A couple of weeks ago, an invitation arrived from my friend Colette, who owns and runs a bakery, known as Cakes and Desserts; she is famous for the beautiful pastries, desserts and cakes she lovingly makes by hand. You may remember her from last year’s Shavathon, and from the pictures I posted last Christmas of the lovingly handmade Knusperhäuschen we had bought from her.
In the run-up to Christmas, and in keeping with the German tradition, she and her team have been working long, loooong hours to bake traditional Stollen and all my favourite German Weihnachtsgebäck, and yes – she is again making ginger bread houses too, as they proved so popular last year. If you are lucky enough to live in Cape Town and haven’t placed an order yet, do not hesitate too long!
This year, for the first time, I believe, she has received an order from Wecke & Voigts in Windhoek, and thus her awesome ranges of Weihnachtsgebäck and Stollen are being shipped across the Namibian border to be sold at Maerua Mall in Windhoek, which just happens to be our favourite shopping centre, whenever we visit Richard’s family in Windhoek. So that is exciting news indeed!
Once she and her team have dozens of boxes of freshly baked Plätzchen and Lebkuchen ready for shipping to the various businesses that have already placed orders for them, she calls on family and friends to lend a helping hand with packing and wrapping. It has become a delightful pre-Christmas tradition. This year, I happened to be available on the assigned day, and thus reported for duty at 10am on Sunday morning.
Colette quickly showed me the ropes and explained the process. She first showed me the new baking equipment that she has bought, which has allowed her to increase her range of biscuits dramatically. Many, many of the biscuits she makes, however, are still made by hand. Everytime I visit her kitchen, I am left speechless by her creativity and her skill in coming up with new delicious treats. Being a chef – and a pastry chef at that – is unbelievably hard and tough work.
We then had a look at the biscuits, which were set out in boxes on two large tables in the kitchen/dining room area; numbers on the side of each box indicate how many of them need to go into each packet. They are carefully packed into cellophane bags, which are weighed and brought through to the adjoining large room. Here, the bags are hygienically sealed to keep the cookies fresh. Stick-on labels are applied to identify the types of cookies, the ingredients and the use-by date. Some go into square boxes, others go into cones, and yet others are placed in little cellophane bags, with ribbons tied around the top. Once each item has been sealed, wrapped, packed and prettily adorned with a ribbon, it is placed into large plastic crates or stackable cardboard cartons, which are taken through to the storage area.
As Colette’s and her mother’s friends of various generations began to arrive, I made myself useful by snipping the ribbons into the required lengths, while another two ladies began to tie them neatly around each packet of Printen (made of Lebkuchen or gingerbread) with a little bow. In the course of the next six hours, I snipped about a gazillion ribbon lengths (well, maybe not quite that many but it felt like it), stuck labels onto packets, learned about the Markusknoten (or ‘the knot of Markus’), honed my bow-tying skills, folded the cardboard boxes that would house the various kinds of Stollen, and learned how to pack items as optimally as possible into the crates.
It didn’t feel like hard work though, because there was such a warm, supportive atmosphere. Everyone was welcome, and there was no sense of competition or criticism: just an easy, flowing collaboration with much light-hearted bantering, and a sense of working together as a community to help a good friend – while having fun!
Colette and I have been friends even since before our first school day, which is a fair number of years ago!
What made yesterday even more astounding for me was the fact that our very first class teacher attended yesterday’s cookie-packing day. It was the strangest – and the nicest! – feeling to be sitting next to this kind and warm-hearted teacher who was the first to welcome us into the big and scary world of School – while at the same time helping the friend I have known the longest in the whole world. I can tell you, it felt pretty amazing!
The time literally flew by, and before I knew it, the smell of the braai being prepared outside by Colette’s mom and her assistants was permeating the entire house and making stomachs growl in anticipation.