In the classic film, Mary Poppins (1964), the magical nanny is taking her charges, Jane and Michael, out to run errands, one of which is to purchase gingerbread, at which the very thought makes her say, “Mmmm….gingerbread.” This old fashioned treat is actually a cake, not bread as the name may imply. Many people are totally unfamiliar with this moist, molasses based dessert that is still popular in Scottish tearooms. It is not the flat cookie variety served at Christmastime, shaped like little men, whose heads are invariably the first to be devoured. Nor is it the German variety, Lebkucken, which is a thicker cookie first invented by medieval monks and then made famous by bakers in Nuremberg. No, the gingerbread to which I am referring is the one of my childhood.
My maternal grandfather was of Scottish heritage, an Erskine, who traced our history back to the Earl’s of Mar. And, like Mike Myers would say, he thought that anything that wasn’t Scottish was crap. 0ur family emigrated from Scotland in the 1800’s, yet they held their clan’s history in high regard, marrying other Scots and passing down their traditions. A recipe for gingerbread may seem like a trivial thing, but the one which I prepare for my family to this day is at least five generations old. I can still see my great-grandmother bending down to lift the dark cake from her oven. She was a sweet old woman, with a bun in her hair who played hymns on the pump organ. Her house in St. Paul is still there, but it isn’t the same, now inhabited by people who have no knowledge of its original owner. Time changes almost everything … except memories. They are as vibrant as ever. In them my grandfather still whittles his little gift boxes that have a trick opening, my mother still smiles and laughs with abandon, and the joy of their presence is as tangible as if they were alive.
Maybe it is DNA that makes a recipe special. Somehow the generations who have come before, and whom we have come through, are wrapped up in us and continue on. Loving the same things, and rejoicing in the ties that bind.
Gingerbread… its Supercalifragilisticexpialidocios.
In a large bowl beat 4 eggs. Add 1 cup sugar, 1 cup oil, 1 cup buttermilk and 1 cup dark molasses. Mix well.
In a separate bowl sift 2 ½ cups flour, 2 teaspoons baking soda, 1 teaspoon ginger, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon allspice, ¼ teaspoon nutmeg, a pinch of cloves (1/8 to ¼ teaspoon), and 1 teaspoon salt. Mix with wet ingredients.
Bake in a greased 9×13 pan at 325 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes. A toothpick inserted will come out a little wet. You don’t want the toothpick to come out completely clean.
Cool and eat. Keep covered at room temperature.
It gets better every day as the cake gets moister.