By Peter Becker
Imagine transporting yourself back to the era where so many of our rich Christmas traditions came together. The sights and sounds and scents of this joyous time of year are brought into historical perspective each year at a one-of-a-kind museum in the residential heart of historic White Mills.
This Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 24-25, local historian Kurt Reed, who is curator of the Dorflinger Worker's House museum, will be demonstrating the old German tradition of baking springerle.
Pronounced SCHPRIN-girl-eh, these cookies were not baked to eat but to paint and hang on the Christmas tree on Christmas eve, away from the curious eyes of children who were supposedly in bed awaiting Saint Nick's arrival.
The tradition, still carried on in German villages, would likely have been brought over with the skilled craftsmen and their families who emigrated to this Wayne County, Pennsylvania town in the 19th Century. Christian Dorflinger, who had immigrated from Alsace-Lorraine near the French/German border, established his cut glass empire in White Mills in 1868. Scores of workers came who were skilled in the arts he required, and Dorflinger built rows of cottages for them to live.
Unique in their sloped roof lines, several Dorflinger worker cottages remain, principally on Charles Street. Dorflinger-Suydam Wildlife Sanctuary, which operates the glass museum, acquired this worker's cottage and restored and furnished it to its circa 1870 appearance.
Reed offered a preview of his talks this weekend about springerle.
Using actual wooden and metal molds used by German families as far back as the late 1800's, Reed will show how a simple mixture of flour, eggs and sugar scented with anise formed the cookies, creating little pictures. These are the best known of the molded confections that developed in Central Europe.
Springerle means "little jumper" in German and possibly refers to the dough's rapid rise in baking.
Hardwoods were carved into intricate flat molds or prints. the dough is rolled to the dimensions of the mold, ad floured wooden springerle board is pressed hard into it to get a good imprint. Sometimes, rare, smaller wooden rollers or stamps were used to make the impressions.
The common springerle format shows the image divided into small framed pictures of various trades. The one on display has a chimney sweep, clock maker, wheelwright, apothecary, tannery bark collector and more. Buildings, animals and flowers were also popular themes.
The pastry dough into which the molded was pressed (design side down) was the cut along the frame borders to make several cookies, each with its own image. These were often painted with food colors and used to decorate the Christmas tree.
Reed said that the family would take care of their molds, and pass them down from generation to generation. The cookies were also used year after year, as long as they did not break. They would be wrapped carefully after Christmas and stored away, where hopefully varmints would not find them a tasty treat.
Wooden molds were continued in the United States by German immigrants, and by the late 1870's were reinterpreted in metal by commercial confectioners in Philadelphia The wooden molds are today highly collectible, Reed said, as no two were alike. Each of them had to be hand carved, and are considered folk art.
Others feature fish as a symbol of Christianity, or oval cameo shapes with white doves.
Also included in this year's Christmas display are marzipan (almond paste and sugar) and their molds. These antique molds that once shaped decorative delectables for the Holidays still enrich the flavor of the season.
Tours will also be given of the Dorflinger Worker's Cottage Museum, which is located on Charles Street, about a half mile off Route 6. The open house is scheduled from 12 to 3 p.m., each day. There is no charge,
In addition, the Dorflinger Glass Museum and Gift Shop will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 24 and from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 25, with no admission fee. The gift shop features their annual end of season sale, of 20 percent off (except books and previously discounted items. This is the last opportunity to view a special exhibit of fine Dorflinger glass vases on loan this year to the museum.
For additional information call (570)253-1185 or visit online at www.dorflinger.org.