Molasses cookies


I’m going to start working on the food part of this blog. I love food, cooking, and eating, and we have some really neat and somewhat unexpected recipes from various places. I have no idea how to take good food pictures, but it’s worth a shot.

The first recipe comes with a story, as many of them probably will. Food and stories are very wrapped up in each other in my life. This started when Xander and I started combining our books and talking about cookbooks when he moved in many years ago. I grew up with a couple of standard cookbooks – Easy Basics for Good Cooking (I use the pie crust recipe every time I make pie), Better Homes and Gardens, and The Joy of Cooking. Xander grew up with the Settlement Cookbook. We were talking about the differences between older and newer versions of the cookbooks, especially since I keep an older version of Better Homes and Gardens specifically for a coffee cake recipe I loved growing up. I’ll get to that in another post, I’m sure. Xander said he would like an older version of the Settlement Cookbook, since the one he had was newer thant the one he grew up with.

I thought that sounded like an interesting thing to track down, so I went wandering online. I did find the version he wanted, but I also found a much older version, printed in 1901. I figured that was good, too, and when it showed up I discovered I was right.

First of all, on flipping through I found a section on invalid cookery. Invalid is one of those words, like POLISH, that you can pronouce two different ways, and most of that depends on context. It took me just a minute of reading recipes to discover that my interpretation (not-valid cookery) was wrong – it was a section on cooking for sick people, or invalids. That made much more sense. It is full of recipes for things like albumenized milk (milk mixed with egg whites), beef essence (warm a piece of beef slightly, then squeeze out the juices and give it to the invalid to drink), and wine soup (wine, sugar, egg yolks, and croutons). I’m not sure I’d eat any of it. Another amusing bit was that it has ads for various things like holeproof hosiery and  a company specializing in French dry cleaning.

The cookbook was printed before there were consistent thermostats on ovens, so it calls for cool ovens, warm ovens, and hot ovens. I’ll give you what I’ve found to work best in terms of temperature.

In looking at the recipes, I noticed that the cookies seemed different than those I was used to. The proportions were not the same, and I couldn’t tell exactly how they would come out. The recipe for molasses cookies sounded quite interesting, so I made a batch. They immediately became one of my favorite cookies ever. They are not cookies in the same sense we think of them nowadays, more like little cakes. They are tender and I really like the taste. They aren’t nearly as sweet as most cookies I’ve had in my life, since molasses is the only sweetener. I looked in the newer versions of The Settlement Cookbook (the subtitle, by the ways, is “The way to a man’s heart”. I always thought it was directly through the sternum rather than through the stomach, but I’m sure I’m being too literal about that. Heh.) and the recipe for molasses cookies was nowhere to be found. I don’t know who to ask about copyright, so if anyone has a problem with this, please tell me.

One very nice thing is that there aren’t any eggs, so there’s no issue with licking the spoon once you’re done mixing the batter.

Today I decided it was time to resurrect the recipe for a larger audience than those of us who peruse old cookbooks. With no further ado, here it is with my edits in parenthesis:

Soft molasses cookies
from the 1901 printing of The Settlement Cookbook


1 cup molasses
1 3/4 teaspoons soda (this is baking soda)
1 cup sour milk (buttermilk, or a tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar plus enough milk to make a cup)
2 teaspoons ginger (dried, powdered)
1/2 cup melted butter or other fat (I used butter)
1 teaspoon salt
Flour. (I used 3 cups of flour and it worked well, but this is a somewhat adjustable part of the recipe, as you will see)

(Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit – this isn’t mentioned)

Add soda to molasses and beat thoroughly, add milk, shortening (the melted butter), ginger, salt, and flour. Use enough flour to make mixture drop easily from spoon. (I used enough to make a slightly stiff dough.) Let stand several hours (refrigerate!) to chill. Toss one-half of the mixture on a slightly floured board (the dough will be sticky), roll lightly to 1/4 inch thickness. Shape with round cutter (I used the lid to a mason jar, since I don’t have cookie cutters, and we ended up with 28 cookies), first dipped in flour. Bake on a buttered sheet. (I’ve found that 15 minutes brings them out perfectly.)

I attempted to take pictures of the cookies, but I am not a food photographer, obviously. Here is the finished product. I hope you enjoy them as much as we do!

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