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Recipes and memories: The Bear’s Cafeteria ginger cakes

Today’s post combines two favorites: Recipes and local store/restaurant memories.

A while back, Patricia Meckley wrote to Barb Krebs, my friend and food columnist for the Weekly Record, asking for a recipe for the soft ginger cakes served by the cafeteria in the former Bear’s Department Store.

Not surprisingly, many readers were willing to help, and in last week’s Weekly Records, we were able to print some suggestions.

I thought these would also be of interest to many Only in York County readers, so I figured I’d repost here as well.

Thanks to Kathy Rohrbaugh of Shrewsbury who responded to a request for Bear’s ginger cakes.

“Believe it or not, on this rainy evening, I picked up the Weekly Record and saw Pat Meckley’s request for Bear’s Ginger cakes. I hope I answered her baking request. I remembered at one time I clipped it out of a recipe section many years ago. I don’t know how I found it, but I did,” Rohrbaugh wrote in her email.

This submitted recipe actually came from Jane Harrison and Mary Ann Grothey of Dover. Harrison worked in the Bear’s cafeteria in the early 1930s as the dessert cook. “‘Sorry there are no directions,’ the newspaper article says. This woman relied on her cooking knowledge for mixing and baking as many bakers/ cooks did in the good old days,” Rohrbaugh added.

Yvonne Leiphart of West Manchester Township also had clipped the same recipe from a past newspaper column. It appears here:

Bear’s Soft Ginger Cake

– 1 pint of baking molasses
– 3/4 cup melted shortening
– 1 cup buttermilk
– 2 teaspoons ginger
– 6 cups of flour
– 1 heaping tablespoon (baking) soda in 1 tablespoon of brown sugar

“As I said, there were no directions given to bake the Ginger Cakes. I would bake them in an oven with a temperature of 375 degrees – watching that they don’t overbrown. Good luck!” Rohrbaugh wrote.

By the way, Kathy and Yvonne also shared the recipe for Bear’s Sugar Cakes, clipped from the same article. That will be printed in the Weekly Record in November, but you get a special early edition.

Bear’s Sugar Cakes

– 2 cups sugar
– 3/4 cup shortening
– 3 eggs
– 1 cup buttermilk
– 1 teaspoon (baking) soda dissolved in vinegar
– 5 cups flour
– 1 teaspoon baking powder
– 1 teaspoon vanilla

This, too, came sans directions, so I’d suggest following the ginger cake idea above from Kathy Rohrbaugh.

Wilda Bosserman of Springettsbury Township, meanwhile, shared a slightly different version of the recipe for Bear’s Ginger Cakes that was published in a newspaper in 1994. This one seems designed to make a restaurant-sized batch!

Bear’s Soft Ginger Cake

– 1/2 gallon Rosemere molasses
– 13 ounces lard, melted
– 1/4 cup brown sugar
– 3/4 quarts buttermilk
– 5 pounds all-purpose flour
– 1 heaping teaspoon ground ginger
– 3 ounces baking soda dissolved in some of the buttermilk

Mix all together except the flour. Add the flour slowly, mix until smooth. Refrigerate overnight or longer. It is best to pat out and cut. Beat an egg and paint on each cookie. Bake at 400 degrees.

While this recipe does not give a length of time to bake, Bosserman suggested checking after 10 or 15 minutes. This makes about 6 dozen.

“The man who submitted the recipe was a cook at Bear’s for many years. He said it is important to use the same ingredients as listed. Use lard, not Crisco,” Bosserman said.

Thanks to all who shared these recipes. I’m excited to be able to keep this fun snack of the past alive.

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