Revisiting the Diary Years: Grandma’s Sunbeam Mixmaster Mixer and her Molasses Cookie Recipe

molasses cookiesIf you are looking for a hundred-year-old recipe, come back next week. This week, I’m revisiting the early days of this blog – and including a 70-year-old recipe for Soft Molasses Cookies to boot.

I began A Hundred Years Ago in 2011 to post my grandmother’s diary entries a hundred years to the day after she wrote them. My grandmother, Helena Muffly [Swartz] kept the diary from 1911 to 1914 when she was a teen living on a farm near McEwensville in central Pennsylvania. After I posted all the diary entries, I reinvented A Hundred Years Ago to its current focus on food. Today I’m going to go back to those diary years —

When I was a child, I lived about a mile from Grandma – and most of her other grandchildren also lived nearby. But one of Grandma’s daughters lived in the Philadelphia area with her husband and three children. It was always a special occasion when those cousins visited.

I recently received a comment on a post I did about Grandma’s cookies from Pat Donaldson, one of my “Philadelphia” cousins. She then followed up with an email. She wrote:

I too remember Grandma’s cookies fondly. We’d come to visit, and her cookie jar would always be full, with either Molasses or Peanut Butter cookies. The Molasses cookies were soft, with a dark crinkly top, and the Peanut Butter cookies had the trademark cross-hatching on them. We’d eat the cookies as we ran in and out of the house playing tag.

Later, when we were grown and attending a wedding we talked about those cookies and found how scarcely they were given out to our cousins, who would have to ask for just one very politely. They were scandalized that we just reached in and ate them! But we were only there one weekend a month, and Grandma never said a word about our cookie habit – just kept the cookie jar full for us.

After her funeral, we were all given a chance to take home one item to remember Grandma by. I chose her Sunbeam mixer, which came with a little cookbook. The mixer was a Sunbeam Mixmaster 10, which was sold around 1950. Since I was in college and needed a mixer, that’s what I chose.  It lasted quite a while – decades at least.  The recipe book came with the mixer

Inside the cookbook I found recipes for molasses and peanut butter cookies. I’m not sure about the peanut butter cookies – but the molasses cookies have an “X” next to the recipe, and I’m fairly sure they’re the ones Grandma baked. I’ve scanned the pages from the recipe book. The Sunbeam cookbook is still a bit recent for your food blog – but the cookies can be eaten any time.

p.s.: One year when we were visiting we went exploring in the attic, and found Grandma’s cookie stash. She must have baked dozens and dozens of them, and they were all sitting in a box waiting to go into the cookie jar as soon as we emptied it. That solved the mystery of how Grandma’s cookie jar could always be full, when we never saw her baking cookies!

Here’s the first page of the little cookbook that came with the mixer::First page of cookbook with photo of a Sunbeam Mixmaster Mixer

And, here’s the recipe in the cookbook (with Grandma’s “X” marking it as a recipe she had made):

molasses cookie recipe
Source: Cookbook included with Sunbeam Mixmaster (circa 1950)

Of course, I had to try Grandma’s (i.e., the Sunbeam Mixmaster Cookbook) Soft Molasses Cookie recipe. The cookies turned out wonderfully. They were soft and chewy with just the right mixture of spices and raisins. Making the cookies with a mixer was very 1950’s, but the cookies are definitely a wonderful, traditional, soft molasses cookie that brought back fond memories of Grandma, her kitchen, and wonderful times playing with my cousins.

Grandma’s April Fools’ Pranks

19-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Wednesday, December 16, 1914: <<no entry>>

Photo source: The Newspaper Holder.com
Photo source: The Newspaper Holder.com

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Another day with no diary entry . . . sigh. . . so I’ll continue the story about Grandma’s sense of humor when she was an older woman.

My aunt mentioned in yesterday’s post that her mother (Grandma) always enjoyed a good joke or story. She also told me how much Grandma enjoyed playing pranks on April Fools’ Day.

There are several versions of the April Fools story (or maybe Grandma did similar pranks a couple different years). Here’s how my cousin Anne Marie told the April Fools’ day story in a guest post several years ago:

One April Fools’ Day Grandma took an old newspaper from her basement and carefully glued all of the pages together and quietly placed it in our newspaper box. I can still hear Mom laughing when she tried to read the paper that day and it didn’t take her long to figure out who the prankster was.

 

Why Did Grandma Never Mention Grandpa in the Diary?

19-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Monday, December 14, 1914: <<no entry>>

Raymond Swartz (1915), Senior photo in the Milton High School Yearbook
Raymond Swartz (1915), Senior photo in the Milton High School Yearbook

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

One of the biggest mysteries about Grandma’s diary has never been fully resolved. Grandma obviously knew my grandfather, Raymond Swartz, during the years when she was writing the diary, but she never mentioned him in it. Why?

They both were members of the 1913 graduating class at McEwensville High School. There were only 6 students in the class. But Grandma was 3 ½ years older than Grandpa. She was 18 when they graduated from high school; he was 14 ½ years old. My guess is that he skipped several grades in school.

Recent photo of the building that once was the McEwensville School. The high school was on the second floor. There was an elementary school on the first floor.
Recent photo of the building that once was the McEwensville School. The high school was on the second floor. There was an elementary school on the first floor.
commencement.program.1
1913 commencement program that contains both my grandmother’s and grandfather’s names.

This is what Aunt Eleanor (Grandma’s daughter) said when I asked her when Grandma and Grandpa started dating:

They probably never had much contact with each other outside of school. Geographically they came to and from school and/or church in different directions As I understand it, Daddy finished up at McEwensville and then went to Milton High School for his junior and senior years. Then he continued to farm with his father. My theory is that he started thinking about getting married when he was around 20 or 21 years old and, looking around at the eligible females, remembered that sweet Helen Muffly from school – or maybe church.

I can give you a little more detail about several of the things Aunt Eleanor mentioned. Grandpa lived on a farm south of McEwensville; Grandma on one west of McEwensville. So even though it was a very small community, they would have taken different roads when walking to and from school.

McEwensville High School was an old-fashioned classical high school; whereas Milton High School was a new modern comprehensive one with various programs and tracks that included things like business courses. Some students (like Grandpa) continued their education at Milton after they completed the program at McEwensville.

Made the Most Wonderful __________

19-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Monday, December 7, 1914:  <<no entry>>

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons
Angle Food Cake Pan (Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

I’ve gotten to know Grandma as a teen very well over the past few years—and I remember what she was like as an older woman when she was my grandmother. But as the diary winds down, I realized that I didn’t know much about what Grandma was like during her middle years—the years when she was raising her family.

So I went to the experts—her children. Today, I’d like to share Aunt Eleanor’s food memories:

As I get older I appreciate more and more that Mom put food on the table three times a day, day after day after day, year in, year out. There wasn’t much elegance about it, but by and large it was good food.

Probably because I married into a family which emphasized presentation and because in truth I was a guest at their company meals, I began to think my mother wasn’t a very good cook. The things I was zeroing in on were the occasional overcooking of meats and a relaxed attitude about cookie ingredients and baking times.

BUT the gravy was wonderful and in her words the cookies “always went.” In speaking of her until recently, I would say, “My mother’s cooking wasn’t great, but she did make a wonderful _______, and that blank could be her vegetable soup (I ate until I was tight as a tick), her angel food cake (before the advent of electric mixers!), her pies (my husband raves about the raspberry custard ones), her cinnamon rolls, etc., etc.

Until she gave in and bought store stuff, she baked loaf after loaf of very good bread, home-canned, and made noodles and deep-fried doughnuts. I’m fairly sure she even made deep-fried potato chips a few times.

And, like Aunt Eleanor, as I get older, I realize that I also appreciate the simple foods that I grew up eating more and more.   My friends eat sushi and fusion foods—while I enjoy trying to replicate the old recipes of my ancestors.



Grandma’s Bake-a-thon
continues. See previous post for  information about how to participate.

Baking Failures Can Make Wonderful Memories

19-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Sunday, December 6, 1914: <<no entry>>

Photo Source: Herbert Hoover Memorial Library
Photo Source: Herbert Hoover Memorial Library

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

As we send Grandma off to live the rest of her life with the Bake-a-thon, I had an “ah ha” moment. Sometimes our best baking memories are the failures rather than the successes.

I recently told Uncle Carl (Grandma’s son) about my plans for the Bake-a-thon. He thought for a moment and then said:

You know, Mom’s cookies weren’t always the best. She’d burn them.

When, she did that, she’d say, “They’ll go.”

And, they did “go” because kids were always hungry.

Mom used that expression without any sense of guilt in burning them.  We were grateful to get them, and they were still very good, as was the homemade bread, which never seemed to get burned.

You must remember they were baked in the oven of a coal or wood fired stove without any thermometer.  That requires quite a bit of guess work.

Uncle Carl’s comment made me think about my first draft of the post I did about my memories of baking cookies. It originally included a paragraph about the time we forgot to put baking powder into the chocolate cookies. (It was a too many cooks thing).

After I’d written that paragraph, I decided that a story about a cookie failure didn’t belong in a post about baking memories so I deleted it. I now realize that I should have kept that paragraph.

Both baking successes and baking failures have the makings of wonderful memories.

Photo of Happy Women

19-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Thursday, September 3, 1914:  My pictures arrived this morning. I was more than satisfied with the result and could hardly keep my eyes off of them the whole day. One picture especially is a beauty. It is a picture of the girls sitting on the rocks, and all three are laughing.

Alma Derr, Rachel Oakes, and Ruth Muffly at Niagara Falls (Caption order may not be correct; Uncertain of the order; of the women)
Alma Derr, Rachel Oakes, and Ruth Muffly at Niagara Falls (Caption order may not be correct; Uncertain of the order of the women)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

I’m only aware of one photo that Grandma took which still exists, and I find it amazing that Grandma again mentioned it in the diary. Grandma must have had an uncanny sense from the moment she took the photo during the trip to Niagara Falls that it was going to be special. On August 18, 1914 she wrote:

Arrived at the hotel. We rubbed up a little and started out again to the falls a second time. We lingered a long time, loath to leave the spot. I took a shot at the girls sitting on the rocks. The funny part of it was, they sat so nice and quiet, after I had pressed the button, and could hardly believe the picture had been taken.

Grandma apparently liked the photo enough to frame it, which probably facilitated its survival across the years. My cousin Alice now has the photo. I’m going to repost a portion of what Alice wrote about it:

. . . I love the picture so much. It still hangs in my office and I enjoy looking at it every day. Everyone looks so happy.

And, I tingle when I think about how the picture has brightened people’s lives for a hundred years. Grandma enjoyed looking at the happy faces a hundred years ago, and Alice equally enjoys looking at them now.

A Photo That Grandma Took!

19-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Tuesday, August 18, 1914:  Don’t just know the time we got up at this morning, but it wasn’t very early. We went to the station where we secured tickets for the trip around the gorge. After we had gone several squares we caught a glimpse of the Niagara River, and soon afterwards we were looking upon the majestic beauty of the Niagara Falls. The falls seen from Goat Island. It was indescribable. No pen of mine can ever tell the grandeur of that place. I stood and looked and was thrilled with the beauty of it all. Surely the Great God above us has wrought many beautiful things. We next saw the Horseshoe Falls, and the mist coming up from below. I took my first picture of the girls on a bridge nearby. We traveled on until we reached the Canadian side. We stopped there were we entered some kind of a building. After climbing about four flights of stairs, we came out on a balcony. From there we could obtain a view of both falls. We then went down again, donned rubber coats and overshoes and proceeded by way of an elevator to an underground tunnel. We came out under the fall at three different places. The roar was deafening, but we had lots of fun. When we came back, we had our pictures taken in our rubber costumes.

We got back to the hotel in the early part of the afternoon after having visited Queenstown Heights. I was impressed with Brock’s monument. Took two pictures there, and Alma took one. The ride along the river was a lovely one, while the rapids took up all my attention.

Arrived at the hotel. We rubbed up a little and started out again to the falls a second time. We lingered a long time, loath to leave the spot. I took a shot at the girls sitting on the rocks. The funny part of it was, they sat so nice and quiet, after I had pressed the button, and could hardly believe the picture had been taken.

We went out to the movies this evening. One was so dreadfully funny. My sides fairly ached from laughing. We came back to the hotel and packed up.

Alma Derr, Rachel Oakes, and Ruth Muffly at Niagara Falls (Caption order may not be correct; Uncertain of the order; of the women)
Alma Derr, Rachel Oakes, and Ruth Muffly at Niagara Falls (Caption order may not be correct; uncertain of the order of the women)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

What an amazing trip! I’m going to focus on one small part of what Grandma wrote because I think that it is one of the most amazing parts of the diary. My cousin Alice Chepiga actually has one of the photos mentioned in this entry—the one of the girls sitting on the rocks.

Here is Alice’s story:

My Dad and I were cleaning out sheds on our farm outside of McEwensville, probably around the summer of 1977 or 1978. That is when we found the picture. I had just bought my first house and was delighted to have some pictures to hang. There were several other pictures from the Muffly and Swartz family.

I love the picture so much. It still hangs in my office and I enjoy looking at it every day. Everyone looks so happy.