Many of us have happy memories of cookies and the special cooks who made them, my husband included. For most of the last 32 years I have been hearing about “Mrs Bowers” and her molasses biscuits. The warm and special memories Ray has of this kind and caring soul are a child’s memories. During the 1950s and 1960s children did not presume to call an adult (even with invitation) by their first name, so Ray only knew his special friend as “Mrs Bowers”, and her cookies as molasses biscuits.
For most North Americans, biscuits are leavened quick breads, usually savory and made with baking powder or soda. In the UK a biscuit, is the term used for a small flat sweet cake, which we in North America call a cookie. Whatever they are called biscuit, or cookie they share the power.
You know about cookie power, right? Cookies have the power to overcome barriers of age, religion, culture, social class, economic status, and language to build relationships. Cookie power is long lasting too, the scent of caramelized sugar and memories come flooding back, the tastes, the smells, and the cook. Although most any cookie can have cookie power, the power it is independent of flavour or style, the most powerful cookies are homemade by loving hands.
Commercial cookies have a different form of cookie power, but their sheer number and ubiquity assures they have real power in the cookie world. They take their rightly place, as evidenced by how many of us enjoy a couple of Oreos, or Fudgeeos with a glass of cold milk, or a Kookie Kutter1 gingersnap dipped in a cup of King Cole tea. Bakery baked cookies contain most of the usual cookie ingredients, there is lots of sugar and fat. It is just they are missing that that extra special investment by a home cook which makes homemade cookies super charged.
Many of the cookie recipes in the My Mother’s Cookbooks collection carry titles like Granny’s oatmeal cookies, Aunt Edna’s shortbread cookies, Hazel’s melting moments, Dad’s gingersnaps and a recent addition, Orion’s Molasses cookies. Usually honoring the person who made them, these titles hint at special memories and to those who went out of their way to put a smile on the face of a small child and warm feelings in their child heart.
It wasn’t Mrs Bowers who provided Ray his first ‘Mrs Bowers molasses biscuit’. The shy four year old neighbour child, who’d been drawn to the Bowers dooryard by their friendly little dog, remembers it clearly. The work hardened hand, which extended that first molasses biscuit on the end of a fork was, not Mrs Bowers but her husband, Willie’s. A clear example of how cookie power can extend to cookie providers too.
Orion Lackey, a farmer and lumberman assured there were always plenty of his molasses cookies at his farm house in Upham parish, Kings county, New Brunswick. You see Orion understood that cookie powder is not only transferable to cookie providers, but to houses too. Houses which host regular cookie making and eating(especially by children under 10 years) take on an air of cookie power, drawing grandchildren and their friends to it regularly, even when it means a hefty walk. Years later just the sight of the lane way leading to a cookie powered house can evoke smells and tastes, of memories and love. Orion Lackey was a wise man to build a cookie powered house, it drew his grandchildren to the house and to visit with their widowed and aging grandfather.
Cookie power does have its limits tho too… eventually cooks and cookie providers pass away leaving one time children with memories of cooks and cookies past. Despite cookie power and even armed with the original recipe, many one time children find their favourite treats are just… oh they are good…just not quite the same. Many batches of cookies have been made and eaten in search of the elusive cookie without success…you see the missing ingredient…and the true source of cookie power is the love in the heart of cook and cookie provider, love which gets baked in to cookies and ignites their power.
Dolena (Dolly) McLeod Bowers, grew up in the tiny backland community of Tarbot, Victoria county, NS. Willie Bowers was born in Boston Mass., where his English born father and his Cape Breton born Mother were living with their family. The 1901 and 1911 census shows Willie listed as an adopted son in the household of Duncan McLeod, it is possible his adopted family were kin of Willie’s mother Margaret McLeod. Married in 1913 Dolly and Willie spent the first years of the marriage living on their Victoria county farm eventually moving to Glace Bay about 1920. Willie would eventually establish himself as self employed gardener.
The tentative relationship between Ray and the Bowers grew gradually over the months following that first biscuit. When Willie unexpectedly died in August of 1956, 5 year old Ray was there, his presence in their home welcomed and insisted upon by Mrs Bowers. For more than 12 years until her death in 1968, Ray visited Mrs Bowers. In the early days, the visits were daily to share a late afternoon snack. The two would sit for a bit together, not saying a lot, on cold winter days a doze by the fire might be in order before their afternoon tea.
Mrs Bowers probably enjoyed having company while her adult sons were at work and having Ray around as playmate served to draw her Grandson to visit more regularly enriching her life still further. As childhood pursuits turned to sports, cadets, etc. their visits grew less frequent but they still happened, a weekend trip away for a judo or drill team competition required a debrief visit with Mrs Bowers. Dolly Bowers and Ray after all shared a cookie powered place in each others hearts.
The truth is the benefit Mrs Bowers and her cookies (often meals) brought to a small boy, from large family with too few resources, were immeasurable. Mrs Bowers’ kindness, along with her son Murdock, thru his small store on School street made a substantial difference in the lives of the entire family, a debt of kindness which will never be entirely repaid.
Orion Lackie was born on the family farm in Upham Parish in 1896. The Lackie family arrived in New Brunswick about 1825 from County Tyrone Ireland. Orion and his wife Mabel married in 1920, and went on to raise their five children in the tiny farming and lumbering community in rural Kings county. After more than 40 years of marriage, having raised their family together, it is likely Orion found his home empty and silent after Mabel’s death in 1961.
We will never know for sure what inspired Orion and Willie to make use of cookie power. What we can say is that both men knew how best to employ it…maybe they had experienced it first hand? They knew that the key to unleashing cookie power is simple, it does not require a complicated process, it just takes a child, a cookie and a kind adult.
As the family cook, I know I will never be able to truly make Mrs Bowers Molasses Biscuits… I have no illusion it could be possible. I am however interested in creating a reasonable facsimiIe. Here is what I have discovered about Mrs Bowers biscuits, firstly they are thick cut, Ray remembers them being split in half and buttered. They were also slightly less sweet than a rolled out molasses cookie, and were sometimes served with a piece of cheese or meat. I suspect that Mrs Bowers might well have been drawing on her MacLeod family Scottish ancestry. In Scotland there is tradition of individual hand held ‘buns’. Sweet buns are similar to a cookie but usually eaten in company with soups and other savory foods. In Newfoundland there is a well known tradition of ‘Lassy Buns’, a sweet bun made with molasses. Since the ties between Newfoundland and Cape Breton are deep I can not say for certain the source of Mrs Bowers Molasses Biscuit recipe, since Lassy buns appear to be very similar.
It seems to me a little cookie power in our world, never goes a miss. At this crisis point in our history it is easy to loose site of the importance of small actions. The simple act of making and sharing cookies can be and often is transformative. I think it is time to encourage everyone to exercise cookie power, maybe it will provide an example to those who see violence as the solution… Russia and Ukraine time for some cookie power!
This recipe is inspired by Mrs Bowers biscuits and traditional style Newfoundland Lassy buns.
My Mother’s Cookbooks Mrs Bowers Molasses Biscuits:
1 cup molasses
1 cup melted butter
1/2 cup milk
4 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground clove
2 tsp baking soda
1. Preheat oven 350oF;
2. Combine molasses, melted butter, milk and egg;
3. In a separate bowl combine flour, sugar, salt, spices, baking soda;
4. Add dry ingredients to molasses mixture;
5. Roll the dough out on a floured surface to 3/4 in thick, cut in to rounds/squares;
6. Bake for 15 to 22 minutes. Removed from the pan and place on a wire rack until cool.
Acknowledgements and Links:
1. Kookie Kutter – https://kookiekutter.ca/
2. I want to thank two people very familiar with cookie power, Stewart Totten and Ray Morrison. Stewart was generous enough to not only share his Grampie’s molasses cookie recipe but his experience about being drawn to his Grandfather Orion’s house by those Molasses cookies. Of course I also thank Ray for sharing his memories of Mrs Bowers and her Molasses biscuits. I think he enjoyed the process, and revisiting Mrs Bowers and her molasses biscuits.