It is the day before the Summer Solstice and I am baking Alfred’s Long Johns….
In Oregon, summer comes slowly…we have spring from Candlemas to the Fourth of July, especially during el Nina years—and we are in the midst of the most Nina of years on record. It has been raining forever. There have been nice days. Yesterday, I trimmed the entire vegetable garden and Mark mowed it and it looks quite snazzy, but, this morning was overcast and drizzling. When I went to let the chickens out, only the Boss Chicken, Gertrude, came striding out. George was lurking under the shelter and the Peepsters just stayed in bed for another couple of hours. My bare feet were covered in grass clippings when I came in. I resigned myself to the weather, gathered up a couple of books, a small pot of tea, and the cats, and settled into the nook for an hour or so. When the caffeine hit, I decided to make the Long Johns.
Alfred’s Long Johns come from an early summer vacation on Cape Breton I took years ago. My friend Sher, whose partner owned a bit of land and a transformed chicken coop, took me with her to the edge of the land, a small cabin at the end of the road, literally. An elderly couple—Alfred—owned the adjoining piece of land and allowed access to their shower and conversation. It is a beautiful spot, right on the ocean, high up on a cliff, green and grey and stunning. I gather it is exceptionally fine in sunny weather, but I would not know. The day we arrived, clouds settled in and did not move for the week we were there. So, we hibernated. It had been a rough year of part time graduate school and full time baking and I brought a pile of books for my thesis along. Sher had a book of Native American History. We both had novels as well. We climbed into the big bed, rigged the candle lanterns above our heads, and read. And slept. Read and slept. Alfred would come down in the late afternoon, worried that he had not seen us all day, and offer us fresh baked cookies and strong Canadian tea. Lured by the offer, we would emerge into the damp world for a little while before retreating to sleeping and reading once more. On the last day, the sun came out, bright in the world. In our good-bye photograph, we are squinting in the unaccustomed light. “It figures,” we muttered as we climbing into the car for the long drive back to work and writing and not enough sleep. But, even then, we knew that the Weather Gods had given us a huge gift—a reason to stay inside, drink tea, eat cookies, and dream, waking and sleeping, for an entire week.
So, when it is late Spring here in Corvallis, when the clouds have settled over our heads again, when I am, once more, feeling like retreating into a week of sleep and read, I make the same cookies. They are an old-fashioned variety—no chocolate, not too sweet—but they are perfect with a strong cup of tea, a book, and some quiet conversation. I have four dozen sitting on my counter….wipe your feet before you come in.
Alfred’s Long Johns
½ c. butter
1c white sugar
1T soda, ¾ c water
4 ¾ c flour
½ t ginger and clove
Cream butter and shortening, add sugar and molasses. Dissolve soda into the water and add with the egg and vanilla. Mix dry ingredients together and add. Mix well. Add a little flour if things seem wet. Drop in funky shaped balls onto the cookie sheet and bake in 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes.