Go to the source! That’s what historians say, right? There are so many variations of “Lee’s Favorite Gingerbread” and I was excited to try a version from THE SOURCE. Mrs. Robert E. Lee of Arlington actually wrote multiple gingerbread versions in her family recipe book, but beside one she penned “my recipe.” That’s a pretty good clue! And that’s the recipe I decided to try on a chilly autumn night.
The original transcription reads:
6 cups of flour, 1 of lard with a table spoonfull of butter, two tea spoonfuls salt, a cup of butter milk, teaspoonful of soda sifted with the flour, a full cup of brown sugar, as much molassas as will make a dough which must be rolled out and baked in a moderate oven. The dough should be well worked out & rolled with enough flour to make the cakes smooth but not to have any on the outside when baked.
Interestingly, Mrs. Lee did note specify what spices to use or how much, leaving it up the cook. And it is probably worth remembering that Mrs. Lee likely did not regularly work in the kitchen, so her famous recipe was likely baked and interpreted by an enslaved cook or baker the majority of times it was made for the family before or during the Civil War years.
Gingerbread has a long and historic history. Spice islands. Colonies. Packages to soldiers from the homefront. Lincoln’s favorite? (In fact, Meg Groeling has written about the sweet treat previously on the blog. Read more here.)
To make the recipe, I followed the “updated for the modern kitchen” suggestions provided by Anne Carter Zimmer in The Robert E. Lee Family Cooking and Housekeeping Book, and I did use crisco instead of lard. The spices added were ginger, cinnamon, and cloves. The recipe came together easily and made a dough that was easy to roll out and cut.