The Tradition Will Continue! Tastes of Christmas

Walk on Main Street in Newton near the corner of 6th Street and if you are lucky you will get a whiff  of baking peppernuts from Prairie Harvest.   For many families in Harvey County, peppernuts are a traditional Christmas treat that has a long history.

A nut-sized spice cookie the earliest recipes call for black pepper  and ginger with several basic ingredients, honey, eggs and flour.  During the Middle Ages, black pepper was one of the most expensive of the spices, adding to the special nature of foods made with it.  Baking peppernuts became a tradition among Mennonites living in Russia and when they immigrated to Kansas in the 1870s, they brought their recipes with them. Since that time, peppernuts have remained popular and as new, different ingredients were available,  the recipes changed. In her book, Mennonite Foods & Folkways from South Russia, Norma Jost Voth concluded:

“The best peppernuts are crisp and very spicy.  Anise is the most popular flavor.  Pepper enhances the other spice flavors.  The plain, traditional peppernut is still very good.  The tradition will continue!”

Today, peppernuts are enjoyed by many families in south central Kansas and several individuals and businesses bake them to sell.


Below are three recipes for peppernuts and one fudge recipe from Arpa Wedel’s Recipe Box. Arpa Wedel (1914-2003) grew up in Marion County and lived and worked as a teacher in Marion and Harvey Counties.  Her recipe box features traditional favorites as well as new dishes to try.

Click on images to enlarge recipe cards.

Citron Peppernuts (or Russian Peppernuts)



Esther’s Peppernuts

Fudge is another Christmas treat.  Below is a recipe that Arpa got from Mrs. D.S. Goertzen.
Mrs. D.S. Goertzen’s Fudge
  • Arpa Wedel’s Recipe Box, Private Collection.
  • Mennonite Weekly Review 8 September 2003, p. 12
  • U.S. Census, 1940.
  • Voth, Norma Jost.  Mennonite Foods & Folkways from South Russia: Vol. 1.  Intercourse, PA:  Good Books, 1994.

A Refreshing Pause: Coca-Cola and Santa

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

The halls and galleries at HCHM are decorated this year with a Coca-Cola theme. We will be open for the annual 5 Places of Christmas, Saturday, Dec. 6 from 10-4. Refreshments, Coca-Cola cake with Coke, will be served throughout the day and the “Rosewood Winds” will perform at 2:00.


Several years ago, a 4 foot Coca-Cola Santa was donated to the museum.  Since then he has been a fun addition to our annual Christmas decorations.  The connection between Santa and Coca-Cola can be found as early as 1931.

Coca-Cola Santa, HCHM 2012.1

Coca-Cola Santa, HCHM 2012.1


Prior to the 1930s, Santa’s appearance was varied reflecting the melting pot of immigrants that moved to the U.S.

Postcard, printed in Germany, divided back.  "For Johny from Grandma, Merry Christmas." HCHM 88.301.14

Postcard, printed in Germany, divided back. “For Johny from Grandma, Merry Christmas.” HCHM 88.301.14

In  1930, noted commercial illustrator, Haddon Sundblom, was hired by the Coca-Cola Company to create a Santa for their 1931 Christmas advertising campaign.  The company was looking for ways to increase sales of the drink during the typically slow winter season.  Sundblom created a Santa that exuded warmth and charm dressed in a red suit with white trim with the slogan, “The Pause That Refreshes.”  For inspiration, Sundblom borrowed from a variety of images of the jolly elf, including the 1822 poem by Clement Clark Moore, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” commonly known as “A Night Before Christmas.”

First Coca-Cola Santa, Haddon Sundblom, 1931.

From 1931 to 1964, Sundblom created images of Coca-Cola Santa delivering and playing with toys, raiding refrigerators and of course drinking a coke.  The artist used his neighbor and good friend, Lou Prentiss, as the model for his paintings.  After Prentiss passed away, Sundblom used his own face, often looking in the mirror while he painted.



The Coca-Cola Company continues to use Coca-Cola Santa in advertising.


  • Mooney, Phillip F.  “The Coca-Cola Santa” in ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore, Hallmark Cards, 2001.

Every Toy a Kid Could Want: The Wish Book

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

If you were a kid in the 1970s and 80s, you may remember the anticipation you felt when the JCPenney’s Big Book Catalog or the Sears Wish Book Catalog arrived in the mail in mid-August.

These catalogs were filled with anything a kid could want.  Hours were spent studying the pages of toys, clothes and gadgets. Page corners were turned down; items were circled in red to make sure parents or grandparents knew which items to order.


Sears started the tradition in 1933 with a Christmas Book catalog.  The covers featured Christmas scenes and the inside pages were filled with items to order for gifts.  The first catalog in 1933 was 87 pages with 25 pages devoted to toys and 62 page with gifts for adults. By 1968 the 605 page catalog was officially names “The Wish Book” and had 225 pages with toys and 380 for adults.


J.C. Penney’s first Christmas catalog came out in 1963.  The 1980 J.C. Penney Catalog had every toy a kid could ever want as the below YouTube video illustrates. (click play to view, approximately 3 minutes)

Of course, shopping in the actual store was also fun!

J.C. Penneys, 601 Main, Newton, 1957.

J.C. Penneys, 601 Main, Newton, 1957. HCHCM Photo Archives

Change came in the late 1990s with the growing popularity of on-line shopping. Although catalog sales for J.C. Penney’s peaked at 4 billion in 1999, five years later 40% of catalog users were placing orders using the internet. Penney’s discontinued the Big Book in 2009.

Sears also was affected by the growing popularity of on-line shopping. The Sears Wish Book was discontinued in 1993. Five years later Sears launched to attract internet shoppers.  In 2009, Sears improved the site with an interactive, online Holiday Wish Book complete with Christmas music, real-life holiday scenes and other  features.

What was your favorite way to shop? How has it changed?


  • Halkias, Maria. “J.C. Penney is Turing Last Page on its Big Book” Dallas Morning News 18 November 2009/26 November 2010 at
  • “The Sears Christmas Wish Book, A Holiday Tradition” at
  • HCHM Photo Archives