A Holiday Treat That Lasts a Lifetime

Every year, the same Christmas treat arrives, compliments of the mother-in-law: a cookie with "the denseness of an anvil and the half-life of a radial tire." It's edible — like jerky — and has many uses beyond the table.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

There are no warnings on the cookies that commentator Baxter Black receives this time of year. Perhaps there should be, he says. They're the kind that require well-toned jaw muscles and teeth that don't break easily.

BAXTER BLACK: Every Christmas, as regulars as an insulin shot, we receive one of my favorite annual gifts, 16 square feet of Lebkuchen. My mother-in-law manufactures these unusual cookies in her garage or possibly her metallurgy studio. I've never asked about the recipe or the cooking instructions. I assumed she uses the cement mixer and pours the sticky dough out on the driveway. It thickens in the sun, then is rolled flat.

Once it's hardened, it can be lifted like a sheet of plywood and allowed to age like fine wine, silage, or Chinese thousand-year eggs. She has no cellar. The sheets of dough are stacked like lumber behind the shop under a blue tarp. Time goes by. It is a secret how long the dough is allowed to molder, compress, steep, cure, condense and heal. But I have seen newspapers stuck to the bottom with President Nixon's picture.

At harvest time, you have a foodstuff that is impervious to toxic chemicals, boiling or radiation, has the denseness of an anvil, the half-life of a radial tire, and smells vaguely of licorice and Easy Off. I've seen the table saw she uses to cut them into two by three inch squares. It has a 10-inch masonry blade. Of course, it's not always wise to examine the process. It's like making sausage or legislation. Making Lebkuchens is messy. But the result is an addictive, delicious, filling, chewing, long-lasting floss-proof delicacy you can carry in your back pocket like a wallet.

In addition to lasting longer than jerky, plastic bottles in a landfill, or seven percent iodine on your fingers, it can be molded into decorative or functional shapes to shim your welding table or resole your shoes. Lebkuchens crossed the Bering Strait with Strom Thurmond, climbed the North Pole with Admiral Perry, and was used as a heat shield on Apollo 13.

So you can see why I wait every year for my Lebkuchen to arrive. They are the cowboy's ultimate tool to pave with, to sharpen your knife on, to pad your saddle, shoe your house, scrape unsightly scurf off your elbows and heels - and you can eat it. My favorite Frederic Remington painting features the cowboy holding the all-purpose snack aloft, as if saluting. It's called simply Lebkuchen on the tray.

MONTAGNE: The comments of cowboy-poet, philosopher and former large animal vet, Baxter Black.

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