Friday, July 13, 2012

Ginger Cookies for Marion Cunningham

     Curiously, when I read the news this week that Marion Cunningham had died at ninety, I was baking a batch of Ginger Jack Cookies---her recipe! This was the second time I had made them in two weeks. They were so delicious the first time, that my husband and I craved them again;  furthermore,  I had cut down on the amount of candied ginger she called for, so this time I wanted to experiment with the full 1 1/4 cups. This turned out to be the perfect amount; the heat of the ginger dissipating as the cookies baked. My admiration for Mrs. Cunningham increased.

 Freshly baked Oatmeal- Ginger Jack Cookies

     Since a mutual friend introduced us at a party in the late '70s, I have always admired Marion Cunningham. When we met she was hard at work on the revision of  The Fannie Farmer Cookbook for Alfred A.Knopf. Throughout the years I saw her quite frequently: just visiting, or buying books in my San Francisco bookshop, Cookbook Corner, walking along Sutter Street with her daughter, at meetings and events of the newly formed San Francisco Professional Food Society, and dining at her favorite Berkeley haunts: The Fourth Street Grill owned by Mark Miller, Bridge Creek Restaurant, which featured her recipe for tender pancakes called "heavenly hots,"  and, over several decades, at The Chez Panisse Cafe. She always greeted me with her fond "hello Dear" and it was a pleasure to see her. Even though she traveled in the elite circles of the food world and consorted with luminaries like James Beard, Julia Child and Alice Waters she always showed great kindness and respect for all of her friends. She was lovely, opinionated and fun. As an avid proponent of cooking and baking at home, she wrote and taught tirelessly to this end. She regarded those activities as the greatest pleasures in life. The last time I spoke with her by phone, we conversed about her participation in the oral history project at U. C. Berkeley's Bancroft Library. Then she faded from my view. I heard she had succumbed to Alzheimer's disease and had moved from her Walnut Creek home where she had developed and tested so many recipes. Next, I was saddened to hear of her death; I find it hard to deal with her absence. Yet, any time now, I expect she might miraculously pop up at an unexpected moment, like when I am searching for a great recipe for oatmeal cookies with lots of ginger.

Marion Cunningham in her Walnut Creek, California kitchen
Of course, she had a cat

Ginger Jack Cookies  adapted from the  San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook
"These chewy cookies, by Marion Cunningham, leave a trail of heat in the back of the throat from the generous use of candied ginger."   ( My notation: Don't be afraid to use the full amount)

1 cup butter                                                          1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup granulated sugar                                         1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup brown sugar                                               1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs                                                                   2 cups cornflakes, crushed
1 teaspoon vanilla                                                   1 cup rolled oats
2 cups all-purpose flour                                         1 1/4 cups finely chopped candied ginger
     Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease baking sheets if not using non-stick pans
Cream butter with an electric mixer, slowly add both sugars and mix until smooth. Add eggs and vanilla and mix well.
     Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt; stir with a fork until mixed.Add to creamed mixture and beat until thoroughly mixed. Add the cornflakes, oats and ginger. Mix well
     Drop by teaspoons 1 1/2 inch apart on prepared baking sheet. Bake about 8 min. or until the edges  are lightly golden. Do not over bake.
     Transfer the cookies to racks to cool. Yields about 7 dozen 2" diameter cookies.
     If desired, halving recipe works well.

Featured Book(s)

     Though I know it all began with The Fannie Farmer cookbook, which put Marion Cunningham on the map, I would rather  feature my old friend The San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook, edited by Michael Bauer and Fran Irwin. It is a compilation of recipes which appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle.  Marion wrote a popular weekly column for the newspaper during the 90's, so some of her creative recipes are included.  Not only does the book contain her meaningful Ginger Jack Cookies, but it also features an ingenious preparation for Fish Fillets with Mustard Meringue on page 267, which I enjoy again and again. She adapted this recipe from another California classic,  Helen Brown's West Coast Cookbook. The author, Helen Evans Brown, was a compatriot of James Beard, so she obviously influenced Mrs. Cunningham, who then added contemporary twists to the recipe. I am honored to feature recipes and books by both of these California women.


  1. What a nice, heart warming story. May she rest in peace.

    p.s. I hope Dean didn't eat all the cookies! =)

    1. Dean just ate the last one, but I had my share and you had one of the first batch!