Molasses cookies are, hands down, my favorite cookie. There isn’t even a close second. I rarely bake cookies, but when I do, they usually contain molasses.
These cookies have become somewhat of a trademark for me. When family, friends, or colleagues are going through an arduous ordeal or at the beginning of what-will-be a long process, I make them a batch of molasses cookies. As we sink our teeth into the cookie, I make a comment about how the phase or process they are undertaking is going to be as slow as … well, you know … but that it’s worth it.
What few people are aware of, though, is this tradition’s origin. My late grandmother, Josephine Konkol, was a cookie aficionado, molasses being only one of a few confections in her honed arsenal. I ate them frequently. I even made some hefty batches with her. During these baking sessions, we talked about a lot of things – things I knew my contemporaries weren’t talking about with their grandmothers. Sometimes it was lighthearted discussion about her youth, like which church picnics had the cutest boys. Other times, she divulged more personal observations.
The thing is, though, I never knew my grandmother’s molasses cookie recipe. She died when I was 24 years old. At the time, I was a rookie sports writer, more consumed with getting my career started and putting my hard-earned degree to work than prizing aspects of a heritage that seemed too plentiful for me to contemplate not having. I never even thought of asking her for a recipe – of this or of any other of her specialties.
I have spent the better part of the last decade trying to replicate her cookie. Different extended family members have made helpful suggestions that have inched me closer to this goal (e.g., “try lard”). But it’s not just a matter of ingredients – it’s amounts. I have tinkered with each batch’s makeup and measurements, writing down what I did and scribbling out what “clearly” didn’t work or what I thought should stay, but be altered. I take those notes into account the next time I make a batch, hoping that the next round will finally be “it.”
I had just finished dinning on kielbasa soup and pickled beets (Coincidence? Probably not.) last night when I bit into the first cookie of the latest endeavor. I closed my eyes and chewed. It was still not my grandmother’s cookie. But I felt no tinge of disappointment.
It was, without question, the most delicious molasses cookie I have ever made. Ever. It was incredible. I gobbled it gladly, then alerted my family that they “must” try it; that they “needed” to eat it.
I took few notes afterward. There wasn’t much to say. I did, however, write one thing in particular, in big, bold letters: “Some queens are not meant to be usurped. Only complemented.”
I hope this cookie – and the process of making it – can be remembered as fondly among my loved ones as my grandmother’s was for me. Not the same, but as fondly. And, that with each batch I make for someone at the beginning or in the midst of a phase that’s passing “as slow as molasses,” a dash of my grandmother will be passed along with it.