Have you ever rejected something from your childhood based on a memory that was either partially or wholly incorrect? As adults, our palates expand as we try new and different types of food. For some people the food of their childhood becomes the comfort food they return to when the cornucopia of choices just doesn’t satisfy. For others, especially those of us for whom food created very mixed emotions, the stuff we ate as kids can be the fodder for terrible memories.
I thought of this last night as I watched a documentary on CBC called XXL about a “fat camp” for overweight teens in Nova Scotia. One of the families was eating a traditional boiled dinner; corned beef, cabbage, carrots, potatoes and turnips, all boiled together in one pot until it all tasted the same and was pretty much mush. I gagged a bit and had to cover my eyes until it was done, something I never have to do even when there are surgery shots on TV.
My reaction to lassy mogs was almost as bad. I remember them as being soggy; sweating to a mush where they all stuck together in the cookie jar where they would remain until they were eaten, regardless of how long that took. This ideology of not wasting food, even if it was going bad or stale, or had lost its appeal, remains with me to this day, and Greg regularly remarks on stir-fry nights that I must have cleaned out the fridge.
It’s a philosophy that goes well with lassy mogs, a molasses cookie with roots in all of the Atlantic provinces from Newfoundland to Nova Scotia. Historically, before wider food distribution systems were put in place in the early 20th century, molasses was the main sweetener for baked goods, with white sugar a pricier option that was available only to the wealthy, or saved for special occasions or tea. With a touch of spice and some dried currants or raisins, lassy mogs were often as good as it got, at least for an everyday cookie.
The name derives from the obvious molasses (lassy) sweetener, although mogs is a bit harder to pin down. Some say it’s a shorter form of the name “Margaret”, or that it means “girl”, while the most common definition is that it means “little cake”. These cookies are definitely cake-like, more so than almost any other cookie I can think of, so that definition may have some credence.
Despite my remembered dislike of lassy mogs, Greg was jonesing for some recently, and to prevent him from going out and buying a bag of the extremely inferior store-bought version (waaaay too sweet!), I acquiesced, on the condition that I’d use currants in place of raisins and omit the nuts.
Once I had decided to make the cookies, damned if I could find a decent recipe for the things. My standard down home cookbooks failed me, even Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens only offered a recipe for rolled cookies, and it was to 1001 Cookie Recipes by Gregg Gillespie that I finally turned. His was the closest to what I remembered, calling for currants instead of raisins, although I did omit the nuts and threw in the rind from the orange I juiced.
This version is lighter and spicier than the ones I remember from my childhood. Hot out of the oven, they’re light and fluffy and deliciously spicy, more like gingerbread than molasses. For the life of me, I cannot remember why I disliked these so as a child, although I can’t seem to picture them as individual cookies, only emerging in one big soggy lump from the cookie jar on my parent’s kitchen counter, so the texture issue definitely seems to have something to do with it.
In any case, they’re amazingly delicious. The perfect (and really the ONLY) accompaniment to these is a cup of very strong, very sweet orange pekoe tea.
Lassy Mogs (aka. Molasses Spice Cookies)
2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cups walnuts, ground fine (I omitted these)
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup shortening or margarine
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup molasses
1/4 cup fresh orange juice (plus grated rind of one orange)
1/2 cup currants
Preheat oven to 350′F. Lightly grease two baking sheets.
In a large bowl, cream the shortening and brown sugar. Beat in the egg. Beat in the molasses, orange juice and rind.
Combine flour, spices, salt and baking soda in a bowl. Gradually blend into the wet ingredients. Fold in the currants.
Drop the dough by spoonfuls 3 inches apart onto the prepared baking sheets.
Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until lightly coloured. Transfer to wire rack to cool.