Chew On This, Martha!- Chewy Molasses Crinkles! -186 eggs, 144 1/2 cups of sugar, 137 1/4 sticks of Butter, and 176 1/4 cups of flour used so far- 71 recipes to go!

February 16, 2011

Martha's Chewy Molasses Crinkles

André's Chewy Molasses Crinkles


For my military knowledge, though I’m plucky and adventury,
Has only been brought down to the beginning of the century;
But still, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I am the very model of a modern Major-General.

-The Major-General’s Song from The Pirates of Penzance by William S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan


I have a friend going through a rough time. She’s dealing with some not-so-fun family struggles centered around mental health issues. It’s required her to take some time away out-of-State, far from the people who love and support her. A group of us wanted to do something thoughtful and send her a small care package to let her know that she’s in our thoughts and has our unending support and admiration even across the miles. If ever there was an occasion to bake cookies, this was certainly one. I thumbed through Martha’s book in search of a sturdy cookie with an extended shelf-life so they wouldn’t arrive stale and crumbled.

Chewy Molasses Crinkles are a sweet, rich cookie that is, as its name indicates,  quite chewy. The usual cookie ingredients of flour, sugar, butter, eggs and salt are punched up with the addition of ginger, alspice, cinnamon, nutmeg and a generous dose of dark, unsulphured molasses. These ingredients are blended into a thick and sticky dough and then chilled to a pliable state.

Using an inch-and-a-half ice cream scoop, the dough is formed into balls, rolled in granulated sugar,  placed onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet and then baked until quite flat, golden brown and crinkly. Theses are delicious cookies with an unmistakable gingerbread flavor and a delightfully chewy texture. The course salt in the batter enhances the buttery flavor with unexpected bursts of saltiness and the molasses adds almost a smoky finish to these yummy cookies.

They were received appreciatively by my friend and hope they gave her a much needed smile. I hope this also inspires some of you to go out and bake up a few smiles for your friends or families, too.

I started this post with a quote from Gilbert & Sullivan. For those of unfamiliar with these two gentlemen, they were a Victorian odd couple; two English gentlemen: one a quick-witted, absurd and irreverent humorist and the other, a painfully serious, hypochondriacal musical composer. These two men wrote a series of operettas in the later part of the 19th century for the D’oyly Carte Opera Company in London. Some of their most familiar titles include, The Pirates of Penzance, H.M.S. Pinafore, and The Mikado.

I was first exposed to their works at the tender age of twelve. I had a neighbor, Paula who was a bit of a theatrical hobbyist with a terrific singing voice and a real need to escape her many Catholic offspring. She took me to see her perform in The Pirates of Penzance at a local theatre/gymnasium that the small company had rented from a Southern Baptist church. Even though the room was quite civic and most of the action of the play happened under a basketball net, I thought it was terrific. I loved the small eight-piece orchestra and how it blended with the two dozen voices on the stage. I loved the patter songs and even though I didn’t get all the jokes, being a Southern boy and unaccustomed to rapid-fire, dry British humor, I knew that I wanted to be a part of it and begged my parents to let me audition for their next show.

Looking back on this time in my life, I have to say it was all a bit strange. Baton Rouge was not a cultured city by any stretch of the imagination and yet there was a amateur theatrical company devoted to the works of William S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan. The company’s name, believe it or not,  was the Baton Rouge Gilbert & Sullivan Society and in my fourteenth year after two years of begging my parents’ for permission to audition, I joined the cast in yet another production of The Pirates of Penzance.

The experience was cathartic. I played a young pirate in Act I and a young policeman in Act II. There was a twenty year gap between me and every other member of the cast but I didn’t mind. I was an actor now. They even had a special name for the type of role I was performing. I wasn’t merely a member of the chorus, no. I was a supernumerary. I wasn’t quite sure what it meant but it thought it must be important because it had the word, Super in it.

I memorized the lyrics to all the songs and practiced my simple choreography. After I learned all of the words to the chorus’ songs  I then memorized the lines of all the other characters male and female. If anyone lost their place I could step in as a helpful pirate or an officious policeman and get them back on track. In those instances, I imagined the audience might even give me a smattering of thankful applause.  I read books on acting and developed back-stories for both of my characters so that I gave a full and rich performance as pirate supernumerary 3 and policeman supernumerary 6.  After all, there are no small roles; only small actors.

The first two weeks of rehearsal were devoted solely to music. The cast of thirty would sit in chairs arranged by voice parts. Sopranos, Altos, Tenors and Basses were each assigned their section and we drilled through the score with our temperamental music director as he banged out our parts on the out-of-tune upright. When all the parts came together, though, the sound was magnificent.

The show was to be presented in a large, professional space downtown usually reserved for touring productions and large concerts. The director was a slight man with no pigment to his skin whatsoever. He had long, stringy hair that flowed over his shoulders and a nose that stuck out of his face like a dull pocketknife balancing thin wire-framed spectacles. He spoke from a lipless mouth connected to a chinless neck with meek, bird-like sounds that made the cast giggle every time he’d utter a timid direction.

I was in heaven. I spoke to many of the principals in the show, plying them with questions about their careers in amateur theatre. The Pirate King worked for the Board of Regents while Frederic was the cantor at a local Catholic church. Ruth was a born-again Christian and was happy to speak to me about the Lord while Mabel avoided me at all costs. I’m afraid my enthusiasm and the age gap made me insufferable to most of the cast. One of the lower principals, Meg belonged to my parent’s church and was my ride to and from rehearsals. She would often crank the radio about half-the-way home. At the time, I thought she just really liked music. Now I know it was to drown out my endless, excited chatter.

On weekends I helped paint sets or sew costumes and when tickets were printed I sold as many as I could to every family member, friend and distant acquaintance I could.

The D’oyly Carte Opera Company performed from the Savoy theatre in London. Aficionados of the works of Gilbert and Sullivan have since been referred to as Savoyards. Not only was I a totally manic supernumerary, I quickly became a fanatical Savoyard. I spent what little off-time I had between rehearsals, painting, sewing, school, homework and working at my Uncle’s hardware store, at the library reading all I could about Gilbert & Sullivan and listening to old recordings of their operettas. It was a strange love affair for a fourteen year old Southern boy but, then again, I was a strange Southern boy in general.

With opening night fast approaching and technical rehearsals drawing to a close, I found it much harder to sleep at night. I was simply too excited. Soon I would be illuminated with the glow of colored lights, backed by a full orchestra, in a terrific pirate costume I had sewn mostly myself, on sets that I had painted with my own two hands. As far as I was concerned, it was the André Show!  Soon I’d have dozens of family members and friends sitting quietly in the audience. No one would be yelling at each other. I wouldn’t have to fight for my parents’ attention. All eyes would be on me and maybe, just maybe, they’d see that I wasn’t so weird- wasn’t so strange. That maybe I had some talent. Maybe they’d appreciate me. Maybe they’d pat me on the back and tell me I was terrific. Maybe it would feel a bit like love or at least, validation.

Opening night arrived and the auditorium filled with hundreds of avid theatre-goers. Somewhere stuck in the middle of Baton Rouge’s most cultured was my family. Well, some of them, anyway. Out of the twenty-something tickets I sold, only a handful actually came to see the show. From behind the curtain I could hear the rumble of the crowd and the butterflies in my stomach turned into bats dropping piles of their self-doubt-guano in the pit of my stomach.

The overture began. Sir Arthur Sullivan wanted more than anything to be regarded as a serious composer and his overtures certainly proved this desire. The first movements were riveting and exciting and then seamlessly lulled into poignant and beautiful strains which then roared violently towards a brassy and brazen conclusion, grudgingly setting the stage for Gilbert’s absurd comedy.

Most of the show is a blur. I wielded my sword in Act I as the best supernumerary pirate I could be. I sang with gusto and flailed my arms about like an insane piratical drag queen on steroids. I’m surprised I didn’t spend most of the intermission picking bits of the set out of my teeth. In Act II I marched in line with the rest of the policemen as we sang an endless ostinato of Ta-ran-ta-rah! Ta-ran-ta rah! The policemen proved to be an audience favorite in the production as the local theatre critic cited in his brief, but kind review.

The curtain came down and the audience politely applauded with feigned enthusiasm. My parents, one of my sisters, my aunt, uncle and a couple of my cousins met me at the stage door. There were a few awkward and feeble compliments paid…

Well, that was certainly something.  (My cousin’s remark)

How long did you rehearse? (His wife’s remark)

How did you remember all of those songs? (My uncle’s remark)

…and there were some not-so-kind remarks, too.

That music sucked. (my sis’ remark)

I couldn’t understand a word anyone was saying. (My drunk aunt’s remark)

Well, I hope you got that out of your system now. (My father’s remark)

My heart sank. I stood there, still in costume and make up and mustered up enough false optimism to thank them for coming. I turned quickly to hide the tears that welled up in my eyes and began to walk quickly to the dressing room to change and wash up. Just as I reached for the door I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was my mom. She grabbed me and pulled me close. She kissed me on the cheek and told me how proud she was of me. She told me that it took a lot of courage to step onto the stage in front of so many people. She said she would have never been able to do anything like that and she admired my nerve. She told me I was very good and talented and made a handsome pirate and a terrific policeman. I hugged her tightly. I knew she was my mom and obligated to say such things but she knew exactly what I needed to hear. That’s the magic of moms. They just somehow know.

I shook off the earlier sadness of the evening and later that night, in my bed I held my pirate hat that I’d covertly nabbed from wardrobe. I pressed it to my chest and quietly sang myself to sleep.

Poor wand’ring one!
If such poor love as mine
Can help thee find
True peace of mind-
Why, take it, it is thine!

Thanks, mom!


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