Today’s recipe comes from Lynchburg, Virginia. It is part of a comfort food type of theme as you will read later on. First, let’s look at some big-time comfort foods. Apple pie. French fries. Chocolate cake. Chili. Fried Chicken. The list can go on and on. When people talk about comfort food, the obvious explanation is that it’s all about nostalgia. But there’s also a cultural element. Whether the craving begins with cold weather, a messy break up, a holiday jingle, a significant birthday, or a funeral notification, it all comes back to the desire to create the rush of sensations that make us feel safe, calm, and cared for. It’s a complex interplay of memory, history, and brain chemistry, and while some basics apply — most of us are soothed by the soft, sweet, smooth, and salty — the specifics are highly personal.
While taking a tour of the Old City Cemetery in Lynchburg, Virginia a few weeks back, a discussion was started by our guide on funerals, funeral foods and funeral food recipes. After a lengthy discussion a few facts seemed clear. Funeral foods are generally delicious, familiar and portable. Many of the recipes are written “by the heart” rather than by pen, therefore there isn’t necessarily a formal recipe available. Funeral foods give a peek into the way people live in a specific region. If I am not mistaken, these “facts” also speak to the definition of comfort foods.
As it turns out, there are several books written on funeral foods. One of the best just might be the one award-winning one available from the Old City Cemetery in Lynchburg, Virginia. It is compiled by Jessica Bemis Ward and sponsored by the Southern Memorial Association. “Food to Die For” is 180 pages ($25) of funeral food, tips, and tales. Today’s recipe is a cookie that is featured in “Food to Die For” and is strongly connected with Lynchburg’s Old City Cemetery and is often seen at Cemetery social functions.
The Old City Cemetery is a registered historic landmark opened in 1806 as a public burying ground. It is the oldest public cemetery in Virginia still in use today. It has been estimated that over 90% of Lynchburg’s enslaved and free African American population are buried in the Old City Cemetery, the primary burial site for African Americans from 1806 to 1865. The 26-acre site features more than 2000 historic gravestones, monuments, and ironwork enclosures; Butterfly Garden & Lotus Pond; garden of 19th-century shrubs and local architectural relics; Pest House Medical Museum, depicting conditions in a Civil War quarantine hospital; Cemetery Center, housing an office and small museum of mourning customs; Hearse House & Caretakers’ Museum, featuring an original 1900 horse-drawn hearse and grave markers exhibit; Station House Museum–an 1898 C&O Railway depot that interprets local railroad history; and Confederate Section containing 2200 graves of Civil War soldiers from 14 states. Daily tours are available.
Cemetery Ginger Cookies
Compliments of the Old City Cemetery
Food To Die For; A book of Funeral Food, Tips & Tales
¾ Cup Butter
1 Cup Sugar
4 Tablespoons Molasses
2 Cups Flour
½ Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1 Teaspoons Baking Soda
½ Teaspoon Salt
Cream butter and sugar. Beat in molasses and egg. Mix in dry ingredients. Chill dough for several hours to make it easier to handle. With hands, roll dough into small, marble-sized balls. Roll balls in granulated sugar and place on greased baking sheet. Flatten each ball with the flat bottom of a glass. Bake in a preheated 325-degree oven for 12-15 minutes.
Makes 4-6 dozen cookies.