Everyone has their traditional Christmastime staple. In my life, Mum mum’s Ginger Cookies were a treat that came but once a year and were, for much of my life, shrouded in the secret spinning delicate fog surrounding the grandparent mystique that can spark the imaginations of even the most practical minded children.
Picture a warm December’s day in the south and a little girl, about four-years-old or so, waiting impatiently for a certain children’s show featuring a large yellow bird to come on television. The dress that the little girl is wearing was sewn, by hand, by the woman who is standing at the kitchen island drawing numbers on a paper plate.
”Here you go,” says the woman. “When the hands on the big clock match the hands on this one, you can watch your show.”
The little girl is, of course, me and I want to watch television immediately because I am bored and I am four. I keep my eyes on the paper plate clock with Sharpie numbers and moveable hands (because the woman, my grandmother, is that kind of grandmother). I am a little surprised when I see those hands really moving and I tell my grandmother that her clock works.
She sighs and possibly thinks to herself that kids today are incapable of amusing themselves. Then she hauls a big box of pins, beads, ribbons, little shiny bits of plastic and Styrofoam shapes. I am told to make ornaments and I set about shoving red-beaded pins into the roof of a little house that will eventually be hung on the big Christmas tree in the corner of the living room.
While I am doing that, the clock moves again. I swear I am not making this up.
”Mum mum,” I say, because that is what I call her, “Your clock tells time for real!”
Whether it was too many pinpricks in my tiny fingers or a short attention span, I toss aside the ornament and am back to watching that clock and, furthermore, trying to convince my grandmother that her paper clock is doing as good a job keeping time as the real thing.
My mum mum, a very smart woman indeed, sees that what I need is a real diversion, pulls the big bowl out of the high cupboard and calls me over to the kitchen island. This is what we make:
Melt the margarine or butter in a two-cup measuring glass and place the result in a large bowl. Then use the same measuring glass to add the sugar and molasses to that same bowl.
Heat the water until very hot and add the instant coffee (or use the heated leftover coffee). While the coffee is still hot, add the baking soda. Then add that to the large bowl.
Put 4 cups of flour into a sifter. Add the cinnamon and ginger. Sift into the big bowl and mix it up. Gradually add the next 4 cups of flour while mixing by hand. Have a taste-if you like molasses, you’ll think it’s yummy.
Chill the dough in the refrigerator. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. When the dough is nice and chilly, roll it out until it is thin, cut it into Christmas trees and Santa’s boot and reindeer and whatever else and bake them for 8 to 10 minutes.
When the cookies have cooled, paint them with tinted royal icing. After the icing has dried, the cookies can be stored in tins between layers of waxed paper.
Come December, every year, I call my mum mum and she sends me a few plastic baggies full of her cookies, which I eat slowly, keeping them as long as I can. They taste good with coffee or tea, but never quite as good as they tasted on those days when she would haul out the big bowl and I would sit perched at the kitchen island, watching and helping as best as I could.
And, to this day, I still maintain that the paper plate clock moved but no one ever believes me.
For The Ninjagirls Christmas Special