A New England standard deserves another reprint

If nothing else, the Boston Post was readable; but there was much more. During the first half of the 20th century, the Post had the largest daily circulation in the country. That included every housewife in New England, whereby hangs my story.

The household section of the Post went to several pages and practically wrote itself. It became a forum to discuss everything from feeding babies to trimming lamp wicks, and the mail this generated totaled many post-office sacks daily. Readers loved to see their ideas in print, and the Post household editor had a cinch.

When a recipe was published, that's what every husband northeast of New York City got for lunch the next day. The Great Northern Paper Company ran all night and still couldn't keep ahead of the Post's need for paper.

The Post had a homey appeal. While it didn't shun garish news, neither did it muckrake. It was content with folksy dispatches from the back country about spry old people who could read the Boston Post every day without glasses.

The Post was housed in a Newspaper Row building never meant to house a newspaper. Six floors were above the street and six floors were not. Deep down, the Post had the largest newspaper press in the world, and the pressmen could look up and see the subway trains headed for Everett Square.

The three Post editors who handled the editorial page had a closet on the third floor across the corridor from Miss Mildred Champagne's closet, where the little lady did a daily feature titled, "Talks on Love and Sentiment." This appealed to me, because there was no Miss Champagne.

She did average three mail sacks of letters every day, however, attesting to the journalistic talents of two elderly gentlemen journalists who were Mildred Champagne. Romance is a tricky subject, and the gentlemen were cautious. They answered only questions submitted by themselves. They didn't want real-life agitated lovebird boyfriends to come with baseball bats to avenge inappropriate advice.

They took turns. One day, one gentleman asked for advice, and the next day it was his turn to reply. The two gentlemen who were Miss Champagne never looked at Miss Champagne's mail. Readers who stopped in to reach Miss Champagne in person were disappointed that it was her day off.

I might add here that the Post had other deceptions. For instance, a writer always got his name on a major story, but for only one story in each issue. If reporters did two major stories, they had to have a second name.

Max Grossman, a productive reporter, had four names. His others were Patrick O'Sullivan, Sebastian Cabot, and Nicholas Reiminchov. Max also had a full-time job as professor of journalism at Boston University.

At the height of its success, the Post became the victim of a financial manipulator who had no knowledge of newspaper publishing. The paper ceased to publish in the 1950s.

I believe it was in 1914, before the United States entered the World War, that a lady in Maine sent a recipe to the Post. It was a recipe for Angel Gingerbread. Like so many other Post readers, my mother clipped it and it went into her kitchen diddy-box.

Some 20 years later, she copied it in longhand for my bride, and I give you now the very words we cherish:

Angel Gingerbread

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup shortening

1/2 cup molasses

2 eggs

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1 cup boiling water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large mixing bowl, cream sugar and shortening. Stir in molasses and eggs. In a smaller bowl, combine all dry ingredients, then add to molasses mixture. Add boiling water and stir to mix well.

Pour batter into a greased 8-inch-square pan. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.

Then began a regular repetition of this recipe that went on as long as the Post published. People wrote that for one reason or another they had lost the recipe and would like a copy. There were so many such requests that the editors kept the type "standing," and it was always ready to go into the paper. It became an automatic reprint, every two or three months.

If you try it, and even if you don't, it is a good gingerbread. It has better "heft" if made with old-time dark molasses, but it's still good if sulfured molasses is the best you can do. As we youngsters were glad to prove, it wasn't much of a keeper in the pantry

But all in all, Angel Gingerbread became the New England standard and as the Post kept repeating the instructions, it continued to be the standard.

And from 1914 through the rest of the Post's history, not once did anyone call attention to the fact that Angel Gingerbread does not take any ginger!

The Post has been gone for nearly half a century. It is long past the time to reprint the recipe.

What better place than here?

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