Sheila’s Ginger Snaps

Holiday baking in my family goes back a few generations. I come from a line of women who enjoyed cooking and the holidays were no exception…hours of food preparation went into each Christmas season. This recipe is one that my mother gave to her mother back in the 1960’s and now I have it. It seems odd that my grandmother wouldn’t have had her own ginger snap recipe especially since Nanny Ryan was a very good cook and her mother was also. My great grandmother was so passionate about food that she opened a bakery in Saint John to help supplement their income and feed nine kids!

Gladys Ryan (nee May) was a spirited, 5-foot tall, entrepreneur and in her day, if you weren’t married by the age of 20 you were considered a spinster. My grandmother had other plans to pursue and being a wife wasn’t one of them! Born in 1901, she left Saint John when she finished high school to work in the art department for Jordan Marsh (later converted to Macy’s) in Boston.  The artist in her blossomed at Jordan Marsh but after five years she returned home because her father was ill. Driving back must have given Nanny plenty to think about (imagine, she had her own car!).  Full of ideas and experience from Jordan Marsh, she opened her own art studio in the wharf (now known as Market Square) where local businesses would commission her to design art work for them.  Her biggest client was Scovil Brothers (a department store) where she created drawings of people wearing the latest outfits for their brochures as well as large (2 to 3 feet long) silhouettes of people atop banks of built-in drawers within the store.  My grandmother married at the age of 35…well ahead of her time!  The wooden recipe box that is now in my possession was my grandmother’s and oh the stories it could tell!

I love stories of the past and wonder how many of you have similar ones that come to life when you cook.  Bake and keep those memories alive!

Makes 52 cookies (amount will vary depending on size)

1/2 cup shortening
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup molasses
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon cinnamon
3 1/2 cups flour

Beat shortening and add brown sugar, cream well. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Gently shape into a ball, wrap in wax paper and refrigerate overnight. Remove from fridge and make into small balls using a teaspoon to ensure uniformity. Arrange balls on a greased cookie sheet. Bake in a preheated oven at 180c (350f) for 15 minutes.

The Culinary Chase’s Note: Easy to make and delicious with a cup of tea or hot milk!


  1. Christie on December 26, 2011 at 22:16

    I had no idea you had such an interesting (and modern!) relative. If only we had appreciated these women when we had them – we might have learned so much. xo

  2. The Culinary Chase on December 27, 2011 at 00:54

    Thanks Christie. I phoned Mom to confirm the timeline and yes, I too was surprised at what my grandmother accomplished in such an era. I was too young to realize what Nanny Ryan had to offer otherwise I would have asked many questions. Maybe that’s where I get my ‘test the boundaries’ attitude towards life. 🙂 xo