On the last Saturday of March, we find Sue and Ruth Ann busy at work on their 19th cooking lesson. This week Sue makes Mother’s Best Gingerbread, with more ingredients than any she’s used before. This is the 19th lesson from the 1924 book When Sue Began to Cook. If you’re just finding the series, click the book title to see the first installment. This is the third in a series of cookbooks that tell a story. Known as the Bettina series, in this third and final cookbook-storybook we follow Bettina’s young daughter Sue as she learns her way around the kitchen.
It’s not surprising that Sue makes Mother’s best gingerbread at the beginning of Spring. Gingerbread was incredibly popular in the United States; in fact, one 1934 article in Woman’s Home Companion listed enough variations that cooks could make a different gingerbread every week of the year! That’s a lot of molasses and ginger.
Gingerbread Notes from Sue’s Kitchen Diary
Well, the McCarthy children had the best lunch today that they’ve had in a long time.
When our gingerbread was all hot and fresh and perfect, just out of the oven, Ruth Ann decided to cut up hers into big delicious wedges for the McCarthys. (Mine was to be saved for dinner tonight. Father likes it for dessert with whipped cream on top.)
“You want to have a regular orgy of giving, do you?” smiled Mother. (I looked up the word in the dictionary and I know what it means now but I didn’t then.) [Note: if you click the link, it refers to definition 2.]
“Well, you certainly may do just as you like, Ruthie. I’m sure our gingerbread won’t hurt those children one bit.”
“Because it won’t much more than go around,” I said sadly. “It would be fun really to fill them up for once, but I guess we can’t.”
“Still, we can cut it into pretty big pieces,” said Ruth Ann eagerly. “And who knows? Maybe it will taste so good to Gladys and Maxine and Hazel that they’ll long to become good cooks themselves. And maybe they’ll want to clean up the house too, and make their kitchen look as pretty and cosy as Aunt Bettina’s!”
Ruth Ann thinks our kitchen is just perfect. She has often told me so, and I think it’s pretty nice myself. A pleasant kitchen is really the best part of a house. The McCarthy’s love to come here, and they were certainly glad to get the gingerbread (which disappeared in about the twinkling of an eye). However, I can’t say that Gladys or Hazel or Maxine showed any signs of wanting to improve their own condition any. Though Ruth Ann and I plan that as soon as we’ve learned all there is to know about cooking and keeping house, we’ll become neighborhood missionaries and teach it all to them.
Mother’s Best Gingerbread
- ½ cup lard or butter
- 1 cup light brown sugar without lumps
- 1 egg
- ½ cup molasses
- 1 cup milk
- 2½ cups flour general all purpose
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 2 tsp powdered cinnamon
- 1 tsp powdered ginger (ground ginger)
- ½ tsp powdered cloves (ground cloves)
- ½ tsp mace the ground cooking spice
- ¼ tsp powdered nutmeg
- ¼ tsp salt
- Mother said not to let this long list of ingredients frighten us, because they didn't mean that gingerbread was awfully hard to make. But I think, after all, that it is the hardest thing we have made yet.We pur our lard in a big mixing bowl and creamed it, which of course means that we mashed it down with a big holey spoon till it was soft. Then we added the sugar and the egg (broken in whole) and kept on mixing till it was all the same yellow color.
- Then we added the molasses and the milk and stirred it up very hard for two minutes.
- Next Mother had us put the flour, soda and all the other things (the dry ingredients, she calls them) in the flour sifter and sift them all through together. Then we added them to the other things in the mixing bowl.
- Then came the hardest work of all, beating this all up thoroughly together for about two minutes. Mother says it makes it lighter to beat it.
- Then we learned something new. Mother had us each take some white waxed paper and cut it in a square just a little larger than the bottom of a square cake pan. Then we each fitted our square into our cake pan. The paper was big enough to stick up abour half an inch on each side of the cake pan, but didn't come to the top. Mother said it must not come to the top because the gingerbread must have the sides of the pan to stick to. We asked her if she didn't want us to grease the sides of the pan but she said "No, then the gingerbread wouldn't stick. It is less apt to fall if it sticks a little."
- After we had put the paper in the pans, we poured in the gingerbread batter and then we baked it in a moderate [375 degrees F] oven for twenty-five minutes. When the twenty-five minutes were up, Mother showed us how to test the gingerbread with a clean broom straw. We pulled straws out of the broom and washed and dried them and then each of us stuck one down in the gingerbread. Mother said if the gingerbread was done, the straws would come out clean, without any batter sticking to them. They came out clean and so we knew it was done.