I love cookbooks, and recently found an interesting one at a local estate sale. It’s falling apart, and missing both covers, but is interesting to me because it is from St. Charles, Illinois, where I live. No date is given, but judging from its illustrations, it looks to be from the early 1920’s. It may have been a community cookbook because it contains advertisements. The Stewart State Bank advertised that it had $100,000 in capital, and we are advised to go to “Fred A. Poole for FRUITS.”
Out of curiosity, I decided to make something, and chose a recipe called “Gingerbread No. 1.” Bringing a recipe to life from such an old cookbook is fascinating, but perilous. Pan sizes are not given, nor is there an oven temperature. But I ventured forth. Using an 8″ pan, and baking at 325 degrees, yielded a promising-looking gingerbread that slowly craterized as it cooled. Oops. The crumbs were delicious, though, so I tried again. This time, a 9″ pan and 350 degree oven temperature did the trick, yielding a moist and mildly spiced gingerbread. Gingerbread No. 1, hidden in this old cookbook, was on a table in St. Charles again, ninety years later. I gave it my own touch by pouring a glaze of powdered sugar and fresh lemon juice over the still-warm gingerbread, and it was delish. It’s perfect for a Sunday supper, with leftovers for lunches during the week. Next on my agenda: Gingerbread No. 2, an even more perilous baking adventure because no instructions are given at all.
Note: The second time I baked this gingerbread, I upped the ginger to one teaspoon to add zing. Otherwise, I am giving the recipe as it stands, because it works. Mixing the baking soda with hot water is an old way of adding leavening to the batter.
Gingerbread No. 1
1/2 cup molasses
1 cup sugar
2-1/2 cups flour
1 cup hot water
5 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger (see note above)
1 teaspoon (baking) soda
1 teaspoon salt
Put molasses in a bowl. Add sugar, butter and spice. Put soda in cup, add water, stir into first mixture. Add flour and well beaten egg. Beat hard. Bake 30 minutes in a well greased pan (9″ square at 350 degrees). Watch closely as gingerbread burns easily.
To make a glaze, mix one cup of powdered sugar with the juice of one lemon. Add one to two teaspoons of water to thin to a pourable consistency, and pour over the gingerbread, spreading it with a knife. It will harden as it cools.