Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat, and I want to spread holiday joy. So gather the ingredients and bring down a bowl, and here's how to make an old-time down east m'larrses cookie that will fetch everybody up to a smart salute and do a great deal for domestic enthusiasm. Ready, all?
I was fetched up on m'larrses cookies. They came in many shapes, sizes, and stren'ths, all good. And so long as I was a well-behaved sannup, I could have one anytime I asked.
I had a maiden aunt who admitted she made the best m'larrses cookies in the family, and I don't know but what she did. I visited her now and then and I ate a lot of her cookies without any complaints. They were fat, soft, and more-ish. We had m'larrses-snap cookies in the family, too, but the soft ones were best. Except for her cookies, a visit with my maiden aunt was often tiresome, for there wasn't much for a boy to do around about.
On one visit, my aunt arranged for me to go with Mr. Raymond Rendall and see a lumbering operation. Mr. Rendall was a forester, managing some timberlands that belonged to Bates College, and that season they were selective-cutting some old-growth pine.
Mr. Rendall came with a horse and sleigh to pick me up, and I jingled off for a day in the forest. It wasn't often a sprout of a lad joined the rough woods crew at dinner, and I got a rousing welcome. Mr. Rendall was the boss of the works, so it was up to everybody to give me a good time. Without question, the finest place to eat was always at the table in a Maine lumber camp. Choppers would quit if this were not so, and you can't run a sawmill without trees.
Mr. Rendall's visit was to inspect the food as well as the harvest. Platters of m'larrses cookies were brought to table after the main meal, and the men dug into them as if they hadn't seen a cookie since Year 1 and there was no tomorrow. I had one, and it seemed to me to be just like those my aunt had in her cookie jar. So I had another one, and when I thanked the boss cook for a wonderful dinner (which my aunt had told me I must not fail to do), he gave me a little sack of lumber-camp m'larrses cookies to take home. Mr. Rendall's horses dropped me off at my aunt's house just on the edge of dark, and I gave my aunt my bag of cookies.
After supper, she opened the bag and tried one of the lumber-camp cookies. She bit, chewed, and tipped her head in consideration. "Why, they're just like mine!" Then she savored, and said, "Identical!" Every little while, until bedtime, she'd say, "Identical!" It astonished her that a lumber-camp cook could make her cookies!
Now, for Christmas, I'm not going to tell you how my aunt made her cookies, or how a lumber-camp cook made the identicals. Instead, I'll split the difference and invite you into the kitchen at the West Branch Ponds Camps, a sporting and recreation resort on the west branch of the Pleasant River, in the wilderness township of AR12, west of the state's easterly line.
Here you can shake hands with Carol Sterling, whose family has operated these camps for three generations. I think you'll like Carol's m'larrses cookies, which I'd rate halfway 'twixt a lumber camp and high cuisine, and Carol knows about both and is not offended in either direction by the comparison, but first, this message:
Get some decent Barbados m'larrses. Don't try to make blue-ribbon m'larrses cookies with the stuff stores sell these days in a swindle. I was never more serious. M'larrses is scarifacted, rarefized, and bamboozled nowadays, and for a cookie you need better. Here in New England, the Hannaford stores import old-time honest molasses from St. John, New Brunswick, where the Crosby people produce it close by the reversing falls. Your storekeeper can get some if he cares.
IF he says he can't, kick him in the shins for me (ceremoniously) and drop a line to Crosby Molasses, St. John, New Brunswick, Canada, and ask what to do. Don't send United States postage, as Canadians have their own stamps now, but you can stick two quarters to your return letter. When you finally get some unsulfered molasses, here's the thing to do:
One tablespoon shortening. One stick margarine, melted. One cup white sugar. One half-cup Crosby molasses. One egg. One half-cup milk. Two-and-one-half cups flour. One half-teaspoon ground cloves. One half-teaspoon ginger. One half-teaspoon cinnamon. One half-teaspoon salt. One and three-quarters teaspoons baking soda.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease two cookie sheets and set aside.
Combine melted margarine, sugar, egg, milk, and molasses and beat well. Sift together flour, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda. Add dry mixture to molasses mixture a half cup at a time, mixing well each time.
Drop by tablespoonfuls on the cookie sheets, and bake for 10 minutes. Do not bake a split second more! Makes about 36 three-inch cookies. If you can't think of anything to do with them, give me a call and I'll be right over.
It may take a few weeks to get some molasses, but you'll find it's a handy thing to have around. If you open a can of store-bought baked beans, add some molasses while they heat, and with a pinch of ginger you may like baked beans again. I like molasses on my breakfast porridge, and someday I may break down and tell you what porridge is. Molasses never hurt a hot biscuit, either. Uncle Niah would eat about four hot biscuits with m'larrses, wipe his chin, and say, "Wonder what the poor people are doin'?"