‘Holy Rollers’ come back year after year Print
Around the Diocese
Written by Jane Lepeska Grinde, Catholic Herald Correspondent   
Thursday, Nov. 07, 2019 -- 12:00 AM
Karen and Rick Grosse continue to volunteer in the kitchen at St. James Church in Madison, baking pfeffernuesse cookies. Their children and grandchildren, as did Rick, attended or are attending St. James School. Many parishioners and volunteers return each year to make the German cookies. (Jane Lepeska Grinde photo)

MADISON -- What goes on behind the scenes to produce a bag of what has become the world-famous pfeffernuesse, the little German cookies sold at the Good Shepherd Family Festival at St. James Church the second Sunday in November?

Year after year, parishioners and friends come back to the St. James Church basement, starting the week before Labor Day and continuing through the last week of October.

They come on Monday and Wednesday nights, and Tuesday afternoons, to roll little pieces of dough that has been mixed together in the kitchen, put through a specially rigged sausage maker, and then pushed through a special wire grating for rolling.

The “Holy Rollers” place the pieces in 21 by 14 rows on cookie sheets that are placed in the convection ovens, then cooled, packaged, and stored for sale at the festival.

Something unique

Dorothy Dittman, who proposed the idea for the pfeffernuesse 43 years ago and is now a member of Our Lady of Queen of Peace Parish in Madison, regularly comes to roll the cookies.

She was on the St. James Parish Council when Fr. William DeBock, then the pastor, wanted St. James to have something unique to sell at the festival.

Dittman knew about St. Mary of the Lake Parish in nearby Westport selling fruitcakes. Considering the German heritage of the parish, she suggested pfeffernuesse to Father DeBock, who told her to visit homebound Mary Gherman who would have a recipe.

She recruited Emmett Schuchardt, a former restaurant owner and lifelong parishioner who was in charge of the parish kitchen, to go with her; the rest is history.

How cookies are made

Soon after the operation started, Elmer Brahm rigged up the sausage-like cookie maker to crank out strands of the dough, which were then cut into pieces by another rigged-up device.

The dough is mixed in an industrial mixer. Seven to 10 batches are made each session cookies are rolled, producing about 18 to 20 bags per batch.

The goal is 3,500 bags. Rollers are given the opportunity to buy pfeffernuesse before the festival when they roll.

While some of the original crew have passed on, many of the original volunteers are still helping, along with children and grand- and great-grandchildren as well a school and religious education families.

On a typical session, the rollers include many nonparishioners who join the fun and appreciate the chance to buy the pfeffernuesse early.

Annual festival

The annual festival is set for Sunday, Nov. 10, at St. James Church and School, starting with a children’s Mass at 8:30 a.m.

The festival also includes a chicken dinner, bake sale, Sinsinawa Mound bread, children’s games, craft corner, snack bar, silent auction, and a huge hidden treasure sale.

The dinner is served from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., while the hidden treasure and other festival activities begin at 9:30 a.m. The hidden treasure sale has an early sale on Friday from 5 to 9 p.m., with $5 admission fee. The church is located off of Regent St. at 1204 St. James Ct.

By the way, the recipe was to be kept secret until Mary Gherman died.

An older St. James cookbook includes the St. James pfeffernuesse cookies recipe submitted by Emmett Schuchardt and another by a “St. James Old-Timer.” Both are similar but not the same.

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