Uncle Will Caulkins is not my uncle, but Dishboy Scott’s great great uncle. He owned a bakery in the 1930s where these cookies were wildly popular in the Rosebush, Michigan area. I’ve listened to Scott talk about them time and time again, but words cannot convey how delicious these warmly spiced cookies are.
As the cookies began to bake my home filled with the most wonderful smells. I closed my eyes and stood beside my modern day cheaply built oven, imagining what it would have been like to walk into Uncle Will’s bakery so long ago. I surrounded myself with this potent perfume, nearly blowing over from its spicy sweetness. I hung in reverie of what it might have been like to walk up to a glass bakery counter in a different time, salivating in anticipation of one of these scrumptious cookies. Would Uncle Will have been at the counter? I imagine he would.
A few years later Uncle Will retired to a farm, but the recipe tagged along with him and he shared it with others. Around 1945 Scott’s dad, Jack, was about 5-years-old when he saw his uncle for the last time, but his memory lives on through this recipe.
Will’s sister, Jack’s grandmother, always kept these cookies on hand in a big covered crock in her basement. When Jack was a boy he would walk by his grandmother’s house, stopping by for a cookie after school. Jack recalls her having both an electric and a wood stove in her kitchen. I find myself wondering which one she baked these cookies with.
The years have passed by quickly, but these cookies are still a favorite of Jack’s. Only now he enjoys them with a pint of Guinness, which I wholeheartedly recommend.
We don’t know much else about Uncle Will, as there is no one left to talk about his life. Save for this one memory. Each time these cookies are prepared the story of Uncle Will is brought up for future generations. I feel privileged that Scott shared this recipe with me, and let me share it with you.
When you make these cookies I hope you’ll think about Uncle Will, the 1930s baker from Rosebush, Michigan.
Uncle Will’s Molasses Cookies
1 pound seedless raisins (3 cups)
3 cups granulated sugar
1 cup (1 stick) shortening, softened slightly
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
½ cup molasses
1 Tablespoon cinnamon
1 Tablespoon ground cloves
1 Tablespoon allspice
1 Tablespoon salt
1 Tablespoon baking soda
6 cups all purpose flour
1. Place the raisins in a bowl with enough boiling water to cover them by a couple inches. (See note #2 below before soaking). Let soak for 5 minutes. Then in a colander, strain out as much water as possible, pressing with the back of a spoon. Pat the raisins dry if needed. Next, puree the raisins in a food processer until smooth. Set aside.
2. In a stand mixer, cream together the sugar, shortening, and butter. Next, add the raisin puree and molasses and mix well on medium high speed. Then add the eggs and mix to combine.
3. Next, add the cinnamon, cloves, allspice, salt, and baking soda and mix to combine. Then add the flour in two parts mixing until just combined.
4. Wrap the dough in 4 or 5 individual rectangles in-between sheets of wax paper. Divide dough in half and store in two gallon sized plastic bags. Refrigerate the dough for several hours, or preferably for 24 hours to let the dough set and the flavors develop.
5. After chilling, set the dough on the counter and let warm to room temperature. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 350 degrees and cover cookie sheets with parchment paper. Parchment paper can be reused one time.
6. Heavily flour a clean surface, and sprinkle the top of the dough and a rolling pin with the flour. Roll out the dough to 1/8 inch thick. Cut out the dough with a 3 inch biscuit cutter. Place the rounds on the cookie sheets. Carefully reroll and use the scraps one time being careful not to overwork the dough, and then work those remaining scraps into the next round of scraps. Repeat with the remaining dough.
7. Bake for 10 minutes. Let cookies rest on the baking sheet for a few minutes and then move to a cooling rack to finish cooling.
Makes about 72 cookies.
1. The original recipe was made with lard, but good lard is almost impossible to find today unless you have access to a Hispanic Grocery. If you want to make these cookies with lard, substitute both the butter and shortening with 1 1/2 cups of good quality lard.
2. If your raisins are soft and chewy skip the soaking step. Only soak if they are dry and hard.
3. There were few instructions in the original recipe. To clarify the instructions, I've modernized the wording, but left the ingredients and the ideas behind the instructions intact. Except for the lard of course.
4. These cookies freeze well after they're baked.
5. Instead of rolling them out, my friend Julie scoops this dough out with a cookie scoop and flattens them with the underside of a glass dipped in sugar.
Recipe by Uncle Will Caulkins. Picture by Laura Flowers.