When Grandpa Hopp, my mother’s father, bought Grandma a new gas kitchen range, she was excited and happy to think of how much better it would be than the old wood stove it replaced. In the summer especially, it would be a blessing not to have a hot stove in the kitchen on baking day.
That was the theory. One hot summer day we discovered that Grandma had made Grandpa replace the gas range with the old wood stove. “I just can’t bake good bread with that new stove,” she explained, and as long as Grandpa was able to cut, split and carry in wood for the stove, Grandma cooked and baked as she had for the previous 60 years.
She made wonderful bread made all the more wonderful because Grandpa would cut slices for him and me, lay on thick slices of Limburger cheese and onion, and tell me stories as we ate our snack. Mom thought it was gross, but I loved it.
I have not eaten Limburger cheese in many years, but I really enjoy its milder cousins, Aged or Milwaukee Brick and Beer Kaese. The aroma may turn you off, but once you bring yourself to try these cheeses, you may discover that your palate is more catholic than you imagined.
Thinking about Grandma Hopp’s baking reminded me of her gingerbread cookies. She made them every year for Christmas. They were thick, soft and delicious. I don’t remember if she decorated them or not, but she had an old-fashioned gingerbread cookie cutter and I do recall how much fun it was to eat those cookies leg by leg and arm by arm.
I asked my sister Patsy if she had Grandma Hopp’s gingerbread cookie recipe. She has never made them but she said she would look though my mother’s recipe boxes. A few days later an envelope arrived with a photocopy of a recipe card titled “Grandma Hopp’s Christmas Gingerbread Cookies” and a request from Patsy to tell her how they turned out.
The recipe is a list of ingredients (including a question mark after “1/3 cup milk”) with instructions to “Roll out 1/4 in. thick, cut out, & bake on ungreased cookie sheet for 10 minutes.” But I screwed up my courage, stirred up a batch and made some cookies that tasted pretty much like I remembered. And it is still fun to eat them leg by leg and arm by arm.
1 cup shortening or lard
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup dark molasses
1/3 cup milk
5 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. ginger
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. cloves
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp baking soda
white sugar for sprinkling
Cream the shortening and sugar. Blend in the molasses and milk and stir well. Add the spices and soda to the flour and sift by cupfuls into the liquid ingredients. Stir well after each addition until you have a stiff dough. If necessary, add a little more milk to moisten all the dry ingredients. You should end up with a stiff dough that you can form into a ball. Refrigerate the dough for an hour or so to make it easier to roll out.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Flour a large breadboard. Divide the dough in half and roll out to 1/4 inch thick. Cut with a gingerbread man cutter. If you are not planning to frost and decorate the cookies, sprinkle with a little white sugar. Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet for 9-10 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Let the cookies cool for a minute or two before transferring them to wax paper to finish cooling. Store in a tightly sealed container.
NOTE: I rolled some cookies out to about 1/4 inch thickness, and others to about 1/8 inch and they turned out okay too. I rolled the trimmings into part of the unused dough each time. Perhaps the cookies were a little tougher, but they were still good.