September 21, 2014

PLACES I’VE PLAYED: I’ll have mine bent, not snapped

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The author’s Aunt Lottie and Uncle Frank.

The author’s Aunt Lottie and Uncle Frank.

By Bill Skiff

James Bond may like his martinis shaken, not stirred, but I like mine bent, not snapped—ginger snaps that is.

My childhood ginger snaps didn’t snap, they bent. To this day I would rather have my cookies bend than snap.

The best baker of bent ginger snaps was my Aunt Lottie. She and my Uncle Frank eked out a living on a hardscrabble farm in Hinesburg. What fun it was to visit them! When I was there, I was allowed to do all sorts of interesting and fun things. On the top of my list was eating my fill of ginger snaps.

As I walked into Aunt Lottie’s kitchen, I would go to the back and walk into her pantry. Just inside to the left, there on the shelf sat a large glass jar. It had a metal screw top. The jar was always filled with wonderful chewy ginger snaps. They were soft, full of ginger and sugar. When you held them in your hands you could bend them in half and they wouldn’t break.

Most ginger snaps do snap, but not Aunt Lottie’s. Her secret: She placed two slices of fresh bread in the jar with them. The bread kept the moisture just right so the cookies would bend, not snap. While eating one, I enjoyed a soft chewy ball of the most flavorful ginger-scented dough imaginable.

I also enjoyed visiting Uncle Frank’s hired man Jute. He was an early hippie with long hair, bib overalls and sandals. He lived in a shack that was surrounded by trash. He looked scary, but to us kids he was a kind and interesting character. He also made the best blueberry pies we ever tasted.

Our parents and Aunt Lottie would not allow us to eat them. They also did not want us to associate with Jute because they said he was not clean and unpredictable. We never paid any attention to them because as kids we felt he was okay…and besides his blueberry pies were too good to pass up.

They were, however, not as good as Aunt Lottie’s ginger snaps.

Last week, I went driving down a dirt road in Hinesburg trying to find Aunt Lottie and Uncle Frank’s farm. After a few wrong turns, I came around a corner and there it was. The two trees that framed the front door were now huge. They still provided a wonderful sensation as I stood once again in front of the porch door and looked between them out over the hay field at the majestic Green Mountains.

Elizabeth and Tom, the current owners, greeted me with handshakes and Vermont hospitality. They were eager to hear about my adventures as a kid on the farm and I was eager for them to show me the inside of the house. It had been 68 years since I had stepped into that kitchen. The pantry was gone due to remodeling, but the corner still contained the makings used in cooking and baking. For a minute I thought I smelled the subtle aroma of ginger.

In the kitchen you could see the outline of the opening to the woodshed that allowed me to fill Aunt Lottie’s wood box by throwing the wood directly into the box without having to carry it in from the outside. A real modern convenience—almost as good as indoor plumbing.

Aunt Lottie and Jute are long gone, but their memories linger on. Returning to childhood places, I realize just how long a jump it was for me from that little boy to the man I am now. I realized some things changed and yet some things stayed the same. It is the time in between that has been so special.

Just the other night I smiled when I went to my grandson’s house; he handed me a warm ginger snap his mother had just made. I bent it and it didn’t snap. Life is good.

Bill Skiff grew up on a farm between Cambridge and Jeffersonville. After a career in education, he now lives in Williston, where he is a justice of the peace and Fourth of July frog-jumping official. In “Places I’ve Played,” he shares his experiences of growing up in Vermont. Comments are welcome at [email protected]

 
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