On our visit to the Main Street Cafe in Durham, Kansas last week, we watched as the ladies prepared pies for their Friday night buffet. When we arrived, the owner told us that as long as we were there we might as well watch as they made peppernuts and then proceeded to tell us all about them.

Harland and I must have greeted his explanation with blank stares becaused he finally stopped talking and said,  “You’ve heard of Peppernuts haven’t you?”

“Uh, no. What are they?” we replied.

“Oh, well c’mere and I’ll show you.” And he led us to a back room where a couple of ladies were manning a machine full of what looked like 20 pounds of dough, spitting out little dogfood size bits onto mammoth greased cookie sheets.

He said that peppernuts are traditional tiny cookies that contain cloves and anise, are kinda hard, and good for dunking. Despite their name, they don’t contain pepper, and often don’t have nuts either. He went on to say that they are very popular in the Durham area around Christmas time. They make them up to be bagged and sold at their cafe.

We watched as the machine quickly filled each cookie sheet,

and soon there was a stack of sheets ready for the oven. One of the ladies spaced apart some of the cookie dough blobs that were too close to each other,

and then popped them into the oven. They only baked for a few minutes, and then were allowed to cool.

Later, they were bagged up for sale.

I was intrigued, and did a little research when I got home. I couldn’t discover where they originated, but they are called by different names in different countries:

  • Germany:  pimpernüsse or pfeffernüsse
  • Denmark: pebernødder
  • Holland:  pepernoten

I’ve decided to make a batch of them for us soon, and am looking for a good recipe. There are tons of them available on the internet, some looking suspiciously updated and modern. But I’m looking for an older traditional recipe with cloves and anise.

Anybody out there have a old family recipe they would like to share?



Cattle, corn, wheat, beans, mud, snow, ice, and drought. Plenty of fresh air and quiet. Our life is sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes joyous, but never boring.

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36 Responses

  1. Kathy Swiger says:

    very interesting…my hubby’s family does a white version… maybe rolled afterwards in powdered sugar? they are kinda hard..they dunk in their tea…Swiger’s are from German decent…love your website…KANSAS ROCKS!

  2. Saundra says:

    I have never made pfeffernüsse but I have eaten it and it’s delicious! My sister-in-law’s mother (who is 90 years old) makes it every Christmas and she said she uses an old Betty Crocker cookbook recipe. I think this restaurants sounds so good with their old-fashioned cooking. I have never been to a restaurant that served sour cream raisin pie and I’m jealous that Harland got to have a slice!

  3. I’m writing a book on my German Mennonite family who came from Russia to that area in KS in 1874. Peppernuts are a Christmas classic for Mennonites, originating in the Netherlands, carried over to Prussia, to Russia, and to U.S. Candy was too expensive, so a mother made peppernuts, often in secret overnight so kids had a present in the morning. Kids had games where you took each other’s peppernuts (if you want more info lemme know). Purists say they must have anise and pepper in them, but modern U.S. versions have nuts and fruits in some. One folk story says two men in Russia (Mennonites in Ukraine, 1800s) were going to town on their sled in winter and hungry wolves were following them. Afraid for themselves and their horses, they tossed out peppernuts from their pockets to keep the wolves at bay. Every Christmas my grandma would send me peppernuts–hard as rocks, as the traditional ones are. I sure miss them!

  4. Jeannelle says:

    My mother-in-law used to make these. Here’s a recipe from a German Lutheran cookbook:

    1 c. molasses
    3 c. sugar
    1 c. sour milk
    1 c. lard or margarine
    2 heaping tsp. soda
    1 tsp. cinnamon
    1 tsp. cloves
    1/2 tsp. salt
    Few drops of anise oil

    Add enough flour to other ingredients to make a workable dough. Form into small balls.

    • This is a few years too late, but this is the exact recipe my mother made. I grew up north of Durham and went to school there, and some of my cousins have or may work at the Cafe in Durham. Their food is home-cooking. I’m having to make a gluten-free version of peppernuts. Prairie Harvest in Newton makes a really good wheat-free peppernut which tastes like the real thing. Yum!

  5. Doe of Mi. says:

    Wow, I think I remember my Mom talking about pfeffernusse but, I don’t remember eating anything like that. Maybe if I have the right cookbook I can find a recipe. But doubt it. I don’t know what ever happened to her recipe box. Darn! She was nibbling anise quite often when I was a teen and I didn’t care for that. anyway nice post.

  6. For recipes, look at Mennonite Foods and Folkways by Norma Jost Voth. It’s 2 volumes, but both have recipes (and stories!).

    • Suzanne says:

      Thanks for all the info Ben!

    • Cynthia Buhler says:

      Thanks for the story and information. My grandmother’s and my father-in-law’s family were Mennonites. I was wanting to make some Pepper Nuts, as my grandmother always talked about them at Christmas time. She was a Vogt, too.

  7. Alica says:

    These are so good! My sister has a good recipe, but she’s out of the area right now, so I can’t get her recipe! I’ll try to get it for you when she’s home, if you still need it!

  8. Peppernuts are delicious! We have purchased the ones that they carry at the Alma Creamery. (Gouchers Peppernuts from Canton, which is just down the road from Durham.)

  9. Tina says:

    Wow….you got me on this on. Peppernuts? I have never heard of them. I live on the West Coast so maybe it’s a Midwest thing? I love Anise cookies though.

  10. Melanie says:

    My Czecklosavakian grandma made them every year. We used to help my mom make them when we were little. .and we made some with all the grandkids a few years ago. I’d be glad to share our recipe, email me if you’d like. There were a number of spices in there. .not just anise. I’m sure the recipe we used came from my grandma’s family more than 90 years ago. We sometimes would chop up gumdrops really fine and add them to the batter, which made them a little tastier. .my own opinion. I was never a real fan. .but I do know that there are LOTS of versions. .and lots of ways to make the same type of cookie. .I’m sure finding a recipe would be a little tricky!! Good luck!

    • Kristin Srajer O'Hern says:

      My grandmother who is now 105 this past November 8 2013 is 100% Czechoslovakian. She lives in rural Tampa, KS and also made hers with gumdrops. She didn’t like anise though wo would leave that out. I have made them the past several years at Christmastime. The recipe she gave me has not only gumdrops, but ground raisins, ground coconunt and then ground nuts. She tells me now she didn’t put all that in there but the recipe she gave me called for it. She may have just opted to put just the gumdrops because I know for sure those were in hers. YUM!

      • Suzanne says:

        Fun! I had never heard about them until we visited a restaurant in a German community, and now every year I make them too. LOVE them, and will be making them again this year to give as gifts. Thanks Kristin for sharing your story with us.

  11. Nell says:

    This is from my husbands family…brought from Germany. If you make them….beware…they are addictive!!
    Heat tog. to a boil – then cool.
    2 1/2 c. sugar 3/4 c. crisco
    2 c. dark corn syrup 3/4 c. milk
    Stir into sugar mixture – 1 tsp. vanilla
    3 tsp. anise extract 3/4 tsp. cloves
    2 tsp. baking powder 1 tsp. salt
    1 tsp. cardamon
    Add enough flour to make very stiff dough. Knead in rest. We try to use 10 cups flour but it takes a good mixer and a strong arm!! Chill dough.
    Roll into ropes approx. 1/4 to 3/8 inch diam. -in powdered sugar. Cut into 3/8″ pieces. Bake on no-stick cookie sheets for 8 to 10 minutes at 375 degrees.
    When I married into the family I didn’t care for these but they grew on me until I was addicted. A handful with a cup of tea is close to heaven.

  12. Mrs. H says:

    A friend of mine is from the Whitewater, KS area; it’s a farming community full of Mennonite Christians of many stripes. My friend and her family always make peppernuts at Christmastime. I found out about them from her.

  13. Mrs. H says:

    p.s.–Whitewater is about thirty minutes north of Wichita.

  14. Hollyce Morris says:

    My maternal grandmother, Ethel Collett of Marion, KS, made peppernuts and my mom made them as well when I was growing up. They are a Christmas tradition. The recipe Mom (Anita) got from her mother was passed to me years ago and I’ve made them most every year at Christmas. They are small, crunchy nuggets and, if you like them, you REALLY like them and eat them like popcorn. Several years ago the cousins chatted about loving Grandma’s peppernuts and who still make them, only to find there are at least three different peppernut recipes and each of us have been told the recipe came from Grandma. Jokes on us! Here is the recipe Mom tells me is Grandma’s Peppernut recipe:

    The Sly Family’s recipe for Grandma Collett’s Peppernuts

    1 1/2 c. shortening
    1 1/2 c. white syrup
    1 1/2 c. honey
    1 c. sour milk
    2 eggs
    13-14 c. flour
    3 c. white sugar
    2 t. cinnamon
    1/2 t. cloves
    1 t. nutmeg
    1 t. baking powder
    1 t. soda
    2 t. anise oil

    Mix and let stand overnight or longer. Make in rolls the size of your finger and cut them. Bake about 10 minutes at 350 degrees.

    Hollyce’s notes: I’ve given the ingredients and instructions as on the recipe card, but I mix as a usual cookie dough: wet ingredients (including anise oil) mixed and add dry ingredients. Stir spices into the flour first. Roll on a floured surface. Cut about 1/4″ thick. We’ve used scissors to cut the dough, but usually a paring knfe. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet. We like ours nice and crunchy and I accidentally brown up a sheet or two for me! I mix half a recipe at a time. The Kitchen Aid mixer is a lifesaver.

  15. They sound delicious – anise is one of my favorite flavors. I make anise drops every year at Christmas to remind me of my grandmother. I can’t wait to try this recipe!

  16. Pam K. says:

    You might enjoy reading a recent post on another blog I follow. Frugal Girl makes pfeffernusse every Christmas. That machine in Durham looks great–Frugal Girl said she remembered why she only makes then once a year because it is quite labor intensive to make all of the small rolls of dough and slice them up! A friend of my mom’s always gives her a jar of pfeffernusse every Christmas. My sister is the only one in the family that likes them, so she ends up taking home the jar every year. They taste too much like licorice for my taste–I’m not a licorice fan!

  17. Kayla says:

    We made peppernuts growing up as a child in western KS, German heritage. My dad loved them, and he’d snack on them while doing chores all winter long. He’d keep them in a plastic bag in the pickup, and he always said “they get better with age” and he’d still be eating some during wheat harvest in late June! They do take alot of time to make by hand; we always made ours the size of a pea. Thanks for bringing back some happy childhood memories.

  18. Tina – anise drops are a small round cookie that forms a thin shell on the top when baked. I was featured in The Times Picayune (New Orleans newspaper) and gave my family’s history with this confection. Recipe is included in the article.

    Let me know if you try it. The secret to getting the shell is refrigerating the unbaked cookies overnight.

  19. Jacoline says:

    They’re Dutch indeed; stores over here are loaded with those from the start of September till December 5th, when Holland celebrates “Sinterklaas”. So in Holland it’s not a Christmas treat, but a Sinterklaas/SintNicolaas treat.
    Never made them myself, but have fun with it!

    The Netherlands

  20. Roberta Schwinke says:

    There is a pffeffernusse recipe in “The Joy of Cooking” that I have used. It has a lot of spices and actually contain 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper (Pffeffer). It is quite tasty.

  21. Andrea says:

    In case you want yet another peppernut recipe, this one is relatively new. The dough is based on the peppernuts that my grandma grew up with, but when she married my grandpa, she was intrigued by the spices used in his family’s recipe. She told me that it was the ground star anise that caught her eye. My theory is that she remembered star anise from her childhood in northeastern China, where it’s a popular part of the cuisine. (Her parents were missionaries, and she was born in Beijing.) Unfortunately, it’s now too late to ask.

    This recipe makes 5 quarts. Grandma would make 3 batches every year: half a batch for each of her four children, and a whole batch for her and Grandpa.

    Grandma Giesbrecht’s Peppernuts

    1) Cream together:
    1 1/2 cup white sugar
    1 1/2 cup brown sugar
    1 cup butter (room temperature)

    2) Add to the above and cream together
    1 cup whipping cream
    1 cup dark corn syrup
    2 eggs lightly beaten

    3) Add to the above and cream together
    2 tsp baking powder
    1 tsp cinnamon
    1 tsp ground star anise
    1/4 tsp ground clove
    1/4 tsp cardamom

    4) Gradually mix in 8 cups of flour. (I do this one 2 cups at a time, and as the dough gets very stiff, I stop using the mixer and use my hands instead.)

    Chill the dough in the fridge for several hours or overnight.
    On a floured surface, roll out a handful of dough into a snake, about 1/2 inch in diameter. With a sharp knife, cut the snake into pieces, about 1/4 thick.
    Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 300F for 25-30 minutes.
    Store in an airtight container.

    (They will keep for months. A few years back, my mom was getting out her Christmas decorations when she came across a fancy tin that, lo and behold, still had a handful of peppernuts at the bottom. She put them on a cookie sheet and toasted them in the oven for a few minutes, and they were still good!)

  22. Merle Hostetler says:

    Where can I get the machine to make peppernuts?

    • Suzanne says:

      I use the 2 machines located at the end of my arms. 🙂 If you’re talking about the machine that forms the little cookies, I have no idea. The one I saw looked industrial.

  23. Sharon says:

    I have made black walnut peppernuts since the 1980s when my Brownie Troop in Manhattan, Kansas had a twig-n-tree project where parents came and taught various skills. The mother came and made up the doughs one week and the father came the next to bake them. The girls had a wonderful time. Since then I have made one variation or another but our favorite are the black walnut peppernuts. Of course, when I went to locate the recipe it appears to be missing. So if anyone has a black walnut peppernut recipe please share it.

  24. Ellen Eberle says:

    Where could I purchase a machine like this peppernut machine? I have a large family and would like to make them these for x-mass next year. Thank you, ee

    • Nancy says:

      I tried a new method: instead of rolling snakes I rolled the dough flat between two 3/4″ dowels, then sliced it in strips in both directions with a butcher knife. MUCH faster.

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