The night had drawn in, on the stove a pumpkin chilli bubbled away. It was the first weekend in November and we had invited friends for a Bonfire dinner. I was standing in the kitchen, listening to the night and tidying away the dishes. Through the slightly ajar window drifted the familiar smell of a bonfire nearby. Lingering on the tip of my nose, it tugged on my memories. Suddenly, there it was again: That milky sweetness melting on my tongue like cotton floss candy of a November long past.
I remember it like yesterday, although I must have been 11. I had just started my last year at Primary school and with it my last year in kindergarten. November was my favourite time of the year. It was the month of darkness, hot chocolate and plenty of movie mornings! All the great adventure films would be back on telly for the run up to Christmas and my parents – ready for some lay ins – would tolerate all my early weekend mornings in front of the TV. But it wasn’t just the telly. November brought so much more to my senses. There was the smell of the bonfires and the hot spicy fruit punch; the sparkle of the early Christmas lights and the colourful lanterns and then there was that wonderful taste, that sweet buttery taste of: Weckmänner.
They would make great company for tonight’s chilli, I thought while stacking away the plates. Weckmänner are simple yeast based sweet breads in the shape of little men. A row of raisins down the front signifies the buttons of a cape. The best ones had a little clay pipe tucked into them. When I was a child Weckmänner were a rare treat. You would only ever find them in the bakery around the eleventh of November – Saint Martin’s Day.
The legend of Saint Martin is one of great kindness. Once a young soldier, Martin was tasked with delivering a message to a neighbouring town. It was the middle of winter; the nights were long and cold. A beautiful red cape pulled high up his cheeks gave him warmth and protection as he rode along the icy roads. When he passed a stranger along his way – a poor man who was almost freezing to death and begging for help – he commanded his horse to a stop, jumped off and pulled his sword. Then, he unfastened his cape and with one quick sweep cut it in half. One part he handed to the beggar, the other he tied back around his neck. Upon arrival in the neighbouring town he laid down his soldier‘s sword and helmet forever and joined the church instead.
Saint Martin’s kindness was commemorated with great affection at my kindergarden. Most notable was the lantern walk. In the weeks before, we would spend many hours crafting a colourful lantern each to light it on the evening of Martinmas. Each lantern had a small wire handle that was threaded through the tip of a wooden stick to hold it and was lit by a small tea light – clearly these were the days before health and safety. In a small procession of mums, dads, nursery teachers and children, we would walk around the neighbourhood with our lanterns and sing songs about the stars and the moon and Saint Martin‘s generosity. Looking back I suddenly had to smile at my reflection in the kitchen window – how proud I had always felt for carrying the responsibility of that small fire.
My last November in kindergarten was an exceptionally cold one. Although the winter season had barely begun we already experienced minus temperatures and so we cut our walk short that night and hurried back to the kindergarten playground instead, where the caretaker had lit a beautiful bonfire, to sip hot punch and munch on homemade Weckmänner. Oh those Weckmänner. Standing there in the kitchen on bonfire night, I remembered their taste so vividly again: The delicate sweetness of the milk, the lightness of the dough, the subtle hint of lemon. Every bite so dense yet it all would melt like cotton candy in my mouth. My hands might have been frosty and my nose dripping, but I swear, in that last year – by the bonfire – the hot punch tasted extra sweet and the homemade Weckmänner extra fluffy.
Oh & H – a homemakers column. A weekly sharing of life’s little stories between a tiny terraced house and an overgrowing allotment.
Dreaming of baking your own Weckmänner now? You are in luck. Inspired by my Bonfire Night memories, I’ve hunted down a recipe. Get it here.