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.
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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.
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We always put a powdered sugar+ lemon juice glaze on our Cry Babies.
I’m thinking Rose Dana was married to Richard Dana. We purchased our land from Richard and Rose in 1995. Maybe there are two Rose Dana’s?
We were told the house just south of our new fire station was built by Richard’s father in the 1800’s. That could be a good story too?
Thanks for your continued sharing of wonderfully told stories.
Switz.r.land Evergreen Farm
The original Rose Dana was Rose Swaney who married Gardner or Gardiner Dana in Nov. of 1871. Justice of the peace John B. Boursaw performed the ceremony. They were the folks with the hexagonal house & octagonal barn. I was just reading an article on how those multi-sided house were popular in the late 1800s as they were considered to be better for your health. Evidently all those sides let more light & air into the house.
Thank you Ann for sharing this history of our local heritage. I find it fascinating.
Thank you, Ann for this information. Where was the hexagonal house and barn. Are they still there and I just haven’t found them?
Barb – The house is still there but the barn was replaced . It’s on the east side of the road in the block between Swaney & Tompkins. Totally forgot the name of the woman who now lives there but you would like her.😁
Thanks for all the info, Ann. So who was Richard Dana married to (we always called him “Dickie”)? Was she named Rose, too?
And did the art teacher from NMC live in the hexagonal house at one time (blanking on his name)?
Jane – Paul Welch?
Yeah, I think maybe it was Paul Welch. Thanks, Nancy.
The NMC art instructor was Norm Averill. The current occupant, Carol Towar is his niece. Gardiner (spelled that way in my Swaney book) Dana and Rose had six children. Richard is Charles Dana’s son and Gardiner’s grandson. Everyone is right about Richard’s wife, as he was married to Rose Petrone.
Have to say that I love the Swaney/Boursaw connection and that you and I are talking about all this over 100 years later.
I know, right?! I love that we’re still talking about it 100 years on. Thanks for the Dana history, and for the info you emailed. I had no idea that the hexagonal was still in Norm’s family and that his niece lives there now. Cool. I also heard a rumor once that the house was haunted, but that rumor applies to just about every ancient house out here. 🙂
This is so awesome! I rarely bake but I really want to give this a try. As as always, thank you!
The Drews were friends of my grandmother, Bessie Hlavka. I always thought there was a shirttail relationship but I will have to do some research to verify that! I remember them living on Cherry Bend Rd almost next door to Norris School.
Thank you for this great article. I had never heard of Old Mission Cry Babies until Nancy Deo visited the Rev. Peter Dougherty House not long ago. I know she reads the Gazette, so hopefully she’ll be baking a batch.
I knew you could help us out!
Thanks to you and Laura for alerting me about Nancy’s visit and cookie question, Barb!
Hi Jane!!!!!!!!! My mother used to make cry babies often. We loved them and so did my southern friends where I grew up in TN. I will get the recipe out and compare!!!!!!!!l She had the vanilla frosting on top. Also my mother, Jean Holmes, daughter of Roy and Lula Holmes, was a cousin of Irma Drew who I think married Wilbur Drew who worked on the ships. They are buried near Seth so will check that out next time I go up to the cemetery–probably on Monday the 20th as that would have been Seth’s 27th birthday!!!!!!!! Will let you know what I find out, and also the Cry Baby recipe.
I know my family (Prescott/Hyslop/Middlemas) has been baking these for a very long time. I have even “altituded” the recipe for Colorado. I have no idea where it came from, but I believe that it’s in the handwritten book of recipes that my great grandmother (Emily Prescott) left.
I just checked the recipe we’ve used and it has butter and the time and temperature. I have no idea when those were added (or if they were included originally).
Hi all I mentioned earlier I want to try making these. I’m not a baker! Con dome one provides how to make the basic lemon icing? And then you sprinkle powered sugar on top of that? Thanks, Martha
Oh boy. Typos! Looking for the lemon icing recipe. Thank you.