Great Grandma Daisy Butcher

February 26, 2011

I just mixed up another batch of Great Grandma Daisy Butcher’s molasses cookies. This is one of my favorite chores at work, lately. I’ve always made these cookies for my oldest brother at Christmas—they’re his favorite—but only started making them for the diner this winter. They’ve been a hit. It seems like all I have to do is say, “Grandma Daisy Butcher’s molasses cookies,” and people are clamoring to have one. I like to think that would please her.

I never knew her—I was only two when she died—but she’s famous in the family. For these cookies, and for—staunchness, I think. That’s the sense I have. She was small, thin, and quiet. If she was anything like her brother Lee (I did know him) she was thin to the point of gauntness and quiet to the point of silence. Not unfriendly. Just—quiet.

She was a good, plain cook (my mother’s words), she made good bread, she always served huge sugar and molasses cookies to company, and she loved baseball. Her husband Frank died of pneumonia when their children—Onolee, Arlean, and Frank, Jr.—were fourteen, twelve, and six. Daisy ran a boarding house then to help pay the bills. That’s how my grandmother, Arlean, met my grandfather—he was working on the road crew putting the Dixie Highway in, and taking his meals at Daisy’s.

I relay a question about Daisy through my sister to my nearly-deaf mother over the phone: “Would you say Daisy was a no-nonsense sort of person?”

Mom says, emphatically, “Yes.”

“And she was stubborn, like you, right?” Mariann asks with a grin in her voice.

“Well, yes, that too,” Mom says, completely matter-of-fact.

I’d called an hour or so before and asked what Grandma Daisy was like. When I called back for their report, Mariann told me that Mom had been talking and talking about Daisy, but as for what she was like—not much to say. “I do know this,” Mariann says. “If she didn’t like you, well—she just didn’t like you.”

I laugh. I’m thinking I’d have liked Daisy Butcher. I’m hoping she would’ve liked me.

My sister remembers that when she was growing up, Grandma Daisy had a tiny little rocking chair in her living room. “A child’s rocking chair?” I ask, confused.

“No. A little grandma-sized chair,” Mariann says tenderly. I think that Daisy must’ve done—or been—something special to be so well-remembered, but Mariann tells me later that while she liked going to Daisy’s just fine, it was mostly the cookies and the fascination of that miniature chair.

That’s almost all I know about Daisy. I know she helped her daughters with their own children when they needed it, saving the day in my grandma’s case. Arlean had a nervous breakdown—postpartum depression, maybe—something which was not done (or rather, not admitted) by rural farm women in the 1940s. My mom has talked to me—a little— about this before. Daisy could not understand Arlean’s depression and had no patience with it. Mom didn’t understand it either—she was only twelve—and I suspect this is partly why she adored her steadfast, prosaic grandmother so.

“What did you like best about her?” Mariann asks on my behalf.

Mom says in a tone that tell me she’s getting a little weary of all these questions, the answers to which are so self-evident, “Well, we just got along.”

So that’s that.

Mom took down the molasses cookie recipe by following Daisy around the kitchen, because of course Daisy never wrote anything down.

Warm Together: 1 Cup sugar (½ white, ½ brown),1 Cup lard , and1 Cup molasses. Then add one beaten egg. Mix 1 ¼ tsp baking soda with hot water or coffee, then add. Sift: 4 Cups flour (if batter isn’t stiff enough, add more) with 1 tsp ginger, 1 tsp cinnamon, ½ tsp cloves , and ½ tsp allspice. Stir into other ingredients. Roll out and Cut. Put on greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes.

I use butter instead of lard. I soften the butter just so it slopes, doesn’t melt, then mix in the sugar, molasses, and egg (without pre-beating it). Then I add all the dry ingredients, spices and baking soda included, and then the coffee (I never use hot water, always tepid leftover coffee). I also add some ground espresso. I don’t know how much because I don’t write anything down any more than Daisy did. A bit. Not quite a single shot’s worth, maybe. I don’t know how much coffee I (or Daisy) use either. Some. A good-sized sploosh or two. Enough so that the batter is right: solid, but not dry. Damp, but not wet. I chill the batter overnight, then make patties in my hands instead of rolling the dough. I dip each cookie in buttermilk and then sugar, which gives it a faux glaze with a little crunch when it’s done. I use parchment paper instead of a greased cookie pan.

Other than that—I do just like Grandma Daisy did.

So that’s how things change, and how they stay the same.

Category: Recipes and Food | Tags: , , , 15 comments »

15 Responses to “Great Grandma Daisy Butcher”

  1. Mary Airgood Vecellio

    Slope and sloosh.. a true cook:)

  2. Pamela Grath

    David suggests you sell Great Grandma Daisy Butcher’s molasses cookies by the bag with a picture of her on the label. He thinks this could be a whole separate business. (When you would find time for a whole separate business, I have no idea.) He also wants to know (don’t remember if you ever said) where you’re “from,” which in this case I guess means where you grew up–if you don’t mind telling.

  3. Gerry Sell

    I liked that very much. I suspect Daisy might have liked it too. All except for the part about not beating the egg first. Scandalous.

  4. ellenair

    Scandalous, yes! I’m afraid she might have thought that. However, being so reticent, she might not’ve said it!

  5. ellenair

    Oh, David. It’s a very good idea. But. You will have make the bags with pictures and fill them and market them and mail them and all of that. I grew up in the thumb of Michigan, on an 80 acre farm, the youngest of four children.

  6. Jennifer Thompson

    I am enjoying your blog….I like the way you write.. It’s easy, and soulful.
    Keep writing.

  7. ellenair

    Thank you so much!

  8. Megan

    I walked into the Diner the other day to pick up my pizza I so desparately wanted after a very busy day at work and there were the molasses cookies…I don’t care for molasses cookies. But reading your story made me want one. I caved. I enjoyed! Thank you so much for sharing!

  9. Lori Jo Acre

    My favorite cookies are my Grandma Ruth’s fruit bars. They are a molasses cookie with raisins. It is very similar to your Grandma Daisy’s recipe. She rolled them in a long snake on the cookie pan and then pressed them out with her fingers and cut them after they came out of the oven. I loved them because each one had a different texture even though they were from the same dough. The middle ones puffed up more making them thick and gooey. The end ones were crisp and flat and perfect for dunking. They were also my favorite because they had my Grandma’s or my mom’s fingerprints on each one. I remembered these cookies the other day when I read one of your blogs to my students and they were amazed at how much you bake for your diner. These roll out fast!

  10. ellenair

    You’re welcome! I’m feeling great that I got a non-molasses cookie person interested in a molasses cookie!

  11. ellenair

    I love your description of these cookies and your feelings about them.

  12. Donna Dobihal Smith

    I absolutely cannot wait to make these cookies! They sound amazing – plus I’m a big fan of molasses. Have you ever frozen them and if so, before or after baking? (That is, if there happens to be enough left over to freeze!)

  13. Ann Rowland

    Is it possible that no one has mentioned here that you look like your Grandma Daisy? I had a great aunt, Beza, who my mother looks like and I in turn look like my mother except that I smile more. I find it somewhat reassuring to know in advance how my face will look when I’m old. Aunt Bezie and my mom pulled a good lot of cookies from their ovens through the years, with molasses high on my list of favorites. I’ll be making a batch of these , although leftover coffee is a rare occurance around my house, which leaves me to wonder if spoon coffee would do in a pinch.

  14. ellenair

    I’m sure a pinch of coffee would do. Do I look like Daisy? Hmm! And so you’re playing at the Agate Cross soon, eh? Wish I could come…will be very nearby, anyway!

  15. Jann Parks

    That is so funny. It’s like the recipe mu daughter gave me the other night for a pork chop bake. It said to use 4 potatoes and 1 onion sliced in a 8×8 in pan. Brown 4 pork steak sand lay on it. Mix a can of mushroom soup with water and pour over it. Baked in a 350 oven until done. She made it in a slow cooker with 6 potatoes and 4 onions because they like onions. She used pork chops because they were on sale. She didn’t brown them because it was too much work. She used onion soup mix with sour cream and a little milk. She cooked it all day on low. Other than that it was the recipe she gave me.

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