When you grow up in a very little but very historic town, the history is something that you just take for granted. We used to play around Redd’s Pond, named after Wilmot “Mammy” Redd, the only Marbleheader convicted in the Salem Witch Trials; she was executed on September 22, 1692. Old Burial Hill, stretching behind the pond, contains the graves of many Revolutionary War heroes. We would walk through the cemetery and try to read the 200-year-old tombstones with their curious carvings. We also knew the story of Old Black Joe, one of the soldiers buried on Old Burial Hill, and accompanied the story with one of the cookies named in his honour, Joe Froggers. They are delicious gingerbread cookies, made with molasses and dark rum. They’re kind of a pain to make, but mothers in Town would make them occasionally as a wintry treat. As the story says, they were often served on Election Night when the tavern was open.
The story of Joe Froggers is best told with that of his wife, Aunt Crese, and the tavern they ran on Gingerbread Hill. Behind this successful man was a successful woman, but only his grave lies tended today; hers was unmarked and no one knows where she was laid to rest. Before you read the recipe, please take a look at the link to appreciate the story behind these tasty cookies.
There are lots of online recipes for Joe Froggers. However, none of them are completely accurate. This is the one used in Town when I was a kid, but today, when you go to the various bakeries, muffin shops, and eateries in Town none of them serve Joe Froggers. So those who want them have to bake them themselves. Believe me, you’ll love them. They keep well when sealed in a cookie jar or a Tupperware container.
The ingredients are as follows:
3/4 cup hot water
1/4 cup dark rum
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar or Splenda
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups unsulphured dark molasses
6 cups flour
1 tablespoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoons ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
You’ll need four bowls to assemble the ingredients before mixing them. Combine the hot water and rum in the first bowl. The water should be out of the hot tap, not boiling. In a second bowl, combine the soda and molasses. You will find that the molasses is deuced difficult to measure and to mix. You’ll need strong arms for this and for the final combination. In the third bowl, combine the flour with the salt and the spices. Finally, in a fourth large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar or Splenda.
Blend the water/rum mixture into the creamed sugar/Splenda and butter. Then, add the molasses mixture and the flour mixture one at a time, and blend. Continue until all ingredients are in the large bowl. The batter will be adhesive and stiff. If it’s too stiff, you can add a bit of water; if too runny, add a bit of flour.
Divide dough into three portions, wrap in plastic wrap, and cool in the fridge. The batter will keep in the fridge so you can make three batches out of it at different times.
Preheat your oven to 375° F./Gas Mark 5.
Sprinkle a bit of flour on a pastry board and turn out one of the batches of batter. Roll it out, around 1/4″ thick. Grease your cookie sheet and then cut out cookies with the rim of a wide glass or a small bowl (dip the glass/bowl into some flour first) and place on the greased sheet. The traditional cookie is almost the size of a dinner plate, but you can vary the size as is convenient to you. Bake for 10-12 minutes, then cool on a rack.
This cookie was prized by the Marblehead fishermen because it kept well in sealed barrels during long fishing trips. You’ll find that the cookie is firm on the outside but cakey on the inside. They dunk well in coffee or tea, too. All ’round good. I would confine them to adults, at least in this form. When I was a kid, no one thought about giving kids things that had been cooked with alcohol, but especially after reading Serene’s footnote to my mom’s squash pie recipe, I think it’s probably best not to give these to children.
I’ve researched substitutions for rum in recipes, but they all seem to include alcohol. Various online sources I’ve seen suggest molasses as a substitute. As there’s already a good bit of molasses in this recipe, perhaps omitting the rum and dissolving a couple more tablespoons of molasses in 1/4 cup of water and adding that might do for cookies that would be suitable for children and those who don’t consume alcohol. Perhaps I’ll try that next time. Note that rum extract may actually contain more alcohol than the rum it is replacing.
I’ll bet that adding some raisins to the hot water/rum mixture and then topping up the water after the raisins have plumped up would make an interesting variation.