Joan’s Chewy-Delicious Ginger Cookies

These ginger cookies are killer, but you will need to endure my story to get to the recipe, so sayeth my husband!

During a recent trip to visit family in Rhode Island, I took a detour and drove to my childhood home in Massachusetts. An hour later, I was sitting in the kitchen of a woman I had never met, eating the most delicious, chewy on the inside, crackly on the outside, flavor-FULL ginger cookie.

The welcoming woman’s name was Joan Sapir, and our room was once the kitchen of my aunt’s bustling summer house. This kitchen was a happening place when I was a kid, and I gathered from my brief visit with Joan it continues to be.

Like for many of us, when we decide to visit the place where we grew up, I was driven by an ache for that which was familiar — my childhood home, my beautiful mother,

my brothers,

my grandmother who lived down the road,

the beach community where sunbathing mothers sat on the jetty in aluminum foldup chairs knitting wool sweaters designed by local guru PS Straker, occasionally stopping to do mom things like rebait a child’s drop line. I can see my mom knitting my pink Candide cabled crewneck sweater– apparently, the same pattern my friend Suzy’s mom knit for her.

For old times’ sake, I walked the well-worn path around our hamlet, affectionately known as the “DONUT.” I was doing just that when I met Joan in front of her house. She said, Hello, and that was all the prompting I needed to tell her my childhood life story and how her house was once my second home. What could she do but invite me in? When I walked in and saw the narrow steps leading to the upstairs bedrooms, my eyes welled up. How often had my cousins and I run up and down those stairs?

After a lovely visit with Joan and a few more impromptu visits with former neighbors (Nina, Suzy, and Erin), I drove home. My heart was full; how affirming is it to be remembered and welcomed by old friends fifty years later? Crazy as it may sound, even the cottages, whose gabled roofs my brothers and I routinely climbed when the summer folk left, seemed to wink as I walked by.

The Cookie Recipe

Well, that is the story behind this ginger cookie. It is as much a story about the power of radical hospitality and returning to one’s roots as it is about a cookie

A few notes about the ingredients:

Molasses and Sorghum Syrup

You can use molasses or sorghum in this recipe. I tested both, plus blackstrap molasses, a medicinal-tasting syrup many cooks say not to use for baking. They were all good. A little research showed that three cycles of boiling and crystallization of sugar beets or cane are required to make refined sugar. With each stage of processing, more sugar is extracted and the molasses, a byproduct of sugar production, becomes a little less sweet. Regular molasses has been through two extractions and blackstrap has been through three, making it more minerally dense.

Sorghum syrup, on the other hand, is made by boiling down juice extracted from sorghum cane. It has an earthy taste and is delicious on biscuits. Check out Raising Sorghum Cane to Make Sorghum Syrup to learn how it is made. I have a friendly relationship with Kentucky farmers who grow, harvest, and cook sorghum. I prefer it to molasses and substitute it cup for cup.

Measuring Flour
I weigh flour for consistent baking results. Place a bowl on a kitchen scale, zero out the bowl’s weight, and pour in flour until the scale reads 1 pound, 6 ounces. It’s easy peasy.

Sifting Dry Ingredients Together
In the old days (when I was a kid), cooks used a mechanical sifter to mix dry ingredients. You don’t see sifters much anymore; nowadays, cooks place dry ingredients in a bowl and whisk them together.

Portioning out the Dough
Bakeries use cookie scoops to portion dough to achieve consistent baking results. I once took a deep dive into the world of cookie scoops and learned that each scoop has a tiny number engraved on it that tells a baker how many cookies they will get from one quart of dough (or of ice cream, their initial intended use). Here’s a link: Cookie Scoops as a Unit of Measure. Who knew?

Sugar Topping
The cookies are topped with coarse-grained sugar, giving them a beautiful finish. Joan introduced me to King Arthur’s Sparkling White Sugar. It’s a game changer for providing cookies that have that bakery look. The crystals do not dissolve while cooking. An alternative is turbinado or plain sugar.

Yield: 4 dozen, 3-inch cookies


The recipe I have written is a doubled version of Joan’s. The cookies have a long shelf life, freeze well, and are happily received as gifts; it makes sense to double it and only mess up the kitchen once.

½  cup coarse-grained sugar
5 cups (22 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons ground ginger
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1½ cups (3 sticks) butter at room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
½ cup sorghum or unsulfured molasses
2 large eggs

Mise en Place

Preheat oven to 350º.
Use 3 ungreased cookie sheets.

Place the ½ cup of coarse-grained sugar for sprinkles in a shallow bowl and set aside.

Mix flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves in a medium bowl. Use a whisk to thoroughly mix. Set aside.

Beat butter and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Be sure to pause and scrape sides and bottom of bowl with a spatula.

Add sorghum (or molasses) and eggs. Beat until well-blended, about one minute.

Add flour mixture. Mix slowly until white flour streaks disappear, about 30 seconds. At this point, you could cover dough and put in fridge and bake later.

Portion dough using a #40 cookie scoop, about a heaping teaspoon. Each 3-inch cookie weighs ~1 ounce. For ease, I portion out all the dough at once and then roll each into smooth balls.

Dunk each ball’s top half into the sugar bowl and arrange on a cookie sheet about 2-inches apart.

Bake in a preheated oven until cookies are golden, have puffed up, cracked on top, and started to deflate; about 12-15 minutes. You may have to fool around with the cooking time. Reposition pans in oven halfway through cooking. Do not overbake. Remove from oven, let stand for two minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool. I think the cookies taste best a few hours after baking.

Related Posts from Bay View Neighbors:

My aunt, who lived in Joan’s house, is famous for Auntie’s Italian Fried Cauliflower.

Another of my aunts from Bay View makes this delicious entrée, Rachelle’s Italian Sausage, Onions, and Peppers.

My cousin is famous for Marion’s Crazy Good Pumpkin Bread with Chocolate Chips.

Erin McHugh, author of Pickleball, is Lifeis featured in this Thanksgiving favorite, Mrs. Walker’s Cranberry Nut Pie.

My husband, The Biscuit King, is famous for his step-by-step biscuit-making recipe the results of which are best slathered in butter and sorghum.

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© 2014-2022 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may not be reproduced without the written consent of Judy Wright.

A Biography Tour with My Mom in Rochester, NY: A Remembrance

A few weeks ago, I went home to Rhode Island for a quick overnight visit. My husband and I had a great meal with my brothers, their families, and my stepfather. We prepared the meal together. While I sat at the table, I thought, This is great, Mom may not be here, but the family still has it; we know how to get a meal on the table. Life goes on. Someone sets the table, someone clears it, my brothers crack jokes the way they always have, and the dog sniffs around under the table looking for handouts. Both Mom’s presence and absence were felt. Her legacy of bringing the family together around the dinner table remained.

That brings me to this photo from our childhood when we lived in Bay View, in South Dartmouth, Massachusetts. My mother, a single, working woman, always got a hot meal on the table for dinner and looked good doing it.

The photo has lingered on my desktop for months for reasons unknown to me. Yesterday, it hit me. With the third anniversary of my mother’s death looming, this photo reminded me of my mother when she was Towanda-Mom. Thirty-two, divorced, beautiful, and working full-time while raising five children. She was full of spunk and life and had boundless love and compassion for others. She always tried to live her best life. She died three years ago yesterday. This photo reminded me of that inner strength and beauty and dogged insistence on sitting around the table for meals.

Mom and I and Our Excellent Adventure: a Remembrance 

In the summer of 2007, Mom and I received an invitation to a party for my Great-Aunt Mary’s 90th birthday in Rochester, New York. Rochester is where my Sicilian grandparents settled, met, married, and started their family amongst many other immigrant families from Valquarnera Caropepe, a mountaintop village in Sicily. This is a postcard my grandmother had of Valguarnera from the Fifties.

I had heard stories about Rochester throughout my childhood and into adulthood, but I had never visited the city. I have many recipes with Rochester relatives’ names on them like Margaret’s Italian Cookies, Aunt Mary’s Zucchini Casserole, and Aunt Rose’s Cookies. I can recall references to my mother’s former home addresses with comments that began with when we lived on Clifton Road, on Lake Avenue, or on Sodus Bay on Lake Ontario. I remembered stories my immigrant grandfather told us about the factories where he worked, notably Fashion Park and Bond Clothes, where he rose to be general manager of the plant and their baseball team. He loved baseball and was a scout for the Yankees. I wanted to see it all, these oft-described places and people whose names I knew by heart.

I called my mother and told her we should go to Rochester; I’d help her get there. I made the airline arrangements and reserved a car. Mom’s cousin, Mary Lou, invited us to stay with her. Everything fell into place. When we arrived, I told Mary Lou and her husband, Jimmy, I wanted to spend the next day bringing Mom to all of the special places of her childhood. My good friend, Corabel, refers to such tours as Biography Tours. Jimmy thankfully insisted on driving us. I tucked this photo of my mother and her family on Sodus Bay in my purse. Bringing Mom to her childhood beach house, a place full of happy memories, was something I had wanted to do for her for a very long time. This photo was my inspiration for the journey.

We were off on our tour the next morning. Our first stop was Mom’s grade school, Holy Cross. The school was closed, but the janitor let us in and opened up her fourth-grade classroom for her. She was thrilled.

We visited her church.

We went to her favorite frozen custard stand. I had never heard of frozen custard.

We went to Clifford Avenue home.

We went to the area of her Lake Avenue home, but that neighborhood had been redeveloped, and her house was gone. Jimmy brought us to see where Fashion Park and Bond Clothing once stood. Afterward, we drove to Lake Ontario. It took almost an hour to get there. Mom said we took the same route she always took as a child, past the homes where she and her sister would count WW2 military stars hanging in windows. She explained it was a game they played to pass the time. She quickly followed up by saying she didn’t understand the significance of the stars at the time.

When we got to Sodus Bay, Mom had no idea where to direct Jimmy to drive. Although I knew she didn’t have an address for the old house, I was hoping she would be able to guide us there once she recognized familiar landmarks, but such wasn’t the case. Personally, I hadn’t anticipated the town would be so big and the bay so vast. I became skeptical about being able to find the house. Talk about finding a needle in a haystack. We were toast.

We pulled into a marina and asked an attendant for help. Without any useful clues to offer, the conversation didn’t get very far. Suddenly shy, my mother told the attendant all she remembered was a long beach with a road between her house and the water. The attendant patiently brought up possible landmarks to help her remember the area. When he asked if there were bluffs nearby, Mom’s face lit up. She remembered the bluffs. The attendant asked if they were called Chimney Bluffs. “Yes,” Mom said, beaming.

The attendant gave us a map and circled the area where the bluffs were located. We drove to Chimney Bluffs, but it was a State Park, so there were no homes on the property. We drove to the beach, where we found a small parking lot by the water. We got out and looked around. There were no houses in sight. Nonetheless, Mom was happy to be back on Sodus Bay, and I took this photo of her.

The story doesn’t end there, though. We sat on the beach for a while, taking in the sea air and the moment. After a while, content with how far this goose chase had taken us, Mom was ready to head back to town, not wishing to inconvenience her cousin any longer. She didn’t think we would find the house in this area because the landmark she remembered, the road between the shoreline and the embankment, was nowhere to be found.

As I sat on the beach with my mother, I started to have a case of the heebie geebies. I felt we were close. I told my mother I was going for a walk down the beach. My mother took this photo of the beach as I walked away.

As I walked, I poked in and out of the trees, looking for a field with a white house on a slight hill. Nothing. Just a lot of empty fields. Suddenly, I felt an aura, whether it emanated from my grandmother or the house, I cannot say, but I sensed I was very close. Between the next opening in the trees, I saw this: a white house on a slight slope, just like the picture I had brought from home.

My heart started racing. I took a photo of the house and ran back to my mother. My mother was not convinced. I got everyone back in the car, and we drove down the country road to find the house. We saw a white house up on a hill with a long driveway.  We turned into the driveway. Still convinced we were in the wrong area, my mother warned us not to trespass, but I looked at Jimmy, and my eyes said keep driving. Here is a Google image of the area.

I got out of the car and knocked on the front door. A man came out to greet us. He seemed friendly enough, so I told him our saga from beginning to end. He grinned and said this house had to be the right one because it was over 100 years old and had been the only house on the coast for many years. He gave us a tour, and then Mom, Jimmy, and the owner visited on the sunporch while I walked around the property, taking pictures. It was all quite thrilling.

Old photos I found after the trip.

Here, my grandmother is pumping water by the front door while my mother and her sister sit on a bench. I saw remnants of the water pipe when I walked around the property.

Here is my mother in her two-piece bathing suit.

Grandma, my mother’s younger sister, Carol, and their dog, Queenie.

I love this shot of all the women on the beach. Not surprisingly, my grandmother is wearing an apron.

Mom was right-on about the road between the house and the beach. I found this photo after our visit.

Adorable Mom at her beach house, sixty years later.

The next day we went to the birthday party. I loved watching my mother greet one long-lost relative after another. Here she is with the birthday girl, Aunt Mary.

Here I am standing between my two beautiful and spunky great-aunts.

Like for my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents before me, much of life still happens around the dinner table. The strong, faithful women in our family made sure the meals served to us were nutritious and delicious and remained a family event, one that always started with the Catholic prayer of gratitude: Bless us, oh Lord, and these, Thy gifts, which we are about to receive, through Thy bounty. Through Christ, our Lord, Amen. We at the children’s table could recite that prayer in under three seconds.

Related Posts:
A Birthday Tribute for My Mother: Knitting Neck Warmers with Mom’s Stash
Italian Sesame Seed Cookies
Aunt Bridget’s Chicken Soup with Tiny Meatballs
We, Will, Remember Them

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© 2014-2020 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

Italian Sesame Seed Cookies

When a cookie can transport me back to a summer afternoon in the jalousie-windowed sunporch of my grandmother’s house, complete with a tableful of visiting Italian relatives sipping coffee, that’s a pretty powerful cookie.

Such was the case when, after many attempts, I came up with a recipe for these Italian Sesame Seed Cookies. When I finally got it right, I fixed a cup of coffee and dunked the cookie in; the ultimate taste test. The taste was just as I remembered: light, buttery, nutty, and slightly crunchy, all of it made even more flavorful by the milky coffee. I didn’t normally drink coffee as a young girl, but when the sesame seed cookies were out, my grandmother gave me a cup so I could dunk with everyone else. Heaven on Earth.

Sesame Seeds

Sesame seeds come from the fruit pod of the sesame plant.

Once the pods dry, they open up and the seeds fall out. Open Sesame! I was so enamored by the process, I grew my own small crop.

When baking with sesame seeds, use hulled, untoasted seeds. I purchase them at the Indian grocery store Patel Brothers in Nashville or from the bulk dispenser at Whole Foods. You need about two cups.


Life for many seeds and nuts laden with oils, sesame seeds become rancid when sitting in a cupboard for a long period of time. Thus, if you are not going to finish the package soon after opening it, store it in the refrigerator or freezer. A rancid nut or seed can quickly ruin any savory or sweet dish. Often, you can tell if the seeds or nuts are rancid simply by the smell. Even without a rancid smell, I do a taste test to be sure.


1 cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1½-2 cups untoasted sesame seeds
⅔ cup milk

Mise en Place:

Preheat oven to 350º. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Cream butter in a mixing bowl on medium speed for one minute. Add the sugar and beat for another minute until the batter is light and fluffy.

Add eggs and vanilla and mix one more minute, still on medium speed.

Combine baking powder, salt, and flour with a wire whisk.


Add dry ingredients to batter. Mix on slow for 30 seconds. Do not overwork the dough.

Spread flour on countertop and fold dough over on itself about ten times.

Divide dough into four equal sections.

Roll each portion into ¾-inch thick ropes and slice those into two-inch pieces. My relatives would pull off a clump of dough and roll each cookie into a small oval log, but I like to do it this way because there is less handling of the dough.

Set-up two wide-mouthed bowls, one with milk and one with sesame seeds. Put about a cup of milk in one and 1½ cups of sesame seeds in the other. Pick up about 5 pieces of dough and put them in the milk. Then lift each piece of dough and roll it in the bowl of sesame seeds.


Arrange dough on parchment-lined sheet pans.

Bake for about 25-30 minutes, or until cookies become lightly browned. Let cool for five minutes and then move cookies to a cooling rack.

Other Italian Faves:
Italian Ricotta and Lemon Cookies
Rachelle’s Italian Sausage, Onions, and Peppers
Grandma’s Italian Fried Cauliflower
@judyschickens Everyday Salad Dressing
50 Ways to Make a Frittata
Aunt Bridget’s Chicken Soup with Little Meatballs

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© 2014-2020 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may not be reproduced without the written consent of Judy Wright.

Mrs. Lombard’s Portuguese Kale Soup

If I were to play a word-association game with my brothers about the elderly babysitters we had growing up in the Sixties in Bay View, our beloved, bucolic coastal neighborhood in Massachusetts, it would go like this:

Sting (sic) Bean Casserole”: Mrs. DeMers
She was elderly, gentle, and lived across the road from us. Her voice was thin and wispy just like she.

“Mulligan Stew”: Mrs. Townsend
She and Mr. Towsend were retired, very Irish, and lived next door. It seemed like she always had a pot of mulligan stew simmering on the stove. Mulligan stew is a beef and vegetable stew similar to burgoo. If we got locked out of the house, the Townsends had the spare key.

“Kale Soup”: Mrs. Lombard
Mrs. Lombard was Portuguese, retired, and had buried three husbands by the time she came to live with us as a housekeeper and babysitter. She stayed with us on weekdays and went to her own home on weekends.

She arrived at our house on the heels of many promising live-in sitters who lasted only a few days. Apparently, five children were a lot to manage. Not so for Mrs. Lombard. She drove up our driveway in her silver-green 1953 Chrysler New Yorker land yacht with her strong, solid build and pinned-up long dark hair, fully confident in her ability to wrangle up and care for our large family.


Mrs. Lombard was tough and her unfiltered comments to us kids and our friends were legendary. For example, my brothers’ socks were so dirty they “stood up by themselves,” and I had “male nails,” short and wide fingernails that would “always be that way.” Sadly, she was right about that. She was our Mrs. Doubtfire. She kept us in line and took care of our hard-working mother, too. The last time I saw her was at my wedding. She was in her nineties. It was lovely to be in her presence, to hear her voice again, and to know she was still full of vim and vigor.

The only meal I remember Mrs. Lombard ever making for us was kale soup, also known as caldo verde (green broth). I can still see the tall Revere soup pot on the stove filled to the brim with knobs of white potatoes bobbing in and out of a sea of dark-green kale. The broth was tinged with orange from the juice of the linguica sausage. I have worked for years to recreate this beautiful, tasty soup and finally figured it out by reading through many versions of it in my mother’s vintage collection of plastic spiral-bound community cookbooks from that geographical area and time period.

Kale Soup


A few words about ingredients:

The key ingredient in kale soup is a smoke-cured Portuguese sausage called Linguica (lin-gwee-sah). Linguica is made with pork and paprika, garlic, pepper, and sometimes cinnamon, coriander or cumin. There is another Portuguese sausage that is very similar called chouriço (not the same as chorizo, a Mexican sausage). In the absence of linguica, I would use either chouriço or andouille. Or, and I have done this before, use a spicy Italian sausage and make it an Italian Kale Soup.


I suggest using unsalted chicken broth instead of a salted broth. The linguica brings plenty of saltiness of its own. Too much salt can quickly make this soup go from tasting delicious to tasting like a briny bath of sea water. Carefully add salt to taste.

If you are using a fresh bunch of kale, prepare it the same way I prepped the collards for this recipe only cut the logs of kale into two-inch wide slices. I would not use young leaves of kale as they will disintegrate too quickly when cooked. Some people prefer their caldo verde with collards. That works just as well. Occasionally, I add a half cup of chopped cilantro or parsley to the soup during the last minute of cooking, for more flavor and to make the broth greener.

Lastly, many cooks from our area of the southeastern coast of Massachusetts add a pound of lima beans to the soup. I enjoy that, as well, but I’ve come to prefer the simple and pure flavor of just the kale, potatoes and sausage.

Yield: 4 quarts


⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 pound linguica smoked sausage, sliced (sold locally at Publix)
1 medium onion (2 cups or ½ pound), peeled and roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, smashed and sliced
4 large Yukon Gold potatoes (about 5 cups or 2 pounds), unpeeled
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
4 cups unsalted chicken broth
4 cups hot water
1 pound kale, chopped into 2-inch pieces (could substitute collards)
Add more sea salt and black pepper to taste
½ cup cilantro or parsley, chopped (optional)

Mise en Place:

Rinse and dry linguica sausages. Slice into bite-sized pieces.
dsc_0735 dsc_0737

Prep onions and garlic as described and set aside. Prep potatoes into bite-sized chunks and set aside. Gold potatoes hold their shape better than white potatoes and have a nice buttery taste, so I suggest using them.



Coat bottom of a six-quart sauté pan with olive oil. Add linguica to warmed oil and sauté for about three minutes on medium-high heat. Avoid overcooking the linguica which makes it leathery and tasteless.


Use a serrated spoon to remove sausage into a small bowl. Set aside meat.

Add onions and garlic into the linguica flavored oil that remains. Sauté for five minutes over medium heat until the onions are soft and translucent.


Add the potatoes, broth, salt, and crushed red pepper. Bring broth to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer for ten minutes.


Remove 1 cup of potatoes and 1 cup of broth from the pan and put them in a food processor. Purée for about 15 seconds until mixture is smooth. Set aside.


Add four cups of hot water to the potatoes in the sauté pan and bring to a boil. Once the water boils, add about half the kale to the pan. Stir it down. As the kale collapses, continuing adding more kale until it all fits in the pan. Add the puréed potatoes and the linguica and stir everything together.


Simmer for about 15 minutes on low heat. The soup will taste equally delicious the next day. I’ve never tried freezing it.


Serve with a nice crusty bread.

Other great soups:
Aunt Bridget’s Chicken Soup with Little Meatballs
Sick Soup, Sometimes Known as Snow Day Soup
Kelly’s Duck Stew
Mrs. Walker’s Cranberry Nut Pie


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© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.