My great grandmother was notorious for her baking and her no nonsense attitude. My mother once recalled the time she threw a pie like a frisbee out the back door because it didn't come out up to snuff. She was a small woman named Myrtle, but everyone called her Marm. She could slaughter a chicken in the morning and have it on the table for supper. She made baked beans on Saturday night and it was a family requirement to attend. They stuffed so many people into the small dining room some had to crawl underneath the table to get out. She loved photography, posing her kids and grandkids in front of the flowering lilac bush or just so as the light streamed in the living room window. Her son, my great uncle, once described her as "the boss."
Though I never met her, I think of her often. I can see her moving deftly around the kitchen, baking and cooking on a cast iron wood stove with no running water. When I found stacks and stacks of her cookbooks and handwritten recipes I thought it would be fun to honor and connect with her by trying them myself, in the same kitchen more than 50 years later (and with some modern conveniences). I hope she gets a kick out of it, and I hope you will try them along with me!
Last spring, on one of those days where I was so frustrated and overwhelmed with renovations I was dreaming of just burning the goddamn house down, a neighbor stopped by. She asked me the usual neighbor question - "Who are you?" And we pleased to hear I was, in fact, a Day and the house had stayed in the family. She then told me how she loved running over to grab Marm's molasses cookies from the kitchen. So when I saw this handwritten recipe, I knew it had to be first.
2 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup shortening
4 tablespoons molasses
Pre heat your oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and salt. Sift together three times. In a separate bowl, mix shortening, sugar, egg, and molasses with a whisk. Sift the dry ingredients on top of your wet mixture. Mix all ingredients together to create a dry, crumbly dough. Roll dough into small 1-2 inch balls, and gently pat out with the heel of your hand. Bake for 7 minutes. Makes about two dozen.
The first time I tried these I used my Kitchenaid to mix the wet ingredients, and the second time I used a whisk. I think using a whisk makes for a better cookie. I mixed the wet and dry ingredients together using a wooden spoon. You really need to fold them all in together and push the dry ingredients into the sugar/shortening mixture to get the best result. Because Marm used a wood stove, there are no time or temperature instructions with her recipes, but I tried out a couple combinations and I think 7 minutes at 350 makes for the best, chewy cookie. Gently pat out with your hand. I tried the fork method (you can see below) and those ones came out very hard.
These are perfect with coffee or tea, or as an ice cream topping, and they're not too sweet! They would make a great holiday gift because the dough yields so many, and they have a great shelf life without getting too hard.
Give these a shot and let me know what you think! I'll have another recipe coming your way before Christmas. Enjoy!