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Every summer for 30-plus years, my family has made its way to Wellfleet, Massachusetts. The first night of our summer trip is always the same. First, we pick up the beach sticker, our ticket to long days of lounging on pine-dotted beaches and running into (and quickly back out of) the freezing New England surf. Next, we savor our first bowls of creamy clam chowder and tender, buttered lobster rolls at PJ's, an old school restaurant on the side of Route 6. The last step is to drive down to Orleans to visit the Super Stop and Shop. During this all important food shop, I would be in charge of the snack bag. Having that kind of control as a child was intoxicating, and needless to say I took my job extremely seriously. Though various snacks came and went (let's forget the year I thought Mallomars were a good idea for the beach), one treat that almost always made it into the bag were Hermits.
Hermits are a New England tradition. Local legend has it that Cape Cod fishermens' wives made these flat bar cookies for their husbands because they store well and would last out at sea. While this recipe, adapted from Maida Heatter, is more cake-like and less chewy than the ones I remember, it produces cookies with the perfect level of spice. Nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, and mace pair with molasses and dark brown sugar to give these hermits an aromatic, gingerbread-like quality. To make the cookies even more reminiscent of Cape Cod, I swapped the traditional raisins for cranberries. The tart berries provide a nice contrast, especially with the walnuts I added for crunch.