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Every other week, we’re unearthing Heirloom Recipes -- dishes that have made their way from one generation's kitchen to the next.
Today: Food52 Contributing Editor Lindsay-Jean Hard shares her grandmother's recipe for crispy molasses cookies to give your cookie press a new meaning in life.
My grandmother Jane (G.G. to me) seemed born to entertain. It might not be true, but it always felt as if G.G. would be ready to effortlessly swirl out of the kitchen with a platter of cookies like these Molasses Gingerbread Cookies or a selection of hors d’oeuvres if unexpected guests showed up at the doorstep.
One peek at her costume jewelry collection or her color-laden closet, and you'd quickly gather that she had fun looking her best. G.G. was always dressed to the nines, and expected everyone else to be, too. She and my grandfather always coordinated -- no, not in matching outfits -- but in clothes that complemented each other. She was known to separate a couple at the dinner table if their outfits clashed, a fun quirk that makes me smile to this day -- though I'm not sure the offending dressers found it quite as amusing at the time.
Not surprisingly, the items from her wardrobe that made it into the dress-up closet she kept for us were amazing -- I’m modeling a couple of the less flashy, more, erm, intimate items below. Even first thing in the morning, she wore robes from hotels in far off lands that I would dream of visiting some day. She looked more coiffed before breakfast than I do on a good afternoon.
My grandparents loved their grandchildren dearly, but when we went out to dinner, it was at an hour they found suitable for dinner, and not one modified for young children. I might have dozed off once or twice, but their appetite for fine dining gave me early lessons in proper table etiquette and an appreciation of good food. I certainly ate my fair share of cheeseburgers at many a restaurant that didn’t have them on the menu, but I also experienced new dishes too. I clearly remember greedily slurping the garlicky butter that my escargot were swimming in, and devouring crispy black bean cakes, while gazing, mesmerized, at an ice sculpture of a swan across the room.
My grandmother had a degree in dietetics, but I don’t remember any heavy-handed discussions on food choices or exercise -- she and my grandfather led by example. They were very active, trim, and in great shape; helpful for all of the traveling they did. There were no “heath foods” or fat-free dairy products lurking in the refrigerator; I knew I would always eat well when I was with them -- from hamburger salad and beef stroganoff to Banana Cake and these Molasses Gingerbread Cookies. (Although I will freely admit that in my younger years, I was most excited about the box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch that I knew was waiting for me in the pantry.) They set an early example for me on the value of enjoying all things in moderation.
When eating at home, she and my grandfather had fun together in the kitchen: They would sing -- Moon River and the like -- lightly stepping around each other, almost dancing as they cooked. Recipes that were always in rotation were taped inside of cabinet doors for easy access: aebleskivers, flank steak marinade, and Bloody Marys.
These cookies are one of the recipes that they made together -- my grandmother making the dough, and my grandfather supplying “the muscle,” as my aunt would say. G.G. called these Molasses Gingerbread Cookies, but I find that name misleading -- it suggests soft, round cookies with fractured and fissured tops. These are not that. The dough is pressed out of a cookie press into several long lines on the cookie sheet, and then cut into bite-sized pieces after the cookies are baked. Once cooled, they are very thin and crispy -- to me, that makes them ginger snaps.
Makes more cookies than can be consumed in one sitting
3/4 cup shortening or oleo
1 cup sugar, plus additional for sprinkling
4 tablespoon molasses
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
Butter for greasing cookie sheets
Cookie photos by James Ransom