The recipe in Mennonite Community Cookbook that I find most entertaining is Grandmother’s Ginger Nuts. This book designates the recipe as “very old”, presumably from the late nineteenth century. This recipe was submitted independently by two different women, once as Grandmother’s Ginger Nuts and another as Ginger Balls. And while there’s some puerile entertainment value in the recipe’s names – I shudder to think what internet search strings will turn up in the analytics – what’s first caught my eye was an anecdote that accompanied one of the submissions:
[Ginger Nuts are] small, round cookies which are so hard you have to suck them. My grandmother made them often and carried them to church hidden in a pocket in the folds of her skirt. She would use them, as needed, during church service to quiet and amuse her grandchildren.
These days frazzled parents will usually fall back on Cheerios or Goldfish Crackers – sweet ginger cookies are something that only a grandmother could get away with. And I appreciated the novelty that they needed to be sucked on to get the flavor out, kind of like a pacifier in cookie form. Ingenious.
The recipe itself looks like a basic ginger cookie, minus the eggs. It’s heavy on the molasses and has almost a candy-like quality to it. My first couple of batches turned out like a soft/flat molasses cookie with sticky caramelized edges when I realized I had been making them wrong. The key to getting the “so hard you have to suck them” cookie is to make them small, no more than an inch in diameter, and then watch them carefully so they don’t overcook. Done properly you’ll get something that resembles a gingersnap but not as crumbly or crumby – i.e. perfect for handing out at church.
Mennonite Community Cookbook is still in print, with a 65th Anniversary Edition published in 2015, and can be purchased from Amazon or other fine booksellers.
- In a large mixing bowl. Cream shortening and brown sugar with an electric mixer. Add molasses and mix well.
- In a separate mixing bowl mix together dry ingredients.
- Add about a third of the flour mixture to the creamed sugar and mix well, then add a few splashes of the boiling water. Alternate adding dry ingredients and boiling water while mixing until a nice batter is formed. It will look more like frosting than cookie batter. Chill cookie dough throughly, at least four hours before proceeding.
- Preheat the oven to 350º F
- Roll chilled dough into small balls, no more than one inch in diameter. Roll in the granulated sugar and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper about 2 inches apart. Bake 10-12 minutes until cookie is crisp around the edges and bottom is caramelized but not burnt. Let cool on tray 5 minutes, then remove to a wire rack. They're delicious warm but if you want the "so hard you have to suck them" experience let them cool completely before eating.