For Christmas Eve this year, Chris’s mom and I planned a German Mennonite supper of chicken noodle soup, zwiebach, and cherry moos (pronounced moze.) I volunteered to bring the zwiebach (all I had to do was thaw some rolls I froze in November) and to make the cherry moos as part of my education in traditional German Mennonite cooking.
Cherry moos are essentially a cherry soup or thin cherry pudding. I’d had cherry moos only once before, the Christmas Eve when I met Chris’s grandma Dorothy Weber 10 years ago. So I had a vague idea of what they should look and taste like.
Without the German gastronomical experience, I confess, I found the idea of plain cherry soup to be missing something. It wouldn’t sound odd to me if I’d grown up eating cherry moos, I’m sure. But I am who I am. So I decided to add my own touch to the cherry moos.
When my parents serve strawberries and cream, they serve the fruit over broken pieces of pie crust, which is eaten scooped up with the fruit like crackers crumbled into soup. That gave me the idea for making pie crust Christmas shapes to eat with the cherry moos. I figured it would be like a deconstructed cherry pie.
“Could you eat cherry moos over cookies or a crust?” I asked Chris.
He gave me a weird look. But after a moment he said, “I don’t know. That might be okay.”
And that was all I needed to forge ahead with my plan to make some “holiday pastry crisps” to serve with the cherry moos.
Other than adding some pastry as an accompaniment for the cherry moos, I intended to stay completely true to Chris’s grandmother’s cherry moos recipe. I read over the recipe several times before Christmas Eve. It didn’t look difficult.
But when I went in the kitchen on Christmas Eve to start cooking, it suddenly occurred to me, rather late in the game, that I didn’t have an important ingredient in my cabinets: cherries.
I sent Chris, armed with a cell phone to call me with questions, out to Russ’s Market to buy two cans of cherries. He called me a few minutes later.
“What kind of cherries am I supposed to buy?” he asked.
I looked at the recipe.
“The recipe says 1 quart fruit in syrup,” I said.
“Well, there are two kinds here,” Chris said. “Tart red cherries and dark cherries.”
“I have no idea which,” I said.
“You’re sure the recipe doesn’t say?”
“Nope, it doesn’t,” I said.
There was silence on the other end of the line. Clearly we were at an impasse.
“How about dark cherries?” I said. “They sound good.”
“Okay!” said Chris, sounding relieved.
As soon as he got home with the cherries, I got to work. The recipe was easy to follow. And while the cherry moos were stewing on the stove, I made my pastry crisps. Then we put everything into portable containers and took it over to Chris’s mom’s house.
After dinner, I brought out bowls of steaming, purple cherry moos and stood a couple of pastry crisps in each bowl. I hoped the cherry moos tasted right, but only Chris and his parents would know.
Chris took a bite. His mother took a bite.
Quietly, everyone took a few bites. But no one said anything.
The silence seemed significant.
“Well, how do they taste?” I said.
“It’s … good,” said Chris. But he sounded puzzled. And I wasn’t convinced.
“Yes, it’s good,” Chris’s mom agreed. But she’s so nice, she’d say it was good if it was the worst thing she’d ever tasted.
“You can serve cherry moos cold,” said Chris’s dad.
As we were not discussing the temperature of the dish, this non sequitor seemed to be a hint that the cherry moos were not all that they should be.
“It’s not right, is it?” I blurted out. “Just say it.”
“No … It’s … good …” said Chris.
“Then why are you saying it that way?” I asked.
“Something is different,” he said.
“Bad is different,” I said. “I knew it!”
“No, not bad,” said Chris. “Let me think …”
Then inspiration hit him.
“The cherries!” he said. “You used dark cherries.”
“You said you didn’t know which to buy,” I said.
“I know, but I think maybe you’re supposed to use the tart cherries,” he said.
“I wish you’d remembered this earlier,” I said.
“But this is good!” said Chris. “Now that I know why they’re different, I think they’re fine.”
I looked at Chris’s mom.
“I like it this way,” she said. And she said it very firmly, not like when you serve her meat that is underdone or overdone and she says she likes it but you know she couldn’t possibly like it, really.
I must have still looked downcast, because she added, “I suppose my mother and grandmother used the tart cherries, but I don’t think they had canned dark cherries available back then.”
“I wanted to make it the way you remembered,” I said.
“No worries!” said Chris. “And you know some people make moos with plum. I bet it tastes like this.”
But it wasn’t plum moos I wanted to make for Christmas Eve.
On the plus side, the “holiday pastry crisps” added a nice texture to the dish, as well as a nice visual contrast to the deep color of the cherry moos.
We had several pastry crisps left over, so I froze them to serve with the next batch of cherry moos I make. And I will get them right next time.
Below are Grandma Weber’s recipe for Cherry Moos and my recipe for Holiday Pastry Crisps.
1 quart fruit in syrup (traditionally, tart red cherries are used)
3 cups additional water or milk (can use 1 cup cream)
½ cup honey or sugar
Cook slowly until fruit is soft.
Combine in small bowl:
4–5 T flour
Additional honey or sugar if needed
1 cup milk or cream
Mix to a smooth paste. Dip out some of the hot fruit mixture and stir into paste; then slowly pour mixture back into the fruit, stirring constantly. Continue cooking over low heat until thickened. Serve warm or cold.
[Sarah’s note: May serve over shortbread, pie pastry, or, in warmer months, over ice cream.]
Holiday Pastry Crisps
1 pie crust (premade refrigerated crust is fine)
Sugar to sprinkle
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Let the pie crust sit out for a few minutes or take the chill off it by microwaving it for a few seconds. Roll out the pie crust, then cut out shapes with cookie cutters. (I cut out stars and Christmas trees.) Reroll the dough and cut out shapes until it is used up. Place shapes on a cookie sheet, either greased or ungreased. Sprinkle shapes lightly with sugar. Bake approximately 8–10 minutes or until light golden brown. Remove from pan and cool.
Serve crisps with cherry moos or strawberries and cream. Dip the crisps into the fruit mixture like a cracker into soup.