Crybaby, it’s cold outside…

Well, that’ll teach me. After getting so skippity-la-la last week I was practically pinning on bunny ears, spring has come decidedly unsprung. When I took Barney to the park on Saturday, I couldn’t wait to let him off the lead so I could cram my hands firmly into my pockets and perfect my optimal tipping into the wind, hail and rain angle without the encumbrance of an excitable terrier.

As children, when my brother and I moped around the house feeling sorry for ourselves on rainy days, our indomitable grandmother would say ‘What you need is a good floor to scrub’. A while ago, I scored a stack of 1940s British and American women’s magazines in a junk shop and I thought a few hours flipping through pages of wartime make-do-and-mend would jolt me out of my gloomy state. And give me an excuse to ignore the shamefully grubby kitchen floor.

This is what I learned:

  • Making ‘Spanish Fillets of Fish’ involves tipping a tin of tomato soup over the wretched little fillets and baking them in a hot oven until they submit, or the war is over, whichever comes first.
  • To make woollens look ‘gay and smart for spring’, sprinkle them with powdered magnesia.
  • How to knit my own powder puff.
  • Two ounces of bones will keep one hen happy for half a day.
  • ‘Putting a very little curry powder into French dressing causes folks to do likewise.’ Really? A diet of powdered egg and Spam must have made people very suggestible.
  • ‘Hot soup on cold days produces that tropical feeling.’ Why splash out on a couple of weeks in the Seychelles when a few cans of cream of mushroom will do the trick?

I found a recipe in American Ladies’ Home Journal from February, 1941 for something called Delaware Crybabies. How could I not make these intriguing cookies? I have no idea why they’re feeling so miserable; they’re filled with the good stuff – butter, dark, fudgy sugar and spices. They also contain New Orleans molasses. This is pretty low on the ground in Stoke Newington and the nearest thing I could scrounge from my larder was Golden Syrup. Not ideal, but I was sealed up in the house like an oyster in its shell at this point and the lady was not for shucking.

By the time I sat down to start planning the menu for my friend Paula’s wedding in September, I was thawed out and happy. You will be pleased (or horrified) to know that no floors were scrubbed in the course of this cheering up.

Delaware crybabies
These were pretty good – cakey, spicy, fragrant – good with coffee, even better with ice cream. If anyone has a recipe for Macaroon Melancholia or Passive-Aggressive Peanut Butter Cookies, do get in touch.

I’ve listed the American cup measures used in the recipe here and given metric equivalents. For the rest of the recipes on my blog, I thought it would be helpful to give a link to the fantastic metric/imperial/measuring cup conversion chart and glossary of cooking terms on Nigella’s website.

Makes about 60 cookies, so you’ll probably need to bake these in two batches

1 cup (160g) light Muscovado or brown sugar
1 cup (225g) butter, melted and cooled
1 cup (320g) New Orleans molasses (or Golden Syrup – I used 280g Golden Syrup and 40g black treacle, as I ran out of the golden stuff)
2 eggs, beaten
4 cups (530g) plain flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp grated nutmeg
½ tsp salt
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 cup (225ml) boiling water
1 cup (100g) pecans, roughly chopped
1 cup (140g) raisins

Line three baking sheets with baking parchment. Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas mark 5.

Mix together the sugar and butter then stir in the molasses or syrup. Beat in the eggs. In a separate bowl, sieve together the flour, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. In a small bowl, dissolve the bicarb in the boiling water and add in two parts to the buttery batter, alternating with the flour. Stir in the raisins and nuts. Drop tablespoons of the batter onto the sheets – about 5cm apart as they spread a bit – and bake for about 8 minutes until golden and puffed up. Allow to cool for a minute or two on the sheets then put onto a rack to cool completely.