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Molasses cookies with a history

Joe Froggers is the name of an old-fashioned cookie that's a favorite in New England. It originated in Marblehead, Mass., where a fisherman named Uncle Joe lived by a large frog pond.

Uncle Joe made the best molassses cookies in town and people called them Joe Froggers because they were plump and dark as the fat little frogs in the pond.

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Marblehead fishermen asked him often to make a batch of cookies to take to sea, because they didn't get hard like most cookies. Uncle Joe wouldn't give out the recipe, but he joked by saying that what kept them soft was the seawater he put in the batter.

Finally, Mammy Cressy, who said she was Uncle Joe's daughter, gave the recipe to a fisherman's wife.

Soon most of the women in Marblehead were making Joe Froggers and giving them to the children with a pitcher of milk. Children bought them, too, at a penny apiece.

Today Joe Froggers are made in many homes around the country, and at Sturbridge Village, Mass., they're listed on the menu and are also sold in the bakery.

The Sturbridge chef says the recipe came from a Marblehead woman who said it had been in her family over 100 years.

Cookies are baked daily in the Bake House at Old Sturbridge Village from early April through Thanksgiving. Village recipes using graham flour, spices, raisins, dates, and nuts are adapted from early 19th-century cookbooks. Joe Froggers 1 cup shortening 2 cups sugar 1 tablespoon salt 1 cup water 2 teaspoons baking soda 2 cups dark molasses 7 cups flour 1 tablespoon ground ginger 1 teaspoon ground cloves 1 teaspoon nutmeg 1/2 teaspoon allspice

Cream shortening and sugar until light and creamy. Combine salt, water, soda, and molasses.

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Sift flour with spices and add alternately with liquid to creamed shortening. Stir well between additions. Dough should be sticky. Chill 3 or 4 hours in refrigerator.

On floured board, roll out dough to 1/2 inch thickness. Cut in circles with large cutter. Bake in oven preheated to 375 degrees F. 10 to 12 minutes. Makes about 4 dozen 5-inch cookies.

Phyllis Hanes is the Monitor's food editor.

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