Since my arrival in New York City I’ve had the pleasure of meeting up with Elisabeth several times and it’s truly been a pleasure to get to know her more.
Although she hails from a small town south of Boston, Massachusets, NYC has had her heart since the 1980s. From the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Terminal to Pete’s Tavern in Gramercy, Elisabeth knows and loves the vestiges of old New York.
This Prosecco loving, high-heeled wearing, small town girl, knows this city like the back of her hand. Elisabeth moves forward with the times while remaining true to who she is and keeping tradition close to her heart. I’ll never forget when she told me how when she goes back home she’s sure to stop at a Friendly’s in order to purchase a tub or two of their peppermint ice cream as it defines the Holiday season. I do the same thing when I visit home and bring back my beloved coffee. Those are the little moments that define our personal food history and those are the stories I love to share and read.
***This post marks the last of this blog series. Thank you to those who played a part in it, I will always cherish these stories. I’ll soon be creating a page where I’ll link all of them so future readers can have a more definitive understanding of what this blog is about.***
In many ways, mine was the classic 1970s suburban American childhood. “Like in movies!” say my children, they of the strictly urban New York City upbringing. They love to picture me in the vast halls of my high school, taking my books from a long row of metal lockers, or cruising around town in my parents’ huge station wagon-both concepts totally foreign to them.
Like many Americans of my generation, I grew up without much connection to any particular culinary heritage. It was “a little of this a little of that,” and despite the fact that my family background includes relations who hailed from Ireland and Germany, I was not exposed to much in the way of “family recipes” in my childhood.
My brothers and sister and I ate lots of standard-issue chicken, mac-n-cheese, and the like. We ate hamburgers and hot dogs. We ate fish sticks on Fridays. We loved Minute Rice and Jell-O pudding. My sister and I baked chocolate chip cookies from the Toll House recipe on the bag of chips, and made birthday cakes from boxed mixes. Occasionally my mother, a bit of a free spirit, would venture into more creative territory. She made a killer lasagna, taught to her by a Italian neighbor in her early married life. She was renowned amongst our neighbors for her Quiche Lorraine, which contained “Bac-O’s”, a staple of our suburban supermarkets and restaurant salad bars. From time to time she would engage in fits of “Little House on the Prairie” style DIY, making bread, peanut butter, and once – memorably! – cheese – in our small-town kitchen.
When I grew up, I married, moved to New York City and set about becoming a bona fide foodie. As I young bride, I was ambitious, cooking my way through the Silver Palate Cookbook, with its lengthy, byzantine recipes. I scoured the city’s Greenmarkets and gourmet food shops, developing finicky standards. In Autumn, I roasted root vegetables before making my own stock. Come Spring, I cooked ramps. A dish I adapted from a recipe in the New York Times for Chicken with a Mustard Cream Sauce became known to my friends as “Lizzy’s Delicious Chicken”.
By the time my children arrived in the early ’90s I was a full-blown Food Snob and I saw to it that my babies quickly followed suit. When I made my mother’s Quiche for Preschool Parent dinners, I always cooked my own bacon and made sure to use fine gruyère cheese. My son eschewed the boxed fluorescent mac-n-cheese of my youth in favor of the Barefoot Contessa’s Panko-Crumb-Topped masterpiece. My daughter, then about eight, voiced her appreciation at a friend’s house upon taking a bite of grilled chicken: “Mmm! Ras-al-Hanout!” We were all thoroughly spoiled by the infinite epicurean possibilities at our fingertips.
At some point I began to hunger for something more. On a visit home, I raided my mother’s recipe collection and came away with a number of handwritten recipe cards. These were the forgotten treats of my childhood! My grandmother’s Butterscotch Sauce. Our friend Mona’s Zucchini Bread. My Great-Aunt Mary’s Molasses Crinkles. This last one especially called to me. Mary was my paternal Grandmother’s sister; a frequent and beloved visitor to our home, and by unanimous consent, “The Best Cook in The Family.” I wanted my own children to taste those cookies. I perused the list of ingredients, and was a bit put off to see that it included Crisco vegetable shortening. Please! This was not something I kept in my streamlined city kitchen! So I made up a batch of the cookies using butter, with predictable results: rock-hard, inedible blobs. Humbled, I made a second attempt, using Great-Aunt Mary’s prescribed Crisco, and voilà! Perfect, sugary gems! We started making them all the time, using different colored sugars for various holidays and occasions. For several years, my daughter made them almost weekly for my son’s running teammates and their families. In fact, we gave the recipe to his school for a cookbook, renaming them “Dylan’s Dad’s Favorites” after their biggest fan.
Sometime later, I posted this recipe on an internet food forum, and was thrilled beyond measure when the far-flung members started baking and enjoying them. As time went by, I had a visit in NYC from one forum member, the lovely Kate, AKA Norm. When she posted photos of her visit to me on the same forum, she included a shot of my Great-Aunt’s handwritten recipe card, which was hanging in my kitchen during her stay Another friend posted back, “When I saw the card, I felt like crying!” Such are the bonds created by this kind of sharing. I invite you to try this simple, delicious recipe. But please, call it by its proper name, “Great-Aunt Mary’s Molasses Crinkles.”
Great-Aunt Mary’s Molasses Crinkles
2 ½ Cups flour
1 Cup brown sugar
4 Tblsp molasses (or golden syrup)
3/4 Cup vegetable shortening
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
Raw sugar for decorating
1) Mix all the ingredients together, shape into balls (walnut sized)
2) Dip top into raw (or any) sugar
3) Bake in a 375ºF oven for 12 to 15 minutes