“Traditions, traditions. Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as… as… as a fiddler on the roof!” Tevye proclaims in the classic musical.
Our traditions serve as ballast, connecting generations in continuity. Stories of favorite memories, recipes, quirky habits, scriptures, sacred moments—whatever makes the holiday uniquely memorable.
Christmas Traditions: Grandma’s Molasses Cookies
Shortly after I married my husband, we began blending traditions. One of his fond Christmas memories was receiving a coffee can full of his grandmother’s molasses cookies each year.
Based on stories I have heard from other women, I rest assured I am not the only wife who has faced the challenge of trying to recreate a favorite food from their husband’s childhood.
Let me just say, it can be tough to match what he remembers. (Some women are convinced their mother-in-law leaves out something in the recipe so it is never just like what she made for him.) In my case, I am convinced it has more to do with the altitude of Colorado, but I keep trying.
I have carried on the tradition of Grandma’s Molasses Cookies for most of our 30 years together. One year, determined to match this special childhood memory for him, I bought a can of ground coffee just so the cookies could be wrapped in the can and placed under the tree.
I wondered if the residual aroma of the coffee somehow penetrated the cookies—the secret ingredient, if you will. “Close“, he said, but still not the same as Grandma’s. My husband sincerely appreciated my effort and it conveyed my love for him, which is what really mattered anyway.
The significance of carrying-on this tradition didn’t sink-in until last year, just months before her 102nd birthday, she passed away.
As we mingled and traded stories after the funeral, a cousin began to reminisce about receiving her molasses cookies as a kid (evidently, it was a fond memory for all the grandchildren). Another lamented they had no idea if the recipe had ever been written down.
In that moment, it felt like I held something golden, a precious generational memory. They were relieved to know the recipe was not lost and it would be emailed to them upon our return home.
No one knows for sure if it is her own handwriting or her mothers. Looking at them side-by-side, I suspect it was the way her mother passed the recipe on to her, now ready to be passed on to a fourth generation.
Grandma’s Molasses Cookies are central theme to our holiday baking each year, stirring childhood memories not only for my husband, but for our kids as well.
Grandma’s Molasses Cookies
- 1 1/2 cups molasses (Brer Rabbit brand - full bodied)
- 2 cups sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 1 cup shortening , (non-hydrogenated, if possible), or butter
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons cloves
- 2 teaspoons ginger
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 2 teaspoons vinegar
- 3-4 cups flour
- pinch salt
- 2 pounds white baking chocolate (*optional) -- melted
- Dissolve baking soda in vinegar. Sift (3 cups) flour with spices.
- Mix molasses, sugar, eggs, shortening, and dissolved baking soda together.
- Mix in flour "enough to make it like you want - I have better luck if dough is pretty stiff." (This was the hardest part to decipher, which is why I think she ended the recipe card with "good luck." It ends up somewhere between 3-4 1/2 cups, that's why I start with 3 cups.)
- Roll out parts of the dough on a lightly floured board to 1/4" thickness. Cut with a cookie-cutter into 2" rounds. Bake at 375°F for 8-10 minutes.
Optional, but delicious and festive: Once the cookies are cooled, melt white baking chocolate in a double boiler until smooth. Spread melted white chocolate on top and let cool to set chocolate. We use Ghirardelli White Melting Chocolate sometimes sold at Sam's Club during the holidays. The white chocolate looks like swirled snow on top of the cookie.
Yes, Grandma Sarah, your mother did make good molasses cookies; evidently, based on the fond memories of your grandchildren, you did too. Love, Judy