Eating Like A Confederate President: Davis’s Gingerbread

Molasses Cookies

Find Part 1 with details about Lincoln’s Gingerbread here.

Gingerbread in all its variations was a big favorite in the north, the south, and in between. Lebkuchen, the German form of gingerbread, was baked in many “Dutch” households, and others enjoyed squares, loaves, or elegantly molded round Bundt versions of the yummy, rich, spicy traditional sweet. There are more recipes for gingerbread throughout history than anything else except maybe beer—and there is certainly ginger beer as well.

Southern tables groaned under the weight of hams, chicken, and game, and a dessert table was often graced with a magnificent gingerbread concoction. Additionally, ginger-flavored cookies were made in great profusion. There are three types of gingerbread cookies: the traditionally shaped gingerbread cutouts that are crispy or a little chewy, molasses cookies, which are soft and dropped from a spoon or rolled in sugar, and gingersnaps, a combination of the two. Usually, gingersnaps are crisp—hence the “snap” in the name.

It is relatively easy to find holiday recipes for presidents and their families but finding them for the Davis family is a bit more challenging. Luckily the Confederate White House came to my aid via the internet:

Varina Davis, Jefferson Davis’s second wife, was an elite southern woman and as such probably did not do her own cooking, at least not daily. Later in life she probably had servants who “did for her,” even when she lived in New York. She lived in “residential hotels,” which may have provided food as well as lodging. According to the Confederate White House, this recipe was a family favorite. It is very similar to modern ginger cookie recipes, and those are always yummy.

Varina Davis

Mrs. Davis’ Gingersnap Recipe

2 1/2 cups shortening
3 cups sugar
3 eggs
3/4 cup molasses
6 cup flour
4 1/2 teaspoons soda
1 1/2 teaspoon ginger

Cream shortening and sugar. Add eggs and molasses. Add flour which has been sifted with soda and ginger. Form in 1/4 inch balls and roll balls in sugar. Place 2 inch apart on greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees 10 to 20 minutes. This makes 16 dozen cookies to share with family and friends, or to pack into cartons to send to cold, hungry, lonely soldiers.


Ginger-based confections have been a part of the winter holidays for centuries. Make your own versions if none of ours appeal to you, and enjoy.

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