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Farming Foibles: Baking as Memory

Certain baked items are forever associated with certain people in my mind -- gingerbread and my dad, Christmas coffee cake and my mom, Tiesen Arman and my Aunt Sue, peanut butter cups and my sister (though she no longer makes them -- she now makes almond cake, which I like much better).  I am lucky in many ways to come from a family that baked, not just on the holidays, but year-round.   My mom regularly baked bread from scratch -- one year she worked her way through the entire Beard on Bread book by James Beard.  I can still, somewhere in the distant echoes of my memory, smell the salt rising bread (take my advice, skip that recipe).   

The nondescript and somewhat tattered spiral bound pack of index cards in the photo is one of my most valued treasures.  In 1992, my mom wrote down all the favorite baking recipes (from both sides of the family), one recipe per card, and gave one to me and one to my sister.  She wrote down whose recipe it was, and sometimes some history behind it, if she knew.

The gingerbread recipe was always my dad's favorite.  We still make it for him on his birthday and sometimes just because.  It's a favorite of mine too.  It's not a standard gingerbread recipe, and (according to Ben) has some hints of boston brown bread in it. 

I'm going to share the recipe with you (as written in my little book), and I hope you'll give it a try. It's really quite wonderful.

Great Grandma Smith's Gingerbread (my grandmother's grandmother)

  • 1 cup molasses
  • 1 teaspoon soda
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 cups all purpose flour


  • Grease and flour a glass 9x13 pan. 
  • Preheat oven to 350.
  • Mix the first two ingredients in a middling bowl and let foam up
  • add boiling water to the bowl and stir
  • Mix remaining items in a bigger bowl and then add the molasses mixture

Mom's notes on the back of the card:  This ended originally with "mix thinly with flour and bake" -- no amount of flour, no temperature, no time, no pan size -- obviously a free style bread.

Birgit's notes: 

  • I use Grandma's original molasses with the yellow label and lid.  A blackstrap might not work as well.
  • I cream the softened butter and sugar, then add the eggs and spices.
  • I have added the molasses mixture at this point and then mixed in the flour, and I have also beat the flour into the butter/sugar/eggs mixture (which becomes veeery stiff and quite splashy when you try to slowly mix in the liquid).  It doesn't seem to matter to the finished product which way you make it. 

I hope that you have an item or two that will imprint itself in the memory of your children, and your grandchildren, and your great-great-great-great grandchildren, as "your" item.  If not, please start a tradition now -- feel free to borrow this one of mine.  It's never too late to make a new memory, and great-great-great-great Grandmother Smith would, I am sure, be delighted.

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