How do the kitchens of our great-grandmothers and their heirloom recipes connect with today’s cooking and eating?
I came across this recipe. I realized how old it was. I thought it would be fun for this blog. Perhaps I should have thought further. I spent time looking for family history and pictures. I discovered that even though I thought I was looking for a plump woman with a warm smile and curls, what I found was that Grandma Borst’s picture was of a very solemn woman who was not having her best day. The hours of prep for this post included more disappointments but also some nice surprises. Hey. That’s usually the way the world works.
Grandma Borst was my grandmother’s grandmother. Anna Maria DeNoyelles was born in 1819 in Rockland County, New York. Her father had a nice land grant. He was a cousin of Lafayette’s wife. Most of the other relatives were guillotined during the French Revolution. She married Nelson Borst and they first lived in Schoharie County, New York (the bread basket of the American Revolution) and then farmed in Peoria County, Illinois. One of their daughters was my grandmother’s mother. Grandmother Borst died in Peoria County, Illinois in 1901.
Back to the present. I decided that since the recipe was so old, I’d better make sure these ingredients would in fact make cookies. That was poor thinking because though some of the recipe was written in a hand I did not recognize, there were several additions in my mother’s handwriting. If she had made these cookies and I thought she had, then no further checking was necessary. She had saved the recipe. I should have known it would work.
Ah, but there was a silver lining. My granddaughter agreed to help me with the cookies. My daughter agreed to let us use her kitchen. My husband and grandson stopped off for a couple of ingredients we didn’t have on hand. At thirteen, my granddaughter is a wonderful cook and a dream to work with. How lucky could I get! I counted my blessings, and we gathered the ingredients, the pans, the utensils, etc. Granddaughter measures and runs the mixer like a pro.
At the top of the card the recipe is titled: Grandma Borst Ginger Cookies. The original printing gives the ingredients as 1 c lard, 1 c sugar, 1½ c molasses, 1 c buttermilk, 1 T. soda, 1 T. ginger, 1 t salt, flour. Then in my mother’s writing: +2 eggs, and 5 ½ cups written next to flour.
The lard our grandmothers used was different than what we might buy now. We used Crisco. We could have used part butter, or leaf lard.
Today’s buttermilk is also different than the buttermilk Grandma Borst would have used. We used Guernsey Buttermilk we purchased at the grocery store.
Molasses is available at stores. It is rich in iron and not as sweet as sugar. Unsulfured molasses is the best as is made from cane sugar. Darker molasses is a product of a second boiling. Possibly, Grandma Borst made her own molasses or bought from neighbors who did. I do not think the product was much different from what we buy today, maybe stronger and darker. I know my grandmother used molasses quite a bit in her cooking.
The book Joy of Cooking is a valuable resource. The section “Know Your Ingredients” answered some of my questions regarding lard and molasses.
Grandma Borst’s Ginger and Molasses Cookies
1 cup Crisco shortening
1 cup sugar
1 ½ cup molasses
1 cup buttermilk
1 Tablespoon soda
1 Tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon salt
5 ½ cups flour
Beat sugar and shortening together until creamy. Beat in eggs and molasses.
Combine dry ingredients and stir with a whisk.
Add alternately with the buttermilk.
Beat batter until smooth with each addition.
Drop batter from a teaspoon onto a greased cookie sheet or parchment paper over your cookie sheet. Bake about 12 minutes in a 350 degree oven.
Seven generations of women have made these cookies. Anna Maria, Josephine, Meta, another Josephine (my mother), Paulette, Cynthia, Claire. It clearly qualifies as an heirloom recipe. It is well over one hundred years old.
Now to finish the question we began with. How does the cooking of our grandmothers and great-great-grandmothers connect with cooking and eating today? Cookies are cookies and the process for stirring them up is similar whether it is 1883 or 2013. These cookies have a lovely soft texture, most likely valued then and now.
But today, many of us are not familiar with the taste of a molasses cookie. I call it a burnt sugar taste. The cookies were not a big hit with my 2013 family. I do remember that when I was a young girl at church suppers, older people valued molasses cookies and always exclaimed when they appeared.
Do tell us if you like molasses cookies or if you remember them from another time and place. Finding this recipe made me start thinking about them. I enjoyed the adventure they provided. I hope you did too.