Cry Babies Are Comforting for Happy Adults, Too


You don’t have to be a whiney little kid to be comforted by Cry Babies, a pillowy soft, lightly spiced molasses cookie. Actually, they are good enough that I am not sure I would want to pass them out all that often to crying kiddos except in the case of skinned knees, maybe, or some similar calamity. I wouldn’t want to reward all-around discontent or sibling rivalry; otherwise, one would find oneself making them too darn often.

I picked up the “What is a Cry Baby?” question in Yarmouth a couple weeks ago. I had several delightful responses from Bangor Daily News readers. Retired home-economics teacher Alice Knight of Rockland wrote that John Gould’s 1975 Maine Lingo identified the cookie as a soft sugar-cookie with a filling of mincemeat, raisins, or jam, though Alice applied the name to any large soft cookie she took to bake sales.

Minnie McCormick supplied a recipe from Cooking With a Maine Accent published by the Gorham Woman’s Club in 1992 in honor of the Maine General Federation of Women’s Clubs Cookie Leclair of the Hinckley Kennebecside Club, no longer in existence. Minnie’s recipe called for chocolate chops, and Minnie wrote, “I hadn’t thought of chocolate chips with molasses.” Well, I wouldn’t have thought of it either. In fact, I think it is a lousy idea. People put chocolate chips in too many things; it’s a wonder they aren’t part of meat loaf these days.

Then, from East Millinocket, Cora Cox sent a recipe, too, her grandmother’s, which came to Cora by way of her Aunt Martha Elliot. “Grammie used to have a restaurant in E. Millinocket,” wrote Cora, “and was well-known for her baking.”

Fellow food writer Betty Heald whose column, “Baking with Betty” appears in the Camden and Belfast papers, sent two Cry Baby recipes plus, for comparison, two soft molasses cookie recipes.

I had a fine time figuring out what distinguished Cry Babies from various other molasses cookies. It is a close call, but the assemblage of recipes I had in hand seemed to show a consistent use of melted shortening and often hot coffee, though coffee also appears in molasses cookies. They are lightly spiced usually with ginger and cinnamon, though Cora’s recipe called also for cloves and allspice.

Minnie’s, Cora’s and one of Betty’s recipes showed a striking resemblance to one another, minus the chocolate chips in Minnie’s. What follows is a mash-up of the three. All the recipes called for “shortening” and I used butter. Because I enjoy spice, I doubled up on it, not reflected in the recipe below. You’ll want to add spice to your taste. The original directions said to dissolve the baking soda in the coffee, a very old fashioned method; I sifted the baking soda with the flour. Also, I made fairly daintily-sized three inch cookies and the recipe made over a hundred of them. The recipe is easily halved, or you can make bigger cookies.

Side by side comparison of dropped cookie dough with finished baked cookies.

Side by side comparison of dropped cookie dough with finished baked cookies.

Looking for….Date Pie. Betty Heald sent along a question with the Cry Baby Cookie recipes. “Perhaps you can help me with something I also remember from far back!” Her deceased husband’s grandmother used to make a pie consisting of a pastry-lined pie plate, into which she put one layer of pitted dates, a sprinkling of cinnamon, and a few dots of butter, and then water, put on the top crust, and bake. Betty says she didn’t like dates in those days, but found this pie was delicious, and that the dates swelled up to fill the plate. She experimented at replicating it once but it didn’t work. Do any of you have a recipe for this pie that you would share with Betty and the rest of us?

Cry Baby Cookies
Serves: 60 to 100 depending on size.
  • 4 ½ cups flour
  • 2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoon ginger
  • ½ teaspoon cloves, optional
  • ½ teaspoon allspice, optional
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup molasses
  • 1 cup melted shortening
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup of hot coffee
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 cup walnuts chopped, optional
  1. Preheat the oven to 375.
  2. Grease baking sheets or line with parchment paper.
  3. Sift together the flour, spices, baking soda, and salt.
  4. Beat together the sugar, molasses, and shortening, and then add the eggs and vanilla, and beat well.
  5. Stir in the flour mixture until the flour is entirely incorporated.
  6. Add the hot coffee and mix to make a smooth batter.
  7. Fold in raisins and nuts, if desired.
  8. Drop spoonfuls on the baking sheets allowing room for spreading.
  9. Bake for ten to twelve minutes.
  10. Cool before storing in an airtight container.



Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.