A Stoner family tradition: gingersnaps with plenty of snap. Or - how long can cookie dough be left in the refrigerator?

IN the fabled Shenandoah Valley of Virginia a hundred years ago, the large Stoner and Glover families lived on small farms just across the river from each other. That is, each family called it a river, but actually the river was just a creek - Naked Creek. It partly flowed from a beautiful, pure source called ``Big Spring,'' covered with watercress.

This idyllic verdant site was just west of the town of Weyer's Cave, the original name for Grand Cavern. Here the Glovers were best at practicing the art of farming - and the Stoners were best at practicing the art of cooking.

So it was serendipitous that two of the Glover boys waded the creek to court and marry two of the Stoner girls.

One set were my grandparents, and it was my pleasure to dine on countless Stoner-cooked meals, as I looked out toward the worn peaks of the Blue Ridge mountain range.

Sadly, in this modern age and here in the North, we have been successful in duplicating little of that kind of Southern pioneer cooking style and flavor, growing as they did out of home-grown or home-cured ingredients.

Except for one recipe: Great-aunt Mary Stoner's Ginger Drops.

They're foolproof. No ancient and long-lost skill or ingredient is needed. In fact, we made up the dough some years ago and started baking a batch. An urgency interrupted us, and the remaining unbaked dough was thrust into the refrigerator.

A year later - yes, a year - we cleaned out the refrigerator, and there the dough was. And you know what? We baked it up, and it made better ginger cookies than any we've ever had.

The ``curing'' process of leaving the dough in the refrigerator that long had had a magical gastronomic effect. And apparently the ginger had acted as a preservative. But we don't recommend the delay.

Now if you don't like sharp ginger - if you do like cakey and not crisp ginger cookies - stay away from these. Aunt Mary's Ginger Drops 3 cups sifted all-purpose flour 2 teaspoons baking soda 2 teaspoons cinnamon 1 teaspoon ground cloves 2 tablespoons ginger 3/4 cup butter 3/4 cup shortening 2 cups sugar 2 eggs 1/2 cup molasses

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Sift the dry ingredients together and set aside. Cream butter and shortening until fluffy. Add unbeaten eggs one at a time. When mixed, add molasses and flour mixture, and blend thoroughly.

Drop the dough by teaspoonfuls onto ungreased pan. Bake cookies for 12 to 15 minutes. Makes 6 dozen.

The dough keeps indefinitely in refrigerator!

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