The recipe is both precise and vague. My Grandmother Mae wrote it in her hand and noted it was from P.V. Hansen, which P.V. Hansen’s wife, grandmother of my classmate, Alice. There’s a teaspoon each of ginger and cinnamon. The leavening is “4 teaspoons of vinegar in which put 3 teaspoons of soda.” Flour: ‘Plenty of’ she wrote.
Grandmother—she was quite formal and demanded to be called ‘Grandmother,’ never Grandma or Gramma—was known for her wonderful pies and crust and her ginger cookies.
Grandmother used one round cookie cutter with scalloped edges for her entire batch. Her cookies were thin and crisp, and in my memory, never jagged or tough.
My Mom, Grandmother’s daughter-in-law, taught me to make them. We branched out into many, many shapes with Mom’s family cookie cutters including lions, sheep, fish, and birds. I’ve added buffalo, tiny bears, and angels.
The number of cookies depends on the size of the cookie cutters, the eating habits of the cookie makers, and how many times to re-roll the dough. My best cookie rolling secret is this: mix equal parts sugar and all-purpose flour for the rolling medium. The mixture lessens the chance of adding too much flour, which will make the cookies tough.
My 5th grade neighbor rolled cookies with me this year. She especially liked to knead the cookie dough and found it easier to roll that way. The trade-off is that the cookies will be less tender.
Grandmother Mae’s Ginger Cookies
Adapted from the original
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup molasses
About 6 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
4 teaspoons vinegar
3 teaspoons soda
In mixer, cream sugar and butter. Beat in eggs and molasses. In separate bowl, combine flour, ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Stir flour into molasses mixture. Mix vinegar and soda and add immediately. Stir just until combined.
Chill dough about 1 hour.
Remove dough and with a small section at a time, roll in half flour/half sugar mixture to desired thickness. Shape cookies with cutters. Transfer to parchment-paper lined cookie sheets. Bake in 350° F oven for about 10 minutes or until set.
Continue with all cookies. Cool on wire racks and store in air-tight container.
Makes 80 to 100 cookies, depending on cookie cutter size.