These humble, yet wonderful, tea biscuits contain many ingredients that were the province of 19th-century grocers, including spices, raisins, flour, and baking soda. The original circa-1870 Plymouth recipe resides in the hand-written notebook of Frona Spooner, in the archive of the Plymouth Antiquarian Society, and is reprinted here with their kind permission. “Common Rusk: 6 cups flour, 3½ sugar, 1 butter, 1½ sweet milk. 3 eggs. 1 teaspoonful soda 1½ cups raisins spice and salt to your taste (or mix pretty stiff.) Aunt Esta says sour or sweet milk. & 2½ of sugar & one molasses.”
Note that the spices are to taste. Our suggestion below results in a hermit-like vibe; adjust to your own whim. This recipe makes almost 100 biscotti-like cookies, which keep very well for ages in an air-tight container.
• 6 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
• ¾ teaspoon ground cloves
• ¾ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 1 cup (8 ounces) butter, softened
• 2 cups sugar
• 1 cup molasses
• 3 eggs
• 1½ cups milk or buttermilk
• 1½ cups raisins
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 4 baking sheets with parchment, or grease and flour them.
Whisk together flour, soda, spices, and salt and set aside. In a large bowl, cream butter. Gradually add sugar, beating until fluffy. Beat in molasses and then eggs.
On low speed or by hand, add the dry ingredients and the milk to the butter mixture, stirring everything quickly together. Add the raisins in the last few folds.
Form the batter into log-shaped masses lengthwise, two per baking sheet, about two inches apart. Even out a bit, but don’t fuss; the batter smoothes itself out in the oven.
Bake 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick emerges clean from the center. Cool on the pans 10 minutes, then slide logs onto racks to cool completely.
Lower oven to 250 degrees.
When logs are cool, slice crosswise into 1-inch rusks, putting them back onto a cooling rack with some room between them. Place them in the oven to toast for 20-30 minutes. Cool thoroughly again before storing.