Molasses Crinkles like Mom used to make

Today, it’s been eleven years since my mom died.

“I’m thinking about your mom today,” my best-friend-of-almost-50-years texted this morning. “Makes me want to make molasses cookies.”

My mom passed down a lot of great cookie recipes—oatmeal raisin cookies, peanut butter cookies cross-hatched with a fork before baking, a powdered-sugar-dusted concoction that was a favorite with my nephew Keith, chocolate chip cookies (which she always called Toll House cookies, because she was old enough to remember when Ruth Wakefield of the Toll House Inn in Massachusetts invented them in the 1930s). But her molasses crinkles were a lunchbox legend.

As soon as I read Donna’s text, I could think of nothing but those molasses cookies. Fragrant with ginger, cinnamon, and cloves and baked to just the right degree of chewiness, they melt in your mouth.

I don’t have a copy of the recipe written in my mom’s own handwriting (although there’s probably one at camp), but it was one of the first recipes I copied into the now-tattered half-size loose-leaf binder in which I began to collect favorite recipes when I was 18.

I don’t know where this recipe came from originally, but I’m sure it’s very old. I copied it word for word, so it still includes old-fashioned phrases like “roll dough into balls the size of large walnuts” and “bake in a quick-moderate oven.”

I have to admit that I often don’t bother to follow one of the most important lines of the instructions, and it’s the part that makes them molasses crinkles, rather than plain old molasses cookies: after you mix and chill the dough, form it into walnut-sized balls, roll the balls in granulated sugar, place them on a greased cookie sheet, and flatten them slightly with the bottom of a glass (dipping the glass in sugar between cookies so it doesn’t stick), you’re supposed to “sprinkle each with 2 or 3 drops of water to produce a crackled surface.”

When I was in college (the first time), a friend’s mother sent her a box of cookies she called gingersnaps. They were spicy and crunchy and delicious, and they did snap when you broke them in two, just like store-bought ginger snaps, the only kind I’d ever had before. I asked for the recipe, and it wasn’t until years after I had painstakingly copied it onto page 38 of my recipe book, under the heading “Sue Mackenzie’s Mom’s Gingersnaps” (and made the recipe many times), that I realized that her recipe was identical to my mom’s molasses crinkles recipe on page 15, only baked a bit longer for crunchiness, and without the sprinkle-with-2-or-3-drops-of-water step. (Also, according to this recipe, you can roll the balls of dough in granulated sugar “if desired.”)

I made molasses crinkles today (of course!), and I did everything just the way my mom always did. Well, okay, not quite. I always substitute butter for two-thirds of the Crisco shortening in her recipe, which makes them even more melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Besides the fact that butter is almost always better in cookies (and the fact that, unless I’m making whoopie pie filling, it’s hard to bring myself to even look at a cup and a half of Crisco, let alone put it in a recipe), Crisco is no longer the frugal option it used to be. In Mom’s day, it was cheap—far cheaper than butter, and even cheaper than margarine—which I’m sure is why she used it in baking. Nowadays, it rivals butter in price-per-pound. I could probably still buy margarine more cheaply, but, despite having been raised on it, I won’t touch the stuff. Sorry, Mom.Molasses_cookies

Almost-like-my-mom’s Molasses Crinkles

Mix together:

1 cup softened butter

1/2 cup Crisco

2 cups brown sugar

2 eggs

1/2 cup molasses

Sift together and stir in:

4-1/2 cups flour

4 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp cloves

2 tsp. cinnamon

2 tsp. ginger

Chill dough for at least two hours. Form into balls the size of large walnuts. Roll balls in sugar and place 2 inches apart on greased baking sheets. Sprinkle each with 2 or 3 drops of water to produce a crackled surface. Flatten with the bottom of a glass, dipping it in sugar between cookies. Bake in a quick-moderate oven (375 degrees) just until set, but not hard, about 8 minutes. Cool on cookie sheet for one minute, then on wire racks.

Another April, long ago…

Wedding 001

Seventy-three years ago, on April 6, 1942, my parents got married. It was a Monday, at 2:30 in the afternoon. (Why they chose to get married on a Monday is a mystery to me; maybe it wasn’t that uncommon back then, or maybe the church was tied up every weekend with all the couples who were rushing to get married before the husbands were sent overseas to fight.)

My father was nearly 30, and my mother had just turned 22. Both had graduated from the University of Maine, but they were several years apart and hadn’t met there. In fact, although they were both Maine natives, they met, in the summer of 1941, in Connecticut, where my father was working as a metallurgical engineer and my mother was working for the Aetna Life Insurance Company (and living at the “Y” with several other girls from Maine).

From all accounts, it was a whirlwind romance; my mother told me once that my father produced an engagement ring on a Labor Day weekend trip home to Maine, barely two months after they had met. “I said, ‘Oh, no, Bill, it’s too soon,’” she told me, “and I made him keep the ring until Christmas.”

They were married just a little more than three months later, in Bangor, where my mother had grown up, and where her
father still lived. For their honeymoon, they traveled to Littleton, New Hampshire, in the White Mountains (yes, in early April!), where they stayed at the historic Thayer’s Inn, built nearly a century before.

Flume honeymoon

If you look closely, you can spot my mom, sitting on the railing at the top of the gorge.

They snowshoed up the trail to the Flume Gorge; from the photos they took, it was a spring not unlike this one, with plenty of snow still in the woods.

On their way back from New Hampshire, they stopped in Bethel to see my father’s mother and grandmother, who ran a RWW_returning_from_honeymoon_1942small restaurant (Farwell & Wight’s) together. They strapped on their snowshoes again and hiked up a mountain, to the old Farwell homestead (abandoned nearly two decades earlier, when my great-grandparents moved down into town). There, they liberated an old spool bed, already an antique, which was first theirs, then eventually became my sister’s, then my niece’s, and is now in the guest room at camp.

They moved into a tiny, boxlike house in Newington, Connecticut, then, after the kids started coming—four of them in the next seven years—a bigger house with a bigger yard (and a sidewalk running all around it—a racetrack for my brothers’ bikes). Eventually they moved to Westfield, New Jersey for my father’s job.

From my mother’s accounts of those years, I think she loved being a young wife, raising her family in a place filled with other young families, baking up a storm (“a pie, a cake, or a batch of cookies, every day”), coffee-klatsching with the other neighborhood wives (“we’d all get together and call in our grocery order, and they’d deliver it to wherever we were having coffee that morning”), taking camping trips in a leaky tent with all the kids and the family’s cocker spaniel.

Then in the mid-1950s, itching to get back to Maine for at least part of the year, they bought a lot on North Pond in Woodstock and started to build a camp, and that quickly became a major focus of their lives. My parents always knew that one day they would retire together “to a house on a hill in Bethel,” and spending their summers on nearby North Pond was a step in the right direction.

My mother was married for just over 16 years, and was a widow for nearly 46. I never knew my father, who died a week shy of his 46th birthday, and more than eight months before I was born. My mother wore her rings until the day she died, and I believe she always considered herself my father’s wife.

The day after she retired, in June of 1982, my mother left Connecticut for Maine, there to stay for the remaining 22 years of her life (except for her trips to Alaska and Colorado and England and Scotland and France and Germany and Australia…).

She started a journal that day with these words: “June 22, 1982—Your 70th birthday, Bill, and a very good day to close out my Milford life and get ready to carry out our dream of retirement on a hill in Bethel!”momanddad