This is a special one, guys. Two years ago Ben and I went to visit my wonderful great-aunt Kay, my maternal grandmother’s sister. She was 91 or so, and I was there to talk genealogy and take on the role of family historian. We spent a few hours going through photos and family trees, and when we first arrived she dashed into the kitchen and emerged bearing an enormous tray with a complete tea service and a platter of fresh cookies. I’ve never seen Ben move so fast in his life; he was over there and carrying the tray in about a second and a half. But I’ll never forget the image of her, so tiny, coming out of the kitchen with that huge heavy tray as if she weren’t rapidly approaching the century mark.
She had baked the cookies that morning, and with one whiff I knew they were the same sugar & spice cookies I grew up eating. I had recently asked my mom for the recipe but she couldn’t find it, so I asked Aunt Kay to let me copy it down.
Me with Aunt Kay (one of the many Katherines to precede me in the family tree) at that last visit:
Though she’d been in wonderful health, Aunt Kay died unexpectedly last year at 92, and her husband of 65+ years, George, died this winter. A month or so ago I got two big boxes in the mail from one of my mom’s sisters, with my name written on the side in pencil, in Aunt Kay’s writing. She had put aside all the miscellaneous family history stuff for me—piles of photos and a crazy assortment of documents, including the bill of sale from my great-grandfather’s purchase of his shoe store. Sorting everything out is one of my urgent to-do items before the baby arrives.
After all this time, I still hadn’t made the cookies. And for some reason I’d mentioned them to Ben, who, as we’ve established, is the baker in these parts, and while I was making dinner the other night he whipped up the batter.
Sugar & Spice Cookies
My Mom says this was a recipe her mother made all the time. She emailed me: “One time a neighbor who raised eggs asked Mom for a recipe for customers and they used that one, so it’s kind of famous.” My aunt says it’s a Deerfield (Old Deerfield, MA, where they grew up) recipe, in general. Either way, it’s easy and delicious; you will not believe how good these smell.
3/4 cup shortening (we used butter)
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup molasses
2 cups flour, sifted
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
Preheat oven to 350.
Combine wet ingredients (cream the butter and sugar together, then add egg and molasses).
Combine the dry ingredients and then mix into the wet batter.
This is a very sticky, stiff dough.
According to Aunt Kay: “Drop by teaspoons on a cookie sheet. Flatten with a fork.” I took over from Ben at this point, and followed what I thought I remembered of my mom’s method, rolling the cookies into balls and dipping them in sugar before pressing down with the fork, or not.
Basically, I knew my mom’s didn’t have fork ridges. Once I asked her about it, I learned that she pressed them down with a buttered, sugared glass. Ah-ha! Ridges are for peanut butter cookies in my family. I tried a few ways, and used both granulated and sparkling sugar to see which was better.
Bake 10-12 minutes. DO NOT OVERCOOK, says Aunt Kay. The cookies are very soft when they first come out, but they firm up, and you want crisp edges and chewy insides.
Granulated sugar, pressed down with fork:
Sparkling sugar, no pressing down:
Side by side:
I preferred the pressed-down ones; the thicker ones got a little overcooked on the edges before the middles set. Ben likes those better, though! So compatible.
One more photo, for the road. This is my grandparents’ wartime wedding. My mom’s parents, Tom (who I never met) and Meg, are on the left. Aunt Kay is second from the right, with my grandfather’s brother.
In the boxes I got in the mail were two letters written by my grandmother to Aunt Kay right before she got married. My grandfather wrote snotty comments in the margin in pencil. They’re a hoot; I need to transcribe (and scan) them some day.
Late dinner tonight. Time for a cookie or two…