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

Ingredients:

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

Instructions
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.

Roasted Butternut Squash, Brussels Sprouts, and Cranberries

I can not get enough of sweet, roasted chunks of butternut squash in the fall. I like to keep a whole cooked squash in the fridge to use in salads where the bright orange squash chunks take the place of tomatoes, or for use in warm, hearty grain salads made with onions, peppers, kale, and farro. Recently, I picked up a few butternut squashes and Brussels sprouts at a farmstand and roasted them with olive oil, salt, and garlic pepper.  When they came out of the oven, I sprinkled them with dried cranberries and a drizzle of sorghum syrup. The result was as colorful as it was yummy.
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Prepping butternut squash can be a challenge. The shell is hard to peel, and it feels like you are risking life and limb when you try to cut into one. I make a shudder/squirm movement everytime I make that first cut as I try to shake off the image of me lopping off one of my fingers. Here is a cooking tip, so none of us will ever have to face that scenario, microwave the squash for a few minutes to soften the shell and then peel and slice it. To do this, cut the tips off of each end of the squash, scoop out the seeds with a spoon, pierce the squash up and down its length with a fork, and microwave for three to five minutes depending on whether the squash is cold or at room temperature.
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The Recipe
Yield: makes 8-9 cups

Ingredients:
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2 pounds Brussels sprouts, stem trimmed and quartered
4 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed
⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon McCormick’s Garlic Pepper
⅔ cup dried cranberries
2 heaping tablespoons sorghum syrup or honey

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 400º

Prep Brussels sprouts: wash, dry, trim the stem, and quarter lengthwise.
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Prep butternut squash. Microwave to soften shell and then peel, slice into discs, and dice into bite-sized pieces.
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Toss butternut squash, Brussels sprouts, olive oil, salt, and garlic pepper in a bowl. Spread into two parchment-lined, rimmed baking sheets.
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Roast for 20 minutes and then rotate pans on oven racks. Cook until done, about 20 minutes more. Remove pans from oven and immediately add about a third of a cup of cranberries and a heaping tablespoon of sorghum (or honey) to each pan. Stir together in a bowl and serve.
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Here it is served with Brooks’s recipe for Pork Tenderloin and Perfect Rice Every Time!

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Favorite Fall Desserts
Marion’s Crazy Good Pumpkin Bread with Chocolate Chips
Mom’s Pumpkin Pie
Mom’s Apple Pie with a Cheddar Streusel Topping
Mrs. Walker’s Cranberry Nut Pie
Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie
Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce and Whipped Cream

Always check the website for the most current version of a recipe.

© 2014-2018 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

@judyschickens Homemade Healthy Super Delicious Granola

When I started making my own granola, the family couldn’t get enough of it. Yes, it was nutritionally dense and packed with protein, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants, but it was also sweet and salty, making it addictive and high in calories.

Granola

I recently read Michael Moss’s bestseller, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. He wrote, “To make a new soda guaranteed to create a craving requires the high math of regression analysis and intricate charts to plot what industry insiders call the “bliss point,” or the precise amount of sugar or fat or salt that will send consumers over the moon.” With the concept of the bliss point in mind, I began tailoring my recipe to reign in the salt and sugar content and decrease the calories. I had to make quite a few batches to get to a healthier and tolerable bliss point.

Here is a list of the dry ingredients and their corresponding nutritional attributes (starting with the bowl of coconut at the top of the photo):

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Coconut: fiber, iron, zinc
Pecans: antioxidants, vitamin E, protein
Craisins: antioxidants, fiber
Ground Flax Seed: omega 3’s, fiber, protein & lignans
Raw Pumpkin Seeds: magnesium, zinc, omega 3’s
Brown Sugar: calcium, iron
Wheat Germ: vitamin E & folic acid
Raw Sunflower Seeds: vitamin E & magnesium
Almonds: protein, fiber, vitamin E, minerals
Old-Fashioned Rolled Oats: lowers LDL cholesterol, fiber
Chia seeds: high in fiber and protein

Ingredients:
granola
8 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
½ cup brown sugar
2 cups wheat germ
1 cup ground flax seed (optional)
1 cup raw, unsalted sunflower seeds
1 cup raw, unsalted, pumpkin seeds
2 cups chopped pecans or walnuts
1 cup slivered or sliced almonds
1 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut
¼ cup chia seeds (optional)
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons sea salt
⅔ cup extra-virgin olive oil
⅔ cup sorghum syrup (or honey)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup hot water
2 cups dried cranberries

Yield: 4.5 pounds

Preheat oven to 250º

Mix the oats, wheat germ, flax, brown sugar, seeds, nuts, coconut, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl.

Granola

Into a 4-cup liquid measure, pour ⅔ cup olive oil, add sorghum until it reaches the 1⅓ cup line, and add hot water until it reaches the 2⅓ cup line. Stir in vanilla and whisk until well mixed.

granola

Add liquid ingredients to dry ingredients and immediately mix until all ingredients are uniformly coated.

Pour mixture into two  13″ by 18″ rimmed baking pans.

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Bake for one hour, stirring every 20 minutes. Once out of the oven, add the cranberries and mix. The granola will become crunchy as it cools. Store in an airtight container when cooled. It freezes well.

Chia Seeds

Chia seeds add a nice crunch and are high in fiber and protein. “Chia” comes from the Mayan word for “strength, ” Apparently, athletes swear by them for improving endurance. The chia seeds are on the right. The flax seeds are on the left.

granola

A tasty and nutritious breakfast:

I enjoy having a half cup of granola with simple-to-make homemade plain yogurt or kefir for breakfast. Kefir is a slightly sour probiotic drink that has the consistency of liquid yogurt. If you add berries to the top, it’s like eating a sundae for breakfast!

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Related Breakfast Posts
Fruit and Nut Bread
The Biscuit King
The Navel Mary Way: How to Peel an Orange

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© 2014-2022 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

Raising Sorghum Cane to Make Sorghum Syrup

Last September, my husband and I were invited to watch a Mennonite family make sorghum syrup from stalks of sorghum we saw growing in a field all summer in Kentucky. The seeds were planted in April and the stalks were harvested from late August through September. While there are many varieties of sorghum grown, some for syrup, some for silage (animal feed), and still others for grain to be milled for flour, this family was growing their sorghum for syrup and silage.

The fields were gorgeous with their tall stalks, topped by a sea of golden bushy seed tassels. Up close, one can quickly see why sorghum is in the same grass family as corn, oats, and wheat; they all grow in the same way with long stems, broad leaves, and seed tassels full of kernels of millable grain.

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Sorghum cane usually grows from six to ten feet tall. It is exceptionally heat-tolerant, which may explain why it is often the last grass still green and standing in fields in the Southeast in September.

To harvest the cane, farmers strip off the leaves and remove the seed tassels. Next, the stalks are cut down as close to the ground as possible because that’s where most of the juice is found. The stalks are stacked on carts, and the carts are pulled by horses to the grinding shed.

We had been to this farm many times to buy eggs and vegetables but had never been down this dirt road to the sorghum processing shed. Our farmer friend told us to head for the tall smokestack, and there we would find the men boiling down the syrup.

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We passed an open shed on the right where the stalk grinder is located. Here, the sorghum stalks are fed into a set of rollers that press out the neon-colored juice.

Sorghum

If you have ever been to a historical demonstration of a sorghum pressing, you may have seen this same process, only back in the day, a mule was used to provide energy to pull the crank that rotated the rollers in the press. As the mule walked in a circle, sorghum juice poured from the press into a collection barrel. I found this image in a publication called Bittersweet.

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In Nashville, you can see a live demonstration of this process at the Music and Molasses Arts and Crafts Festival held annually in October at the Tennessee Agricultural Museum.

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At the Mennonite farm, a diesel-powered conveyor belt moves the waste from the pressed stalks to a cart.

where the sweet-tasting scraps are enjoyed by the workhorses, who transport it to the compost heap.

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There is beauty in the simplicity of this process.

Further down the road, we came to the cooking shed where the thin neon-green sorghum juice is cooked down to a thick syrup.

The pre-cooked juice is stored in the white tank located on the shelf on the left. The gray tank, on the right, is the boiler where steam is created to generate heat to cook down the syrup in the cooking pans located inside the white door.

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On the backside of the building, you can see the wood-burning furnace that heats the water in the boiler to create steam. The younger generation of boys is tasked with keeping the fires stoked while the older men, in the building on the right, boil down the juice.

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The steam, much hotter than boiling water, travels through pipes to the cooking room where it runs under a 75-foot maze of metal cooking trays. Ten gallons of juice will render one gallon of syrup. The steam in the room is created by the nine gallons of water boiled out of the juice. The steam is so thick you can barely see across the room.

Sorghum

The sorghum syrup starts out as a thin neon-green liquid loaded with not so tasty chlorophyll. The farmer uses a hoe-like tool to skim off the chlorophyll and other impurities on the liquid’s surface, as it boils up from the juice.

By the time the syrup reaches the end of the maze, it is ready to be filtered and jarred. Here the farmer scrapes the last bit of sweet foam off the syrup so there won’t be white foam streaks in the jar.

An old farmer I met in Nashville told me when he was growing up, there was a commercial sorghum mill in Crossville, and on the day they were cooking the syrup, all the mothers in town would send their kids to the mill with steel cups to scavenge the foam and bring it home. The mothers would use this gleaned sweetener to make cakes and biscuits. He said the foamy syrup was tasty and free!

Sorghum

The syrup drips through the filter into a barrel and from there is poured into jars of all sizes. It is sold in stores around the county.
Sorghum

Sorghum is enjoying quite a renaissance lately. I see it frequently listed as an ingredient on many restaurant menus. You can use it in almost any recipe that calls for honey, molasses, corn syrup, or pure maple syrup. That includes both sweet and savory dishes. It is high in iron, potassium, and calcium and is 100% natural with no chemical additives.

As we were getting ready to leave the farm, a young boy offered me a sorghum seed tassel. He had been picking off the kernels and eating them while we toured. I asked his dad if the seeds were good to eat. He told me, “Don’t eat them, PLANT them,” and he gave me a seed tassel. He instructed me to plant one red seed every six inches in the spring.

Sorghum

Our favorite way to enjoy sorghum is mixed with butter and spread on a biscuit! Check out my biscuit recipe here.

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Related Posts on Commercial Farming:

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Always check my blog for the latest version of a recipe.

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