I believe in probability. I don’t play Powerball because I have about as much chance of winning as drowning in a bucket.
However, eerie coincidences tend to follow me around like stray puppies. I don’t notice them until I look over my shoulder, and there they are, tails wagging and tongues panting, and a little too close for comfort.
When I was 24, I noticed the registration number on my birth certificate: 123456. It was creepy then, but even eerier now that it’s the most popular computer password—and a sucky one at that.
This eerie coincidence involving Great Grandmother’s Gingerbread (Over 100 Years Old) began in 1976, when I bought an old textbook, Domestic Science, Principles and Application (copyright 1923) in a used bookstore in Raleigh, North Carolina. There, tucked in the pages, I found this already brown newspaper clipping (see photo). I had no idea what paper it had come from, or when it was published.*
No matter. The recipe delivered. Moist and high, like a good chocolate cake, the gingerbread had a spicy molasses twang. Old, but not old-fashioned.
Over all these years I have stared at this recipe and yet the name of its contributor never registered.
This past May, when I went to scan the recipe for posting, I dope-slapped myself when I realized I could Google her. I didn’t expect to find anything. But I did.
It was her obituary. She had passed away just 17 days earlier at the age of 81. The only fact about her was her occupation; she had worked in the food services industry.
I composed a thoughtful letter to her daughter, then to her son, with my condolences. I told them how important this recipe had become to me, and included the picture of the clipping. I asked them to please tell me more about her and this recipe, if they could. I gave them many ways to reach me. I introduced Recipephany.com to show my honorable intentions.
They probably pegged me as a stalker, were creeped out by my timing, or just didn’t want to associate with my blog. I waited months for some sort of reply. I yearned to hear the story of how a crumbling page of faded fountain-pen script was passed down from a woman who probably never had electricity and bought molasses by the gallon (wait—I buy it by the gallon now). But nothing ever came.
Turns out, upon further Googling, that this wasn’t really her family recipe anyway. A Brer Rabbit Molasses ad dating back to 1935 showcases Great Grandmother’s Gingerbread (Over 100 Years Old) (see recipecurio.com). The only difference is that the contributor to my recipe substituted shortening for butter and lard, shortened baking time, and took out the “fashioned” from “old-fashioned.” Coincidentally, that’s exactly what I would have done. Now, as long as people still use molasses, Great-Grandmother’s Gingerbread can probably go on for another 100 years.
Great-Grandmother’s Gingerbread (Over 100 Years Old)
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ cup shortening
- 1 ½ teaspoons soda
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ginger
- 1 egg
- 1 cup molasses
- 2 ½ cups sifted flour
- ½ teaspoon cloves
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup hot water
Cream shortening and sugar. Add beaten egg, molasses, then dry ingredients which have been sifted together. Add hot water and beat until batter is smooth. Bake in greased shallow pan 35 minutes in moderate oven (325 degrees to 350 degrees F.). Makes 15 portions. Good old gingerbread. (Note: I use an 8-inch square pan so that it comes out high.)
*A newspaper archive search in May 2020 revealed that the clipping came from The Philadelphia Inquirer, Friday, November 22, 1935, page 44.