Pfeffernusse – also known as Peppernuts (pronounced fefferness)


Pfefferneusse has been a Christmas tradition in my family for as long as I can remember. I have seen photos of my family sitting around the table making peppernuts when I was a young child. I know we made at least 10,000 each Christmas until I left home to go to college. And that tradition continues to this day, I make several batches starting on the day after Thanksgiving. These cookies are only made at Christmas time and there are as many recipes as there are Mennonite housewives. Some recipes include pepper, some are like crackers, some like melba toast, some are very light cookies – not our recipe. You will discover a hint of Anise. The spices include Allspice, Cinnamon, and Ground Cloves.


Making these cookies is not for the faint of heart. I mix half batches which require only 10 cups of flour. Each half batch makes about 1,000 cookies. The instructions have been modified to say, “add flour until either your spoon or your arm breaks. Then add ½ cup more. Mixing in the final bit of flour is an arduous task.

My Mom and Dad, mixing a batch

The whole family got involved

The tradition holds that if anyone visits your home during the Christmas season, they get a bag of pfeffernusse. If you go to visit someone else, they get a bag of pfeffernusse. Every teacher, the mailman, the milkman, they all get a bag of pfefferneusse.


The farmers in the area I grew up had to plow their cotton fields under by January 1st so many a cold winter day was spent driving tractor out in the fields. The farmers would drive into our yard with their tractors and my mother would take a scoop of pfefferneusse and pour it into their coat pockets. The rest of the day they would occasionally throw one in their mouth. The next day they would stop by for more.


One farmer in particular was John Jelmini, who happened to live across the street from my folks. At my mother’s funeral in 1996, he broke into tears because my mom gave him pfefferneusse and he was going to miss that terribly. After the service, I approached John and said that every Christmas, he would receive a box of pfeffernusse because he was so nice to my folks. And, from 1996 to 2013, John received a box of pfefferneusse every Christmas. His daughter often remarked in emails how much he looked forward to the arrival of that box. John died in early 2014 at the age of 92.


So, enjoy. Know that with each cookie, some extra special love is being transferred from me to you.

The final mix is really a chore

Larry and my dad In the final stir

My son and I in 2007 In Ashland

Now I get to make them with my grandaughter Emma - from Sweden

My son and Emma all pitch in to help

Many kinds of pfeffernusse

There are as many recipes for peppernuts as there are Mennonite families. Each family has their own recipe which they claim Is the best. Some are like melba toast, others have pepper as an Ingredient.

The Process