Burton on the Bay

 Vol. 9, No. 51
December 20 - 26, 2001 
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Eating Crow over Grandma Burton’s Cookies

If you have to eat crow, it’s easier while the bird is still warm.
— Clara Mahala Burton.

I’ll take Grandma Burton’s advice on this one: Pass the crow please. And, while you’re at it, don’t forget the sugar, which I did in this column of last week.

My apologies to any who were interested in Grandma’s Christmas ginger cookies with either smiley faces or a big hole with a half walnut or pecan in the center. I neglected to list sugar in the rundown of ingredients.

So it’s appropriate to admit guilt — eat the proverbial crow — and give disgruntled readers a bit to crow about. Among newspaper people, mistakes are occasionally made, but editors don’t accept excuses. It’s the way the game is played.

Last week’s column featured Grandma’s cookies, the ones she made once a year at Christmas. I figured there might be some readers tired of the sweet and usually bland cookies of the supermarkets who might be interested in the old recipe, so I added it, courtesy of my New England sister Ruth who sent it along with a batch of same for my recent birthday.

But I neglected to list sugar, and what’s a cookie without at least some sugar? And that wasn’t all, as reader Patricia H. Bare, of Annapolis, has written [see Letters to the Editor].

I realize that one shouldn’t talk when the mouth is full — Grandma taught me that in her course, Manners 101 — but while I’m munching on that crow, allow me to explain how such things happen.

How the Devil Got in the Dough
While writing the recipe as provided by Ruth, I noted in the preparation part of the formula, she wrote “add molasses and egg.” I double checked her list of ingredients as I had punched them into the computer. Sure enough, she hadn’t listed eggs.

I complemented myself for catching a snafu, called Ruth in New England, pointed out the omission and — in the smug way brothers have with sisters — reminded her the biggest sin in offering recipes is to leave out an ingredient. “Picture if you will a cook with the oven hot, all the ingredients laid out, and there’s something missing,” I jibed. “Worse still if one cooks up a batch minus an important ingredient.

So Ruth responded, “one egg, that’s all, one egg, Merry Christmas, happy birthday, and eat your cookies.” I went back to the computer, punched in “1 egg.” Now those who are as inept as I am on a computer can appreciate what happened.

As I added, 1 egg, I inadvertently erased part of the two following lines, leaving out sugar. Worse, I moved the amount of sugar, 3/4 cup, to the flour line.

I didn’t catch either change when editing my own copy before sending it to Bay Weekly editor Sandra Martin. And I should have (some readers promptly did), seeing that for 20 years I also wrote a cooking column on fish, game, country and old-time recipes for the Evening Sun.

Crying over Spoiled Cookies
Recipes were always double checked to assure no cooks would barge into the newsroom with a spoiled dish because something was missing and demand compensation for the wasted ingredients. Worse still, one might physically force the writer to eat the dish gone awry.

Somehow, in the two decades my cooking columns ran in the Evening Sun, I managed to escape a catastrophic error. Except once.

And it was a dilly.

And it also involved sister Ruth.

And it also involved Christmas cookies.

And it was also my fault, not Ruth’s.

While visiting her home at Christmastime, I sampled different cookies she had made. I liked two in particular and jotted down the recipes in the notebook always with me.

Shortly thereafter we were talking about Grandma’s smiley face cookies, and she mentioned they were baked 10 minutes in a 350-degree preheated oven. I entered these facts in the notebook, but alas not on the same page.

Back at the office in Baltimore the next day, I thought readers might like to try Ruth’s easy-to-prepare cookies in their New Year’s spread. So I wrote about their flavor and the simplicity in preparation.

And, seeing the “350-degree pre-heated oven for 10 minutes” at the bottom of the page, I added it to the recipe that ran on the Food Pages two days later.

Guess what? The cookies weren’t supposed to be baked. That was the easiest part of Ruth’s easy-to-make recipe. No cooking involved.

Guess what, also? Just as Bay Weekly readers did this week, some Sun readers followed the recipe as printed, which to my dismay I learned via the phone the following day. They described cookies that in batter form had great taste. But when they came out of the oven, a sledge hammer was required to reduce them to an edible state.

Editors don’t take such errors lightly, but I survived that and wrote a correction and an eating crow apology for the following week. But that wasn’t the end of it.

Two disgruntled readers mailed me cookies hard as bricks and dared me to eat them. One of the two — who had cooked her batch shortly before guests arrived so they would still be warm — informed me she had hustled out to find “store bought” cookies for her buffet. Her supermarket was closed.

There were no cookies on her spread, and she was embarrassed, though, she added, I was a topic of discussion at the party. To ease my guilt, I considered eating the cookies she sent, but after an attempted bite, I decided I didn’t want to endure a lecture from my dentist.

Apologies & Addenda
So, in addition to an apology, the only comment I have to make about last week’s goof here, is something Grandma Burton also taught me: To err is human, but when the eraser wears out before the pencil, something’s wrong.

Maybe something good can come out of all of this. When I called Aunt MiMi (a former home economics teacher) in Vermont to relate the disaster, she advised me I should have mentioned that the less refined molasses one uses — black strap preferred — the better the cookies. Dark molasses brings out just enough of the molasses flavor, combined with the ginger, to make the perfect cookie. And don’t forget the sugar.

Editor’s note: Editor Sandra Martin, who should have caught the omitted sugar when she read the preparation, is also munching some crow.

Grandma Burton’s Improved Ginger Cookie Ingredients


  • 3/4 cup shortening
  • 1 cup molasses
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 2 t ginger
  • 1 egg
  • Raisins, walnuts or pecans

Cream shortening and sugar; add molasses and egg, then flour sifted with soda and ginger. Chill!

Roll very thin. Cut with cookie or donut cutter with removable center. For cookies that are to be on the top, cut a hole in the center to accommodate a walnut or pecan; for smiley faces, use large thimble or small vanilla bottle cap to cut eyes. Use pointed tip of paring knife to lightly mark nose and mouth.

Bake about 10 minutes in 350-degree oven.


  • 1 pound confectionery sugar
  • 1/4 pound butter or margarine, softened.
  • Dash of ginger
  • Vanilla
  • if too stiff add a dash of milk; (Aunt MiMi prefers water)

Cream and put between cookie layers.

Add half a raisin for each eye; nuts if you prefer the center-cut variety. Enjoy.

Copyright 2001
Bay Weekly