Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Crowded Kitchen: Nanny's Ginger Crinkles

My trip to Texas this month was better than I could have imagined. Good times with my dad and my son. Good food. Hella sunshine. A chance to spend time with my Donna Lynn after a five year absence. Sleeping in my old bed.

And note cards? Recipe cards to be exact.

This year I've slowly become fascinated with cooking. And baking, though the results are mixed and vary, depending on whether I accidentally skip over the "baking soda" line in the ingredients.

In my dad's house, I was pawing through the old bookshelf and stumbled across three recipe boxes FULL of my mom's recipes, handwritten on index cards. Here's the thing about finding these...for years, my mom had the most beautiful handwriting. She had such pride in it, that she did her best to pass it on to me, even if it meant making me re-do my sloppy homework. (Oh, how I cursed her then!)

In recent years, since her diagnosis of the brain disease, her ability to write in the neatly rounded print has dwindled, and often times, when she's quickly jotting notes, I have a hard time reading it. But these recipe cards, well, they tell a story. Not only do the contain all the things I grew up eating, they show the progression of a brain disease of sorts, along with highlighting my mother's fascinations--cranberries, biscottis, cranberry biscotti. You see where I am going.

To make a good find even BETTER, one of the boxes I found had a different penmanship all together. Can you tell where this is going? Oh yes, the motherlode of all recipe boxes...my grandmother, Margaret. Nanny is a woman after my own heart. She devotes precious little space to nonesense like main dishes and vegetables. No, my grandmother gets down with the baking. Muffins. Breads. Biscuits. Cookies. Candy. Pies.

I sat on the phone with my mom on a recent Sunday afternoon reading off the recipes and getting whatever stories went with them. Hermits are Pop's favorite cookies. Penuche is Nanny's favorite candy. Anything with raisins in the recipe was definitely made for Pop. The god-awful sounding things in there like "Cabbage Casserole" and "Minced Clam Lunch" were from an era when Nanny was religiously shedding pounds with Weight Watchers. (Phew!)

Nanny's penmanship is classic cursive they must have taught back in school. It's slanted. It's tightly spaced and feminine. Her s's are perfect. Her f's are elegant. And her recipes? Fantastic.

My mom has made ginger crinkles before. I remember them well, so when I found Nanny's recipe...well, I had to. Consider these my new favorite cookies. And they went well with the boys, too, so I can talk myself into them more often. After all, molasses has a lot of iron, right?

The magic thing about this is that I never grew up close to Nanny. She and Pop always lived on the opposite coast as me, but something happened during that first attempt to cook from her recipe. I learned to trust.

I squinted at the recipe card a few times when I didn't see butter. I saw a whole lot of oil. A lot of the recipes were different than what I'm used to out of today's magazines and recipe Web sites.

"Are you sure?" I asked nobody in particular.

The card was stained and worn. It had obviously been used before, and obviously the results were good if the baker came back to the card time and time again. So I trusted. And I used the nearly one cup of oil. And it was good. Earthy and spicy and crunchy and sweet. So good, I wanted to share Nanny's recipe.

This discovery lit a fire under my butt. I wanted more family recipes. I want them in a book. I want Pam's buckeyes and Dee's peanut butter cookies. I want Cheryl's pie recipes, instructions for my mom's rustic apple tarts, and I want the stories that go with them before nobody wants to tell them anymore. I want my kids and Jeff's kids and Brandy's kids and Justin's kids and Carissa's kids to have this piece of our far-flung, odd, and beautiful family, too.

And I'm working on it, people. :)

Ginger Crinkles

2/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
1 egg
4 T molasses
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1/4 cup sugar for coating

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix oil and sugar thoroughly in large bowl. Add egg and beat well. Stir in molasses. Sift dry ingredients to oil mixture. Make walnut-sized balls and cover in sugar. Put on ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Do not overbake. Cool on rack. Store cookies in tightly covered container. Makes about 3 dozen.

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