Pat Blythe – GingerPennies…..Christmas…..and music


It’s been quite a week and it’s only Tuesday. Posted my GingerPennies sellathon on FB which has now turned into a marathon bakeathon! I was not expecting the response or the orders I received. I thank you one and all.

My mixer….exactly

I’ve been selling these sinful little mouthfuls of sugar, butter and ginger for about six years now. I’ve never really pushed them, but this year decided to get the word out. I figured I can’t cruise bars with my camera, so what’s a better alternative…..of course, cruising my kitchen! I mean, they’re so similar to each other, right? One has me conversing with and meeting so many people. The other has me conversing with the KitchenAid mixer and with my oven. There’s loads of loud music and photographic opportunities. Hmmmmm…..loud music is guaranteed and those cute little nuggets of deliciousness in their birthday suits as they slide out of the oven….haul out the camera. Live entertainment? Nothing to see here…..turn away. I am NOT in my birthday suit!

Pennies from heaven….

It has been suggested by a few people I should write the story about the ginger penny…..or at least my story. So, here goes.

It’s all in the snap……

Ginger snaps, ginger cookies, ginger stems, ginger nuts….whatever you want to call them, have been a staple in my family’s diet for as long as I can remember.  They go hand-in-hand with a cup of orange pekoe or English breakfast tea. Some may prefer Earl Grey, but I find the bergamot clashes with the deliciousness that is a good, slightly spicy, ginger cookie.

Now a ginger snap must have the perfect dunking consistency. Not quite hard enough to break your teeth, but firm enough so you don’t lose it in the bottom of your cup. Sipping soggy cookie takes all the joy out of a good cuppa. The best dunking ginger snap is Marks & Spencer, or as those of in the know call them, Marks & Sparks. It was heaven when you could purchase them here in Canada at the local M&S store. Alas, all the stores in Canada closed some years ago. No one under the age of 50 was purchasing their jumpers and trousers. Now, every trip to England requires at least one partially empty suitcase to allow room to bring the “ginger booty” back to Canada. I’ve emptied out a few M&S shelves on my way to the airport. Thank heaven for my portable suitcase scale.

A penny for your memories…..

Many, many, many years ago I use to visit my Scottish nana in Toronto and I remember a tiny, little cookie she used to have. It was a treat that came out every so often and I loved them. If you held them on your tongue they would melt. I actually have no idea if she bought them or made them but I do know I loved them. They were tiny little morsels of happiness.

Fast forward 20 odd years and I came across a recipe in a Christmas cookbook I thought I’d try. The first time didn’t turn out so well. Second time was the charm and so, in my kitchen the ginger penny was born. I was taken right back to my childhood; memories of sitting on the stool in my nana’s pantry letting little cookies melt on my tongue and savouring the mix of flavours. Okay, I wax a bit eloquent for a 9-year-old but looking back, that’s precisely what I was doing. That pantry was my solace and my happy place.

Nana and me, 2005

Recipes get handed down from generation to generation and we sometimes never know exactly where they came from, or who the first to make it was. They get modified; ingredients substituted, added or removed….it depends on each baker’s or cook’s flare for experimentation or taste. Since baking is more of a science, things can go seriously awry when you experiment too much. Cooking is a “wing it” kind of affair. Once you get the basic recipe down, just go for it! Not so easy with baking.

One of my favourite stores in Toronto was The Cookbook Store on Yonge St. at Cumberland. If you’re into food porn, this was the place. I could spend hours just going through cookbooks and looking at all the gorgeous photographs. One discovery, now a little dog-earred, is a book by Rose Levy Beranbaum called Rose’s Christmas Cookies. I have baked probably 95% of the cookies in this book, but it was the ginger penny that intrigued me. I have now been making them for about 30 years, EVERY Christmas. Chris, and later, my sons were “quality control”. The first two pans out of the oven never made it into the cookie jar.


….or as some call them, Pennies by Pat have become a mainstay in our home and a Christmas tradition. I remember a co-worker and friend stating one year, “it wasn’t Christmas without Pat’s ginger pennies.” They became gifts to family and friends over the years and I always brought a huge bag to Christmas functions. Chris is gone and my sons have long flown the coop, but I still bake them every year….although I’m my own quality control these days.

I use many of Chris’s photos on the labels

It was at one such party it was suggested I should sell them since there is nothing like them on the market. I poo-poohed the idea although my middle sister thought it was a brilliant and immediately started coming up with ideas. By this time Chris was at least a couple of years into his illness and thought it would be too huge an undertaking to try to and start a business around these tiny cookies.

It was a wedding that made the decision for me. I elected to give it a shot when my nephew got married. My gift to them was 100 containers of GingerPennies as table favours, each one dressed in their Scottish best. Official ribbon, the Pride of Bannockburn, was ordered from the home country and Chris’s photo, a Scottish thistle, graced the front of the tag. Chris designed a little, round sticker for the base of the container with all the pertinent information. I added a cute way to say there were no nuts in the product. It was a team effort. We didn’t know it at the time but it was to be the last project we would work on together.

Two Reactions

Getting all the kinks out was a huge learning process. It was also one of the most humid Septembers in memory and these little tidbits suck up moisture like a sponge. Giving them time to cool without letting them get soggy from the humidity was like walking a tightrope. I lost at least 4 batches of cookies. Crisp is the order of the day….sodden and limp is not!

….and so it continues

These little nuggets of ginger joy are one of the most finicky cookies to make. It’s a “trial by ginger”. If you don’t follow an exacting process you’ll lose a batch. I can tell I’ve messed up just by looking at the batter. I’ve tried doubling and tripling the recipe to no avail. One batch at a time, but I’ve got it down to fairly smooth process.  The size is actually based on English penny so no “ginger loonies or toonies”. In this case, size really does matter! I’ve learned, gradually, to experiment with the basic ingredients and have made the recipe my own. They have also become a little year round side business for weddings, corporate events, booty bags and simple thank you gifts.

Chris passed away six days after that wedding, but the Christmas tradition continues. Now when I bake these little treats they are full of memories and love. However, they will be forever associated with Christmas, “quality control” and a little girl sitting on stool in her favourite spot in her nana’s house, happy and content, waiting for the cookie to melt on her tongue.

Since this column is about ginger(s) we’ll start off with Ginger Baker……

Badge – Cream

I Feel Free – Cream

Now for a little Ginger Rogers……no singing’ but a whole lot of unforgettable dancing.

 Swing Time – Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers

Heaven (from Top Hat) – Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers

Then we have Ann Margaret…..

Viva Las Vegas dance number

Rain Champagne (from Tommy) – Ann Margaret

Don’t forget about Molly Ringwald…..and yes, she can really sing!

Don’t You (Forget About Me) – Molly Ringwald (jazz version)

Everyone’s favourite red-headed comedienne, Lucille Ball…..

Lucy and the Chocolate Factory

Lucille Ball in Vitameatavegamin

…..and the wonderful world of Danny Kaye

Symphony for the Unstrung Tongue – Danny Kay (from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty)

When the Saints Go Marching – Danny Kaye & Satchmo

Red Skelton… childhood favourite….never missed a show or Ed Sullivan performance when I was growing up. I loved Freddie the Freeloader and would always look forward to the Christmas special.

Classic Guzzlers Gin – Red Skelton

Freddie the Freeloaders Christmas Dinner – Red Skelton

One of the most stunning and talented redheads in show business…..Rita Hayworth

Zip (from Pal Joey) – Rita Hayworth

Put the Blame on Mame (from Gilda) – Rita Hayworth

….and finally, A Charlie Brown Christmas and the dancing red-headed girl…..she also appears at the bottom of my column.

Charlie Brown Christmas Dance



Pat’s column appears every Wednesday.

Contact us at:

dbawis-button7“Music and photography….my heart, my passions.” After an extended absence —  33 years as a consultant and design specialist in the telecommunications industry — Pat has turned her focus back to the music scene. Immersing herself in the local club circuit, attending the many diverse music festivals, listening to some great music, photographing and writing once again, she is eager to spread the word about this great Music City of ours…..Toronto. Together for 34 years, Pat little-red-headed-dancing-girlalso worked alongside her late husband Christopher Blythe, The PictureTaker©, who, beginning in the early 70s, photographed much of the local talent (think Goddo, Frank Soda and the Imps, BB Gabor, the first Police Picnic, Buzzsaw, Hellfield, Shooter, The Segarini Band….) as well as national and international acts. Pat is currently making her way through 40 years of Chris’s archives, 20 of which are a photographic history of the local GTA music scene beginning in 1974. It continues to be a work in progress. Oh…..and she LOVES to dance! 

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