The Odyssey of Making Miss Goddard’s “Soft Molasses Gingerbread”
Updated: Nov 19, 2020
What better way to honor the 100th anniversary of “The Vote” than to prepare a recipe from The Woman Suffrage Cook Book? Published in Boston in 1886, and edited by one Hattie A. Burr, this cookbook was compiled to fundraise for the “elevation and enfranchisement of women” (Louisa May Alcott is listed as an occasional contributor).
On page 81, I find a recipe for “Soft Molasses Gingerbread” donated by Miss Lucy Goddard of Roxbury, Massachusetts. Only one short paragraph long, the recipe’s measurements are specific enough. Miss Goddard charmingly requires “three scant cupfuls of flour” and “ginger as you like.” The addition of one cup of sugar and one cup of molasses seems conservative. I decide to refer to Mrs. Beeton’s Every Day Cookery, published in London in 1890 — I’d searched the shops of Charing Cross for a Mrs. Beeton’s to bring home, and now I can use it to compare the two recipes.
The English version promises a sturdy, thick gingerbread. There’s even an engraving showing the stout cake. Mrs. Beeton calls for a full pound of treacle (the English equivalent of molasses), ½ cup of sugar, one ounce of ginger and ½ ounce of allspice, making for a peppery mix. Like Miss Goddard, Mrs. Beeton specifies that her teaspoon of baking soda be stirred into milk. Perhaps this is a 19th century convention to compensate for not sifting dry ingredients. Miss Goddard asks for no eggs, while Mrs. Beeton requires three. Clearly, the English version is a larger cake meant for a brimming household.
This makes me wonder about Miss Goddard’s life. While the gingerbread bakes, I decide to find her. In the 1886 Boston Directory, she is living on Dudley Street in Roxbury. I can even use Google Earth to see the street’s row of modest clapboard houses. Born in 1853, Miss Goddard is 33 years old in 1886 when she contributes her recipe to the cause. As a spinster, she clearly offers a more diminutive gingerbread, unlike the fulsome Mrs. Beeton.
After the cake cools, I place it on a blue floral platter from the same era and add a bowl of whipped cream for dolloping. It proves to be piquant and gingery.
The Vote won’t come for another 34 years, but the passion and poignancy of the suffrage movement is as sharp today as a bite of Miss Goddard’s Soft Molasses Gingerbread.
Jenny volunteers her time at Lippitt House Museum as a docent and enjoys sharing her passion for 19th century decorative arts with visitors.