Your Family Will Adore These Thanksgiving Traditions

OSHKOSH – In 1910 Swiss immigrants carried with them an old world holiday tradition, tucked away in steamer trunks, on their long voyage to Wisconsin.

The precious cargo were cast-iron bratzeli molds that had been in the family for perhaps generations and would be passed down to their children and grandchildren and on down the line of descendants whose lives were rooted in a new country.

Each year, on the weekend after Thanksgiving, John and Kathy Meinen of Oshkosh honor their Swiss ancestors as extended family gather at their home for a day of bratzeli baking over an open flame — these days fired by a gas burner instead of the wood-burning stoves their forbearers used.

John has in his possession two of the original bratzeli molds brought over from Europe — one that came from his grandfather Johann Meinen’s family of Darstetten, Switzerland, and the other from his grandmother Emma Minnig Meinen’s lineage, who hailed from Erlenbach.

Bratzeli are delicate butter cookies made from dough. When pressed into the cast iron mold and cooked to just the right temperature on each side, the biscuits emerge with delicate designs imprinted on the surface.

Bratzeli cookie dough is pressed into a cast iron mold and then cooked over an open flame at the Meinen family's home in Oshkosh. The crispy, buttery Swiss cookies are made in large batches during the holidays.
Bratzeli cookie dough is pressed into a cast iron mold and then cooked over an open flame at the Meinen family's home in Oshkosh. The crispy, buttery Swiss cookies are made in large batches during the holidays.

A cousin, Donn Lord of Oshkosh, recalls his grandmother Marie Meinen making bratzeli over a wood stove on the family’s 10-acre farm, once located along the east side of U.S. 41.

“These were the cookies I grew up with — crunchy and sweet, but not overly so,” Lord said. “They are stackable and pragmatic, which reflects how my grandparents lived simply, with just enough stuff to get by.”

Everyone brings their own dough to the Meinens' open house on cookie day. There's a cook stove set up in a shed out back because the baking operation can get pretty smoky from all the butter in the dough.

There’s also soup or chili, hot coffee and good conversation as people come and go throughout the day.

“We been hosting the event for 34 years and each day we make about 12 batches,” John Meinen said. “The iron actually makes four cookies at a time with scored lines so they can be broken apart.”

A copy of the bratzeli cookie recipes passed down in the Meinen family through generations. This is family member Donn Lord's copy of the recipe.
A copy of the bratzeli cookie recipes passed down in the Meinen family through generations. This is family member Donn Lord's copy of the recipe.

The bratzeli dough is rolled into balls about the size of a walnut, then placed inside the press, which is turned by hand over the open fire. An old hand-written recipe in Lord’s possession calls for 12 cups of flour, nine eggs, three cups of sugar and a pound and a half of melted butter to produce 12 dozen cookies.

The molds have cast iron rings that fit to the top of a cookstove, John Meinen said. He uses his great-grandfather’s propane kitchen stove to create the fire so all the equipment used in the process is over 100 years old.

Ruth Gafner Denow, 91, of Oshkosh, says her mother Marie Minnig Gafner’s family brought over five brazteli irons so each of the four daughters would have one. Three of them remain in the family.

“It’s fun to make the cookies, visit with family and share a tradition that brings us close,” said Gafner, who is Lord's aunt. “I’m pretty tight with my cookies, I have two nephews, a son and a daughter who love them so I share with them during the holidays and try to keep a few for myself along the way.”

Bratzeli irons were originally made for individual families, political parties and Cantons, which refers to the different districts in Switzerland. Imprints on the molds used by the Meinen and Minnig families include grapes, a sack of flour, a chalet, a Swiss flag, a woman with a basket on her hips, an edelweiss flower and William Tell, who is a folk hero in Switzerland.

An ancient cast iron cookie press contains pictures that imprint on bratzeli cookies made by the extended Meinen family each year during the holidays at their home in Oshkosh. The presses have been in the family for generations and were brought to America from Switzerland in 1910.
An ancient cast iron cookie press contains pictures that imprint on bratzeli cookies made by the extended Meinen family each year during the holidays at their home in Oshkosh. The presses have been in the family for generations and were brought to America from Switzerland in 1910.

Storks with babies on their backs are also found on each of the irons and symbolize protection, and prosperity in having a home filled with children.

The word bratzeli can be spelled or pronounced differently. In Switzerland, the cookies are also referred to as bratzil, bretzel, brezel and even bern cracknels. They are often compared to Italian pizelle cookies that are also pressed in molds, using batter instead of dough.

Recipes vary, and ingredients such as lemon or orange peel, cinnamon and nutmeg can be added.

“It’s all about what your family likes and the equipment you have available,” Meinen said. “My family’s recipe is basic; they were farmers who knew how to use what they had on hand.”

Modern bratzeli irons are electric and tend to turn out a thinner cookie.

A Swiss bratzeli cookie just out of the hot, cast-iron press contains four different imprints and are scored to break into four pieces.
A Swiss bratzeli cookie just out of the hot, cast-iron press contains four different imprints and are scored to break into four pieces.

This year, the family made 26 batches, which equates to about 4,000 cookies. The last cookies made always taste better than the first, Meinen believes, because the butter in the dough "mellows" as its sits in a cool place.

“It sounds like a lot of cookies until you start eating them,” he said. “As the supply dwindles they taste better and better because you know there won't be any more until next year.”

In Wisconsin, bratzeli cookies can be purchased at New Glarus bakery in New Glarus, an area of the state where many Swiss families originally settled. The bakery sells them for $39 a dozen.

Contact Sharon Roznik at 920-907-7936 or [email protected] Follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/reporterroz/

Kathy Meinen of Oshkosh holds a plate of bratzeli cookies baked in cast iron molds over an open flame at the family's annual cookie baking day.
Kathy Meinen of Oshkosh holds a plate of bratzeli cookies baked in cast iron molds over an open flame at the family's annual cookie baking day.

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This article originally appeared on Fond du Lac Reporter: Oshkosh family bakes traditional holiday bratzeli cookies the old way

Source : https://news.yahoo.com/oshkosh-family-preserves-swiss-holiday-120049822.html

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