The great molasses flood of 1919


My grandmother taught me virtually everything. First among those things, how to bake and a love for baking. Other than that, she basically taught me to read and to love to read. And, improbably enough, she gave me a tremendous love for seemingly meaningless trivia about almost anything.

One of the stories she liked to tell was about the Boston Molasses Disaster of 1919. Most thoughts of molasses (not that I think about molasses often) turn on memories of my grandmother. Whether it was her love for retelling the molasses flood story or her love for recounting a tale of gorging her girlhood self on molasses to the point of sickness at her grandparents' farm, this thick, tar-like sweetener is inextricably tied to her in my mind.

If I think of molasses, unconnected to her, as sometimes happens, it is to lament the seeming lack of widespread availability here. As I believe I have written about before, molasses are not well-known… I can rarely find them in stores. Most of my recipes for gingerbread and gingersnaps and similar cookies require molasses. While other, similar sweeteners do exist, this dearth of molasses makes me a little bit sad. Alas, it is probably for the best because I definitely do not need to eat cookies myself, and ginger ones are the only ones I like. Keeping molasses away from me, I can rest knowing that I will not be eating any of my baked goods.

I had a small amount of molasses left from my last gingerbread adventure, so I used them to make gingersnaps (and substituted cane syrup for the amount of molasses I had been lacking). I like to make my gingersnaps soft, so they actually don't "snap" in any way. I am not a big proponent of crispy cookies (unless it's biscotti). Somehow the consistency and texture of cookies that turn out soft for me in the United States or Iceland (using the same recipes) do not turn out as soft as when I make them here (this applies to these gingersnaps and to my snickerdoodles).

Gingersnaps (Ginger crinkles)
Preheat oven to 350F

2 1/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. ginger
1/2 t. cloves
3/4 cup butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses (in an ideal, molasses-accessible world; I thought of saying a "molasses-filled world", but that seemed a bit insensitive to the tragedy of molasses flood)
1 large egg

3/4 cup white sugar (for rolling)

Mix all ingredients together. Form a ball and chill. Roll dough into small balls; roll the balls in the white sugar. Bake on parchment-lined baking sheets, 10-12 minutes.

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