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Washboard Cookies: a Heritage Recipe


My great-grandmother Mary Alice Salisbury was born pre-maturely on July 2, 1896, weighing less than two pounds. Her mother Miranda Ramsden Salisbury would never fully recover from the birth and passed on June 15, 1897. This was back at a time where incubators did not exist. However, as luck would have it, during that time there were many cigar manufacturers scattered across the country. Wooden cigar boxes were found in almost every home as they made a nice box to store things inside. In this home, the box was used as a homemade incubator. It is awe inspiring, that a wooden cigar box not only was a make-shift crib for my dear great-grandmother, but helped save her life. She was carefully bound up in soft blanket, laid inside the box, and set upon the open oven door to keep warm.

I can imagine her, a sweet little babe, peering up out of the blankets at the world for the first time. She was warm, she was safe, and even though she would lose her mother, she was loved. As a matter of fact, her oldest sister Hattie who was 20 and married at the time, took her in after her mother’s death, raising her as her own. Mary Alice would grow up on a Ranch in Ashton, Idaho and later in life meet and marry Legrand Wilson Hess, who’s great-grandfather John W. Hess, founded the first Primary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. You can read a spectacular account of his life in his journal here.


Grandma-Great {as us kids would call her} was always special to me. She raised my dear mother and as a result I was very close to her. Not a Christmas went by that she was not there with us. We lived in the same town and I would visit her often. When I would visit her she would make these washboard cookies. This was a recipe from her childhood. Chocolate chips were expensive to buy, so this was a cookie that was made with things that one would have on hand in the kitchen. One of my favorite things about this recipe is the uniqueness in how the baking soda was dissolved in hot water. We just don’t do things like that any more. The cookies are pressed flat with a fork, which is where they get their name, as they bake looking like a washboard.

Grandma-Great was so kind and I never heard a negative word come out of her mouth. I never saw her cross. I only saw her grateful and loving. When I was little she lived in a little small one bedroom motel in Pocatello, Idaho. When I look back I realize now that she certainly did not have it easy. I would go and spend the night at her house and she would make out the couch to a bed for me. I would spend hours going through an old trunk of her keepsakes, reading cards and looking at photos. It never ceased that she would give me a dollar to go across the street to the corner market and pick her up some cabbage and pick myself out a goodie while I was at it. Grandma-Great was definitely not rich in the things of the world, however rich with goodness. She was so sweet that she would send a card with a $5 bill to each and every one of her grand-children, great-grandchildren and even great-great grandchildren on their birthdays. She wanted them to know that she loved them, even though $5 was much more than she could even afford.

Today, in honor of my dear Grandma-Great, I am sharing her recipe with my Activity Day Girls. I will be serving them out of a little wooden box I have, which is about the same size as the cigar box grandma-great slept in. One of the requirements in the Faith in God book is to write a pedigree chart. I felt that it would be fun for the girls to bake a goodie, or bring any food item in once a week and have a spotlight time where we could talk about our ancestors. This takes care of a treat each week, plus gives the girls the opportunity to ask questions about their heritage and learn stories about their genealogy. I found a beautiful pedigree chart HERE which can be downloaded free for personal use. It will be the perfect thing to hand out to the girls when it is their turn to share.

If you would like to start your genealogy and learn beautiful inspiring stories about your ancestors visit Family Search.

And now for the RECIPE….


Washboard Cookies

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees

Line Cookie Sheets with Parchment Paper

Mix Together:

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup white sugar

1 cup shortening

2 eggs

1 teaspoon soda dissolved in 1/4 cup boiling water

1 teaspoon vanilla

Slowly Add:

4 1/2 cups sifted flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

Mix well. Drop by teaspoon full onto cookie sheet.

Press with fork dipped in flour.

Bake 375 degrees for 10 minutes.


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