My friends here in Small Town run the Small Town economic spectrum – some of my friends are small town rich (a nice house on the good street in town, a couple of shopping trips to Toronto each year, a boat and a car that wasn’t bought used) and some of my friends are living on almost unimaginably tiny amounts of money, surviving by their cleverness and their ability to stretch a small amount almost endlessly. We are in the middle of the Small Town spectrum – enough money to pay the bills and enough leftover for the kind of pleasant small extras that make life fun, so long as we’re careful all the time.
Recently though, I have felt financially imperiled – debts piling up, expenses spiraling out of control – and Christmas is in 56 days, as my children constantly are reminding me. It’s a chilly Novemberish sort of feeling, this not-enoughness, and so I spent some time combing through frugality websites, reading endless hamburger recipes and tips for buying used shoes. I pictured a grim future for us, with me wearing someone else’s old polyester dress (the kind that comes pre-stained in the armpits) and feeding my children on cheap starches. My husband gently suggested that I had perhaps been frugal enough for one day and I instead sulked in a bubble bath and read M.F.K. Fisher’s "How To Cook A Wolf."
WELL. If you ever want to feel IMMENSELY better about your financial affairs, THAT is the book to read. The food shortages and rationing from World War II certainly put our temporary financial drought into a much more cheerful perspective – we have to watch our spending for a few weeks, while that book contains recipes for pigeon and has a certain grim chapter called "How To Keep Alive." And it also contains the finest recipe for gingerbread – the cake kind – that I know of, just the thing to make on a cold November morning, when you need its spicy richness to chase the wolves right away from your door.
- 1/4 cup shortening (although I’m using butter)
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup molasses
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ginger, cloves and salt
- 3/4 cup boiling water
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda (this is not a typo – you add soda in TWICE to the recipe, so it’s listed twice in the ingredients. Trust me on this!)
- 1 1/4 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 beaten egg
Cream the shortening and sugar. Mix the spices, flour, and baking powder together. Beat the 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda into the molasses until it is light and fluffy and mix into the shortening/sugar mixture. Add the 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda into the boiling water and then add it to the molasses mixture, alternating with the flour mixture (so you’re going to do it this way: a bit of boiling water and stir, then the flour and stir and then the rest of the boiling water.). Fold in the beaten egg when the batter is well mixed (it’s going to be a THIN batter. Do NOT thicken it!), and pour into a greased and floured 8" square pan. Bake for about 20 minutes at 325.
My children like to eat this in thick steaming slabs with butter. I like to eat it with applesauce and some beer. Whichever way you prefer, it’s a lovely thing, whether you’re rich or poor or someplace in the precarious middle.