19th Century cookies

I tried to make cookies the other day using a recipe for gingersnaps I picked up at Old Sturbridge Village last month. (Old Sturbridge Village is a living history museum about an hour down the road from us.) The recipe (or receipt as it was called back then) came from an 1843 edition of Mrs. Ellis’s Housekeeping Made Easy. It included things like “lard” and “saleratus” (baking soda to you and me.) I was intrigued. “If Mrs. Ellis could do it in front of an open fire using lard instead of butter,” I thought, “well, by gum, I could do it too.”


But I couldn’t. And it didn’t matter that I had a Kitchenaid and a well-regulated oven. The dough I produced was tacky and tasteless. It sat on the baking sheets in sticky, unappetizing blobs. I began to grow suspicious of Mrs. Ellis. Really, could a cookie that only called for “two table-spoonsful of brown sugar” be trusted?

But I soldiered on. I popped the cookies into the oven and anticipated the nice gingery smell. It was a rainy afternoon and ginger goes a long way to making a kitchen feel cozy. But there was no gingery smell. There was no smell at all. My suspicion grew.

Eight minutes later I pulled out a baking sheet of puffy, bland “gingersnaps.” They deflated a bit when I poked them. I called the family in for a taste test.

Pepper ate one out of sympathy and pronounced it “not that bad.” Captain America was more direct and, after chewing thoughfully for a moment, gave what remained of his to the dog. The dog loved it.

I didn’t bother baking any more of the cookies. I just shoveled what remained of the dough into the trashcan. So much for Mrs. Ellis.

But, if you’re interested, and think you might fare better, I’d be happy to pass along the recipe. Except, now I’m calling it an authentic 21st century recipe for dog biscuits.