Bear with me on this recipe, because as usual, there are a lot of moving parts.
At Tim Carroll’s recent “Tim Talk” with George McManus at Peninsula Community Library, Tim happened to mention Mrs. Dana’s famous cookies known as “Cry Babies.” I don’t know how it came up, but you never know where the conversation will go with Tim. Some of his best memories come out when he goes down the rabbit hole.
Old Mission Gazette is Reader Supported.
Click Here to Keep the Gazette Going.
Since that time – and oddly enough – the recipe for Cry Babies has come up a few other times. First, I had someone randomly email me asking if I had the recipe. Then last week, Laura Johnson and Barb Hansen were at the Dougherty House when a visitor there asked if they knew about Mrs. Dana’s famous Cry Babies recipe. Laura and Barb emailed me to see if I had any info.
So I searched through my archives of vintage Old Mission cookbooks and found a few recipes for Cry Babies in a cookbook dated 1922 – “The Old Mission Cook Book Compiled by the Ladies’ Aid Society of the Congregational Church.” Here’s the cover.
This cookbook is on loan from Mary Jo (Solomonson) Lance. You might recall that Tim and I interviewed Mary Jo and her mom, Vi Solomonson, a few years ago, about their many years of owning the Peninsula Telephone Company. Vi passed away last June at the age of 92.
However, the recipes in this 1922 cookbook aren’t from Mrs. Dana, although there are plenty of other recipes in there from Rose Dana, who I believe may have been Gardner Dana’s wife. The Cry Babies recipes are from Ella Drew, Mary B. Carter, and Mary B. Marshall.
Also, rumor has it that Mrs. Dana’s recipe featured a lemony icing in between two cookies – kind of an old-fashioned Oreo – and none of these recipes include that.
Yesterday, I was talking with my friend, Marge Long (we bought our property here on Bluff Road from her parents, Ed and Jo Brown). I mentioned the Cry Babies, and she offered to make one of the recipes from the 1922 cookbook and see how it turned out.
So I sent all three recipes to Marge, and she modified Ella Drew’s recipe to use Crisco instead of lard. Most people don’t have a cup of lard hanging around the kitchen these days. And as with so many vintage recipes, none of them included temperature or cooking time or other specifics, so Marge added those, as well.
By the way, in the back of the 1922 cookbook are several pages of advertisements, and there’s an ad for “Roy Drew, Chief Engineer on Steamer ‘McKinnon,’ Old Mission, Michigan.” According to the 1920 census, Roy R. Drew, born around 1887, was married to Ella Drew, and they had a son named Robert D. Drew. Roy’s mother was Mary A. Drew.
Here’s the page of ads from the cookbook…
And here’s the census page that lists the Drews… if you click on it (twice), you can bring it up larger.
Ok, on with the recipes! Here is Ella’s original recipe.
Ella Drew’s Cry Babies Cookie Recipe
“One cup sugar, 1 cup lard, 2 eggs, 1 cup molasses, 1 cup hot coffee, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon ginger, 1-2 teaspoon cloves, 2 teaspoons (level) soda, 1 heaping teaspoon baking powder, 5 cups flour. Drop in greased pan with teaspoon and ice with powdered sugar. Ella Drew.”
And here is Marge’s modified recipe. That’s her photo of the cookies with a cup of tea at the top of this story. Great presentation, Marge!
Ella Drew’s Cry Babies Cookie Recipe (as modified by Marge Long)
One cup sugar, 1 cup Crisco, 2 eggs, 1 cup molasses (robust), 1 cup hot coffee, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon ginger, 1-2 teaspoon cloves, 2 teaspoons (level) soda, 1 heaping teaspoon baking powder, 5 cups flour.
Beat together sugar and Crisco. Add eggs, then coffee and molasses.
Combine dry ingredients and add to the wet mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Drop by heaping teaspoonful onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet.
Mix up a simple powdered sugar frosting and apply to cookies (cookies can be warm).
(And if you want to re-create Mrs. Dana’s aforementioned recipe with lemony icing between two cookies – like an Oreo – I would imagine you could add lemon to the icing and smush it between two of the cookies…?)
By the way, here are the other two Cry Babies recipes from the 1922 cookbook. Note that these include lemon and vinegar.
Also, Cry Babies are not specific to Old Mission. If you search for “Cry Babies Cookies,” you’ll see that they were a popular recipe a few generations ago, and there are all sorts of modified recipes on the Interwebs. Here’s one that has chocolate chips and raisins in it.
Try out the recipe(s) and report back in the comments below! Also, let us know if you have any other info about the Drews or people referenced in this story, about Cry Babies and where the name came from, or anything else mentioned in this story.
A NOTE FROM JANE: I started Old Mission Gazette in 2015 because I felt a calling to provide the Old Mission Peninsula community with local news. After decades of writing for newspapers like the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, and magazines like Family Circle and Ladies' Home Journal, I really just wanted to write about my own community where I grew up on a cherry farm and raised my own family. So of course, I started my own newspaper. Because the Gazette is mainly reader-supported, I hope you'll consider tossing a few bucks my way if I mention your event, your business, your organization or your news item, or if you simply love reading about what's happening on the Old Mission Peninsula. Check out the donation page here. Thank you so much for your support. -jb