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Found Recipes: 'Wurst Cakes'


We have a story now about conflict and cookies. It's told by writer Diana Abu-Jaber for our Found Recipes series. We'll get to the conflict in a minute. The cookies come first. Abu-Jaber's German-American grandmother would make them every year.

DIANA ABU-JABER: We called them wurst cakes.

SIEGEL: Wurst, as in sausage - so-called because you roll the dough into the shape of a sausage, refrigerate, then slice and bake. These cookies are not very sweet, but they are full of spice. And back in Diana's childhood, maybe a little hint of spite.

ABU-JABER: I think of my father - how happy the cookies made him and how happy fighting with my grandmother made him.

SIEGEL: And there's the conflict. Diana Abu-Jaber's late father was a Jordanian immigrant who loved to cook. He's a major character in her memoir "The Language Of Baklava." Today, he's the co-star of this story along with his adversary, his mother-in-law.

ABU-JABER: Every holiday season, she would start churning out every variety of Christmas cookie. She made rum balls and peanut butter blossoms and the wurst cakes. Then she would come on the Greyhound bus from New Jersey up to Syracuse, and she would bring four suitcases. And in these suitcases, she would have a toothbrush and a change of clothes and 10 tins filled with her Christmas cookies.


ABU-JABER: My father would be there, at the door. He would embrace her and go straight to the tins of cookies and start looking for the wurst cakes. Gram didn't approve of her Jordanian son-in-law. She saw him as an interloper. He was this Muslim menace, you know, who was coming to steal her only daughter. And this was alarming to her. And so this manifested itself in their conversations whenever they would get together on the holidays.


ABU-JABER: It sort of percolated slowly. She would just pick at him and peck him and talk about Jordanians and Muslims and then eventually he'd break down and he'd jump into the fray. Gram might say something about -I don't know, how you people would celebrate Christmas if I wasn't around. You'd probably run around like a bunch of savages waving turkey legs. And my father would say well, actually, the Muslims invented civilization. And he would go into these long disquisitions about the nature of reality, the history of the world as seen by Gus Abu-Jaber.


ABU-JABER: The thing is that my grandmother would get very upset. She'd get very agitated and worn out by these fights. And my father would get excited and he loved them. Dad would kind of sigh contentedly and say oh, do you have any more of those Catholic cookies? Because that's what he called the wurst cakes, the Catholic cookies. And my grandmother would be furious and kind of off because to my father fighting was just a more exciting form of conversation.


ABU-JABER: My sisters and I assumed that they really just couldn't stand each other. And so we were really surprised when my grandmother passed away my father knelt by her coffin and he wept and wept and wept.


ABU-JABER: He missed her. He missed his old adversary.


ABU-JABER: It was a great lesson to us because it taught us that enemies can come to rely on each other and even to love each other. You know, I think of it kind of - if this doesn't sound too corny, I think of it as the lesson of the wurst cake, you know, because you realize from something like a wurst cake that cookies don't have to be too sweet, that all things find their balance and need their balance. And for my father, my grandmother was his balance.


SIEGEL: That's writer Diana Abu-Jaber. You can find out how to make wurst cakes on the Found Recipes page at npr.org. Diana suggests you enjoy these spicy cookies the way her father did - with a cup of black Turkish coffee - argument with your in-law is optional. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.