Juneteenth Recipe Suggestion: Gingerbread from Mrs. Malinda Russell’s 1866 cookbook

Soft Ginger Bread, page 6 in A Domestic Cook Book
Adapted by Kate Hayes

Photo by K.H.

This is the first of about a dozen recipes for ginger bread, cake, or cookies that Mrs. Russell included in her book. This version bakes up beautifully, with a nice bit of rise to it (about an inch). Not very sweet, and not heavily spicy at all, with the molasses and spices well balanced.

After comparing gingerbread receipts in the five cookery books listed below (24 recipes total), gingerbread could be soft or hard, and either with or without eggs. I decided to follow a hybrid method, as there seemed to be no consistency in all of these recipes. Some melted the fat and mixed with the molasses; Leslie cuts the fat into the flour. Some are very stiff and thus rolled or patted into a shallow pan; many are not really specified.

The original recipe makes a very large amount of gingerbread; quantities here are half of those given by Mrs. Russell.

Ingredients:

  • Flour, unbleached all-purpose, 4 cups (450 grams)
  • Baking soda, ½ teaspoon (2.5 ml)
  • Allspice, ½ teaspoon (2.5 ml)
  • Ginger, 1 teaspoon (5 ml)
  • Cinnamon, 1-1/2 teaspoon (7.5 ml)
  • Lard or shortening, ¾ cup (170 grams)
  • Sugar, granulated white,  ¾ cup (170 grams)
  • Molasses, medium (not blackstrap), 1 cup (322 grams)
  • Sour milk or buttermilk, 1 cup (238 grams)

Method:

Have all ingredients at room temperature. You can substitute shortening for lard, or use butter if you like.

Preheat oven to 325ºF / 165C.

Grease a 13” x 9” x 2” / 33 x 23 x 5 cm baking pan.

Mix the flour with the spices and soda until uniformly distributed and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the lard or shortening with the sugar until light; Mrs. Russell would have done this with her hand, but it’s okay to use an electric mixer. Mix in the flour mixture, alternating with the milk. Mix in the molasses to make a stiff dough.

Pat into prepared baking pan. Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.

Mrs. Haskell (see Sources) admonishes the cook to bake at moderate heat and watch carefully as molasses burns easily!

Serving suggestion:

Delicious with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Sources:

Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife (1824)
Eliza Leslie, Seventy-Five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes and Sweetmeats (1828)
Esther A. Howland, The New England Economical Housekeeper (1844)
Anne Howe, The Kitchen Directory, and American Housewife (1841)
Mrs. E. F. Haskell, The Housekeeper’s Encyclopedia (1861)

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