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Today is my Mom’s birthday, and I wish Happy, Happy Birthday to her!  I called her this morning to say so and asked what her plans were for the day, expecting to hear that she was going to lunch, or visiting with friends or relaxing with a book.  But I was wrong.  Her plan, for at least half the day, was to bake: pumpkin bread for neighbors and friends, onion rolls for my grandfather, more molasses cookies.  For the month of December, my Mom’s kitchen becomes a bakery, and taking the 20th off because it’s her birthday does not happen.

As a kid, I remember taking a sled (it was Maine) or wagon and tromping around the block, usually with my brother in tow, to deliver cookies and bread to the neighbors.  I was mortified, thinking that it was weird to give things to people because we weren’t getting baked goods back from any of them.  (With the exception of a popcorn tin from the Emersons and a card from the McMasters, we didn’t get anything in return.)  I dreaded running into anyone my age.  I probably rang some doorbells and tossed in the prettily-wrapped packages as soon as the door opened in my haste to get away.  (Sorry.)  When I went away to college, I am guessing that my younger siblings inherited my elven duties, and now the torch has passed to my Dad and Maude the dog, because Mom is still baking for all of the neighbors, regardless of the fact that she gets nothing in return– if anything, she makes and gives more now than ever.  As she said when we encouraged her to cut back, “They expect it, and it’s Christmastime.”

If only everyone thought that way!  Not because I want nightly deliveries of sweets, but because that is the essence of holiday giving: unselfish, done to make neighbors smile when they realize that 2011’s molasses cookies are just as much of a treat as 1991’s were.  I am proud of my Mom’s baking, but more so of her giving.  I wish I could do a tenth of what she does, because the production numbers are staggering.  It’s only the 20th, so she’s not quite done, but I will post a final tally later this week of all the fudge, quick breads, cookies, candies, etc. that she makes to give away and you might not believe it’s true.  We’re talking dozens of dozens of cookies, tens of pounds of candy.  She is retired, but I still don’t know where she finds the time!

Two years ago, my husband and I flew home to Maine on the 18th and surprised our entire family for Christmas.  It was probably the most excited and happiest I have ever been.  One of the highlights was spending a morning in my Mom’s kitchen, peeling apples and talking with her while she baked molasses cookies, my all-time favorite.  I think about that day often, which might surprise my family, since it was one of the quieter, less-is-going-on days of my visit that year.  I can’t wait until the next time I can do that.  I love you, Mom– thank you for reminding us every year that Christmas is about family, friends, neighbors and giving.  You are the best!

Mom’s Molasses Cookies

  • 1 c. molasses
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 c. vegetable oil
  • 1 egg
  • 4 tsp. baking soda
  • 2/3 c. hot water
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 5 c. flour
  • 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 3/4 tsp. salt

Mix molasses, sugar and oil together; add egg and mix well.  Dissolve baking soda in hot water; stir into molasses mixture.  Add vanilla.  Sift dry ingredients together and add to molasses mixture, mixing until combined.  Cover the bowl and refrigerate (or set out in the garage, or covered on the back deck, right, Mom?) for at least an hour.  Dough can be made up to 2 days ahead.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Working in small batches of a cup or two at a time, roll out the dough on a floured surface to a thickness of 1/4″ or so.  Cut out shapes with cookie cutters, or use the floured rim of a drinking glass.  Space evenly on cookie sheets covered with parchment paper and bake for 8-10 mins.  Cool on a rack before packaging to give to your neighbors. 🙂  Makes several dozen, depending on the size of the cutters you use.  Merry Christmas!