Farming Stories : Aunt Ruth and the Ginger Snap Cookie Incident
Author: Dennis Copson
We grew up in the 1940's and '50's on a small dairy and chicken farm in Belfast, Maine. 'We' being my two brothers and three cousins. Times there were hard. Farming in those days, as I suspect it is now, was an austere life. Lots of hard work with little compensation. I think the people who bought our milk and chickens made the money. The small farmer seldom benefited then and I doubt they are doing much better today.
There wasn't a lot of money for extras or store - bought things especially sweets like cookies, cakes, or pies. Things that kids love. Not to worry. We were blessed to have as our aunt one of the finest - maybe THE finest - bakers of such things as there was in the 'kind old state' of Maine if not the entire New England area.
Aunt Ruth baked all of our pastries. She labored in a hot kitchen with an antiquated cook stove year round. She baked an assortment of goodies, but cookies were her specialty although her cakes were not to be discounted. She baked cakes for all occasions including every birthday for each kid. We chose the cake we wanted and Aunt Ruth made it for us with our name on it - decorating done by hand. My favorite was her chocolate cake with vanilla frosting.
She baked a variety of cookies including a wicked molasses cookie, a delicious oatmeal cookie with raisins, and, of course everyone's favorite, her chocolate chip cookie filled with big tasty chocolate nuggets. (There were no 'Famous Amos' cookies in those days!)
However good these were - and they disappeared fast with six youngsters around the house - I think her favorite was her ginger snaps. My reasoning is that she baked those most often.
Now, I have mentioned the state of the kitchen she had to work in as not being the best suited for baking. How she did what she did still puzzles me. (I've tried baking from scratch. It isn't an easy task.) Taking that into account, she did have a tendency to bake those ginger snaps to a rather well done state. Perhaps she liked them that way. Man, you really had to bite down hard on those babies to get a piece to break off in your mouth. Chewing them was another challenge. It was best, we learned, to let them sit in your mouth for awhile while they softened up before you started chewing on them. I say this because we hated going to the dentist and those ginger snaps were about the quickest way to earn a trip there that I know.
One winter afternoon she had labored lovingly and turned out a big batch of those ginger snaps - dozens of them if I remember correctly. Now, I have mentioned that dear Aunt Ruth had a penchant for baking this type of cookie quite firm to say the least. I don't know what happened that day, but this particular batch had to be the firmest yet! They were rock hard.
That evening the entire family gathered at about six o'clock for dinner as was customary. (Do they do that anymore?) Seating had its pecking order. Adults, mostly men, sat in the breakfast nook, kids in the kitchen at a small table. That's how it always was - for years. There was a further refinement of this pecking order in that each adult had his particular spot at the table, too. Of most importance to this story was the seating of my Grandfather, Fred. He sat in the far end of the table next to the window. As long as he lived that was his spot and no one had better try to sit there. It just didn't happen. He was the Alpha male!
That night after dinner was served and eaten, hot tea and dessert was offered. Aunt Ruth proudly produced her ginger snap cookies as the evening fare. A rounded plate of them was delivered to the adult table; more than enough to go around.
Now one thing about my Grandfather you would notice was that he had only several teeth remaining with which to chew. There was no way he was going to bite off any amount of a ginger snap - not these particular ginger snaps especially - no matter how long he soaked them in his hot tea. I think that frustrated him somewhat because he could fare quite well with most foods even without an abundance of teeth. He had to say something about this situation; that was his way. He and Aunt Ruth had running gun battles in the teasing ways.
I, sitting at the kids' table in the kitchen, saw him looking my way with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.
"Berthie," he said, "Could you hand me my hammer?"
My Grandmother Bertha, standing in the kitchen with my Aunt Ruth, was perplexed.
"Fred," she asked, "Why in the world would you need your hammer at the dinner table?"
"To break up this damned cookie, that's why!" announced Fred in a voice which could be heard throughout the living area.
There was a moment of deafening silence in the house. Something was going to come of this insult. It was not to pass unnoticed by my Aunt Ruth, not to be unpunished. Action was called for.
(Now Aunt Ruth was the nicest person you'd ever meet. She was not the type to easily be riled. However...NEVER belittle her baking! Nor any of the products of her hand.)
She reacted as quick as lightning. It could not have been faster. In one sweeping motion of her arm she launched one of those ginger snaps out of the kitchen and into the breakfast nook. Roger Clemens, with or without performance enhancers, had nothing on the speed of that cookie traveling the twenty five feet or so to its mark.
That cookie - now a deadly missile - sailed out of the kitchen and into the breakfast nook like a Frisbee - no, more like a discus owing to its texture - and hit my grandfather right between the eyes. There is no describing the surprise on his face as a little trickle of blood soon appeared at the bridge of his nose.
There were about sixteen people having dinner that night including hired hands and uncles as well as six children. There were sixteen gasps as this happened. Our grandfather was the patriarch. He ruled the roost. You simply did not throw ginger snaps at him; we all knew that for sure.
Then, as quickly as the gasps died down, a rousing round of laughter began. We all laughed until tears were flowing though no one with more glee and gusto than Aunt Ruth.
However, I think my grandfather laughed hardest of all. He loved a good joke - even if it was on him! He was given a band aid and all was forgiven. But, he never again - not once - made a disparaging remark about Aunt Ruth's ginger snap cookies no matter how hard they were.
About the author:
Denis Copson is retired from the USMC (Major) and resides in Oceanside, CA where he is the Director of Sales and Marketing for Nature's Big Bud Worm Castings and is a freelance writer available for assignment.