Too Many Cooks

Mary Ball Washington, mother of George, was known for her gingerbread

Mary Ball Washington, George Washington’s mother, is credited with creating her own gingerbread recipe, featuring “West India molasses,” a “wine glass of brandy,” orange rind and raisins. She supposedly served some to General Lafayette – along with a mint julep. Here are a couple of takes on early American gingerbread recipes, both connected to either Mary Ball Washington or General Lafayette.

Lafayette Gingerbread (1827)

From “The American History Cookbook” by Mark H. Zanger (Greenwood Publishing Group, 2003)

This recipe was likely developed as a result of the French general’s 1824-1825 tour of the United States. As the story goes, the Revolutionary War hero had enjoyed gingerbread made by George Washington’s mother during a 1784 visit. (A recipe for that version is listed below.)

½ pound fresh butter

The juice and grated peel of 2 lemons

5 medium eggs

½ pound brown sugar

1 pint sugar-house molasses

4 rounded tablespoons ginger

1 level tablespoon cinnamon

1 ½  level tablespoon allspice

1 level teaspoon cloves

1 ½  pounds flour (or about 4 ½ cups sifted white flour, 1 cup white whole-wheat flour and 6 tablespoons wheat germ)

Take butter from the refrigerator about an hour before starting. Zest and juice the lemons. Beat the eggs very well. Stir the butter and sugar to a cream. Pour the molasses, at once, into the butter and sugar. Add the ginger and other spices, and stir all together well. Put in the egg and flour alternately, stirring all the time. Stir the whole very hard, and put in the lemon at the last. When the whole is mixed, stir it until very light. Bake in glass loaf pans on the middle rack of a 350-degree oven; loaves are done when a toothpick or wire cake tester comes out clean.

Yield: 3 loaves

Mary Ball Washington’s Gingerbread (1784)


The website lists at least two recipes for Mary Ball Washington’s Gingerbread. This one is adapted from instructions that were added in 2005. A recipe contributed in 2007 calls for double the amount of dark molasses as well as ½ teaspoon of salt.

½  cup butter or ½  cup margarine, soft

½ cup fine packed dark brown sugar

½ cup honey

½ cup molasses

¼ cup cream sherry (or rum, bourbon or brandy)

3 large eggs

3 cups all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons ground ginger

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 1/2 teaspoons ground mace

1 1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/2 cup warm milk

2 tablespoons grated orange rind

1/4 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice (reserve rind)

1 cup raisins

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 tablespoons warm water

Beat butter at medium speed of an electric mixer till creamy; gradually add sugar, beat well. Add honey, molasses and sherry, beat well. Add eggs one at a time, beat well after each addition. Combine flour and next 5 ingredients; add to butter mixture alternate with milk, beginning and ending with four mixture. Mix at low speed after each addition till blended. Stir in orange juice, rind and raisins. Dissolve soda in warm water; add to batter, stir well. Pour batter into greased 13-by-9-by-2 pan. Bake 350 for 40 to 45 minutes till toothpick tested comes out clean. Cool in pan on wire rack.

You must be logged in to post comments. Please log in here or click the comment box below for options.

comments powered by Disqus
« Back to Too Many Cooks
Adriana Janovich
Adriana Janovich writes for and edits the Wednesday food section.

Follow Adriana online:




Contact the Spokesman

Main switchboard:
(509) 459-5000
(800) 338-8801
(509) 459-5400
(800) 789-0029
Customer service:
(800) 338-8801