If there were a Stanley Cup for family recipes, Grandma Sheldon’s name would be inscribed on its side. Grandma served as a wonderful example of patience, perseverance and baking expertise.
My grandparents lived next door; something that does not happen often these days. They were farmers, gardeners, canners and carpenters. They gathered dandelion greens in the meadow to eat with butter and vinegar, strawberries to eat with from-scratch biscuits and horseradish root gathered from the woods to grind and preserve — which would have tears coming from their eyes, since grinding horseradish root brings out its pungency.
In today’s world of semi-homemade recipes, mixes and mash-ups, my grandmother’s methods and results still shine through. So, we come to my first solo baking experience. I was 10, a perfect age for the adventure ahead. Grandma suggested a recipe that would be easy to tackle, and that I loved: gingerbread, a family favorite. Utensils, pans, bowls and ingredients were assembled. Measuring spoons and cups were lined up, the recipe perused. I was ready for a great baking adventure!
Grandma offered her help, but I was sure that I could do it alone. After much measuring, sifting, pouring and dripping, the gingerbread was ready for the oven.
Finally, the gingerbread was baked, cooled and ready to eat. The real heavy cream was whipped, with some sugar and a little vanilla. Still warm from the oven, the aroma of gingerbread wafted to our noses. There is nothing like the aroma of freshly-baked goodies! This would be a truly wonderful treat, and I had baked it!
Grandpa took a bite. The expected look of bliss that I thought to see on his face turned to one of, perhaps, too much of a good thing. Grandma took a bite. She, also, had the look of someone who had been blessed with too much. Upon further examination, we found that I had not used the smoother, regular molasses; I had used the much more shocking blackstrap variety. Molasses, and then some!
Well, being Grandpa and Grandma, neither one of them said anything about my molasses mishap. After all, they wanted to be encouraging. But, they did use a lot more whipped cream!
SARAH: Thanks Mom! Yes, Eaters, Valarie is my mother. The best baker I know, thanks to my Great-Grandma Sheldon. Not only did my mother learn her excellent baking skills from her, but she also learned about patience and encouragement. We all know that a first attempt at a new recipe or technique doesn’t always produce the results we hoped for. But we get back in the kitchen and try again (and again and sometimes a third again). The earlier we get our kids, grandkids, nieces and nephews in the kitchen with us, the less scary and intimidating the whole process becomes. And making these little mistakes can be the best learning experiences the kitchen has to offer. So, whether your child adds way too much lemon to a pie or grabs the wrong ingredient … keep eating and keep smiling. It’s an opportunity to teach and show love!
Grandma Sheldon’s Gingerbread (With Extra Whipped Cream)
SARAH AGAIN: Just a quick side note! This recipe is a true classic from my mother’s childhood. It’s simple, it’s delicious, it’s sweet … and it calls for Crisco. Don’t freak out! Crisco shortening is now all trans-fat free. And there are many alternatives out there for healthier shortenings you could use in place. My mother’s kitchen would not be complete without a container of Crisco in the Hoosier cabinet.
And remember, do not use blackstrap molasses.
1/2 cup Crisco, or your preferred shortening alternative
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon soda
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 cup light molasses
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cups sifted, all-purpose flour
1/2 cup boiling water
Cream Crisco and sugar till light. Add egg and molasses; beat thoroughly. Sift together dry ingredients. Add to creamed mixture alternately with water, beating after each addition.
Bake in greased and lightly floured 8x8x2-inch pan at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes or till done. Serve warm with whipped cream.