More On My Valley Roots & Old Time Mennonite Molasses Cookies

This delicious recipe is from the Mennonite Community Cookbook by Mary Emma Showalter.  My husband gave me this cookbook eons ago and it’s stained from many uses over the years and is a family favorite.  I noted that Amazon is selling this book new for $599.99 which boggles the mind.  They do, however, have other options that run as low as $6.99.  That’s probably what mine is worth.

Also of interest, my hubby is related to the author on his mama’s side.  When I married him, I married into the Mennonite community and church.  We attend a New Order Mennonite Church, but he’s related to all sorts of ‘Orders’ including Old Order Mennonites who drive horse and buggies (similar to the Amish).  Many of our neighbors are ‘Old Orders’ and it’s common to see buggies pass our farm at most any time of the week, but particularly on Sunday morning when a stream of horses pulling buggies briskly trot past us on their way to church.  The Old Order Churches have hitching rails out front.  Very quaint.

Needless to say, I am rather unusual in this conservative area being a historical romance author, but people are quite tolerant and do not shun me.   Bear in mind that I wasn’t raised in this community but came from the English/Scots-Irish Presbyterians who settled nearby Augusta County several hundred years ago.  We always referred to ourselves as the ‘Scotch Irish’ but have since been told this isn’t the politically correct term.  I remember my grandmother saying she was ‘too Scotch’ for this or that, meaning too cheap, and so on.

My husband is of German/Swiss descent.  His ancestors settled in nearby Rockingham County about the same time mine did in Augusta.  For generations, the German Mennonites and Scots-Irish Presbyterians did not mix. Both groups were clannish and regarded the other as highly suspect.  Even though we’re all Christians, Mennonites thought Presbyterians were practically heathen, and Presbyterians frowned on their pacifistic neighbors.  Relations between these very different people have improved over time.  I doubt many marriages were made between them before ours, but we’ve been happily wed for many years.  However, my husband is what they call a militant Mennonite and not a true pacifist.   I’ve probably been a bad influence, though I suspect it’s his nature.    🙂

One of my favorite cookies is this old time molasses variety.

1 cup shortening, 4 cups flour, 1 tsp. salt, 1 cup dark molasses, 1 cup sugar, 1 egg, 1/4 cup hot water, 1 1/4 tsp. soda

Sift flour and salt together and cut in shortening as for pastry. In another bowl, combine molasses and sugar. Add egg and beat well.  Dissolve soda in hot water and add to molasses mixture.  Combine crumb and molasses mixtures and stir until well blended. Chill dough for several hours in refrigerator.  Turn out on a lightly floured board.  Roll to 1/4 inch thickness.  Place 1 inch apart on greased cookie sheet. Bake at 375 until a deep rich brown. After baking these cookies will be cracked on top.  Makes 4 dozen cookies.

*Old Order Mennonites and Amish do not like to have their pictures taken so the only photos we have are shot from a distance or angled so that you do not clearly see their faces.   The long line of wash is from an Old Order farm near us.  These pics are by my mom and husband and taken where we live in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

*Please note, I included a recipe for soft ginger cookies from the Mennonite Cookbook in the comments to this post.

19 responses to “More On My Valley Roots & Old Time Mennonite Molasses Cookies

  1. Always love your blog posts! Do you happen to know of a SOFT gingerbread cookie recipe?


    • Thanks Liz. I will take a look and get back to you.


    • Liz, I looked in the Mennonite cookbook and think I may have found the soft ginger cookies I remember. These are drop cookies and to make them softer, bake for less time.
      Molasses Crinkles:
      3/4 cup shortening, 1 cup brown sugar, 1 egg, 4 Tabs. molasses, 2 1/4 cups flour, 1/2 tsp salt, 2 tsp soda, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp ginger, 1/2 tsp cloves:
      Cream shortening and sugar. Add egg, molasses and beat well. Sift dry ingredients together. ADD dry ingredients to wet mixture. Chill dough in refrigerator. Roll balls in granulated sugar and place 2 inches apart in greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 for 12–15 minutes.


  2. I always enjoy your posts! Keep ’em coming! I’m one of your followers.

    I saw a comment about Mennonites in a non-fiction book about military combat (I’m researching) called ‘On Combat.’ Excellent book – even for pacifists. He says that this and his previous book ‘On Killing’ are required reading in some pacifists colleges. In one chapter he notes that one Mennonite college campus where he was giving a guest lecture there were peace officers stationed on the perimeter of the campus. The author raised the point in his lecture and there was a fierce debate. Evidently the college had debated the matter for a long time, and the consensus was that a peace officer’s duties were a different category than a soldiers. Very interesting.


    • Yes, very interesting. A hot topic, for sure. The church’s statement includes a strong emphasis on pacifism, but individuals are allowed to modify that stand as suits their own consciences among the more tolerant circles. Such as the one my husband and I move in.


  3. Beth, your pictures brought back memories of my old neighborhood in south-central PA. Back in the fifties, when I was a child, we were the only residents on our road with a car. Horse and buggies were the norm. My family also has strong Mennonite roots as well as Old Order German River Baptists…or is it Old River German Baptists Order? Senior moment here. Great post.


  4. Emily Bowman Nisly

    Hi Beth, I think I recognized the farm I grew up on in one of your pictures. We used the Mennonite Community Cookbook regularly and it was one of the first gifts my husband got me after we were married. I still make the molasses cookies recipe. I also still make the apple goodie recipe, page 311 but use twice the apples and less sugar. I made it a week ago.
    If you do not know who I am, Dennis will know. Our dads were farming buddies.


  5. What an interesting life you’ve had. I loved hearing about the melding of the families. Your photos are gorgeous as usual. Thanks for sharing parts of your life with us. Very interesting. I loved the photo of the laundry on the line. I still hang clothes out to dry in the sun and wind. 🙂


  6. Great blog. You are one awesome historian.



  7. Beth, another informative post.
    Have you ever thought of doing an on-line class on America’s roots? Maybe even use examples from your novels as to how you incorporate the history?
    Many kids today are not taught pre-Civil War history, which leads to a lack of patriotism for this generation. And many of us who were taught could use a refresher!


  8. If you do have a course, please blog about it, post it on CHRW, HHRW, wherever and whatever, so I’ll be sure to not miss at least one of the notifications.


  9. Caroline Clemmons

    Beth, I always love your posts. My Scot-Irish were in Augusta long ago. I would like to think we’re related. I also have some German-Swiss relatives that came to North Carolina from Switzerland. Keept writing these wonderful blogs for us and your wonderful books!


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