cooked duck before, I had a hunch that duck wasn’t easy to find. First thing in the morning (which for us is something like 10.00am) Geoff received his instructions. He had to ring every single butcher in town and beyond until he’d found that elusive duck. Of course, this is the modern, urban equivalent of being “Man the hunter”. That is when the woman sends the bloke off “hunting” for weird or hard to obtain ingredients at the very last minute and, of course, he is expected to prove his manhood by coming up with the goods even if he has to drive inter-state and across the desert and back to succeed.

Alas for Geoff’s manhood, things weren’t looking good. Although there are families of ducks inhabiting practically every street corner and puddle where we live, “eating ducks” are actually rather scarce and considered a luxury. Apparently, you not only have to order them in, you also have to give a week’s notice. No such thing as an instant duck…or so I thought!

However, Geoff persevered. He found a butcher with frozen duck breasts and some sort of mysterious cooked duck. I didn’t quite know what a butcher was doing with cooked duck but duck was duck. We were on our way…Quack! Quack!

Cheat's Duck

Cheat’s Duck

Well, this so-called cooked duck was interesting stuff. The duck came in a plastic packet and you just emptied the contents into a roasting dish and cooked it for 15 minutes and then finished it off with 8 minutes under the griller to crisp the skin. It was too easy especially for your truly who has never roasted a duck before. I felt a bit guilty cheating like this and wondered whether I was being a little wicked. I mean it was my grandfather’s 100th birthday party an event you associate with traditionand going to great effort, not whizzing up some new fangled instant roast which comes in a plastic packet.  It seemed to be the roast you have when you don’t have a roast. Or was it?

Our roast duck served with the types of vegetables Papa used to grow in his garden.

Our roast duck served with the types of vegetables Papa used to grow in his garden.

Actually, our funny fangled duck actually appeared almost perfectly traditional. All the same, you’ll have to agree it was smarter than your average duck.

Stay tuned for more about our birthday celebrations and last year’s trip to Hahndorf retracing Papa Bert’s footsteps.

xx Rowena