Cookies from 1890?!

I learned a very shocking piece of history recently.

Brace yourselves.

There was a time before chocolate chip cookies.

The official story seems to be that chocolate chip cookies were invented by Ruth Graves Wakefield while she was working at The Toll House Inn in the state of Massachusetts (the how do I spell that again state.) In the year of 1938. Her new recipe was printed in a Toll House Cookbook, and became a hit, the cookies proving especially popular with American servicemen during the Second World War, after those from Massachusetts started sharing their care package chocolate chip cookie loot with companions from other parts of the country. And so, the chocolate chip cookie craze swept America, and has never really receded since. Or so the legend has it.  (No word in this legend on when chocolate chip cookies reached Canada, but probably not too long after.)

The Toll House Inn connection explains why you sometimes come across recipes for “Toll House Cookies” and they are chocolate chip cookies. It also explains why Massachusetts has apparently designated the chocolate chip cookie it’s Official State Cookie.

Now, I have to say, I do suspect that there were a few other chefs and home cooks tossing bits of chocolate into their cookie dough before there was an official original first recipe, promoted by The Toll House Inn and Nestle.

But perhaps not too much before 1938.

Having learned that chocolate chip cookies were one of the new taste sensations of my grandparent’s generation, for my Christmas baking this year, I decided to bake both chocolate chip cookies and non-chocolate chip cookies.

For the chocolate chip cookies, I used the recipe on the back of Hershey’s Chipits, which was only exciting (I’ve made the same recipe a number of times) because this time I doubled the recipe, and, doubled, the mix almost didn’t fit in my biggest mixing bowl. And I also used white chocolate chips as well as the milk chocolate chips.

Then, a few days later, I tried making up a batch of “Animal Cookies” from, it is claimed, 1890, because they are chocolate chip free.

I searched several stores for animal cookie cut outs, but the only ones I could find were something ridiculous like $12 each animal cut out, and who needs to spend that much on a bit of shaped tin? I bought a santa-and-mrs-santa cut out pair for $6 instead. They were more seasonally appropriate than alligators anyway.

After the experience of a doubled recipe being almost too much to handle, and because I wasn’t sure how it would work out, or where I would fit all the cookies in my freezer if I got the 180 the recipe claimed it would make – I halved this recipe.  Here is where I found the recipe, which may be from Michigan. (Another M state!)

My Altered Cut-out Cookie Recipe (Made me about 50 cookies. I’m not sure precisely how many cookies it made, because I ate a few before I started counting.)


1 egg

¾ cups sugar

½ cup butter, left out to soften for awhile (The recipe I was working with called for lard, but I did not feel ready to cross the lard Rubicon.)

½ tsp baking soda

½ cup sour cream (The smallest amount of sour cream I was able to find in local stores was a full cup. I put the remaining sour cream into pancakes the next day. We’ll have to have a pancakes post some day.)

½ tsp salt

½ tsp vanilla extract (I’m still using almond extract instead of vanilla.)

½ tsp baking powder

3 cups white flour

This is a very simple recipe. Although, the instructions I was working off said, “Beat your egg until “very light,” and I don’t know what “very light” beaten egg looks like, so I just beat the eggs with my egg beater for a minute or so and decided it was good.

In one bowl, cream together the sugar and the butter, then add the (beaten) egg and mix the egg in to the sugar/butter.

In a small bowl, mix baking soda, salt, vanilla/almond extract and baking powder into the sour cream, and then add that to the big bowl.

Add the flour to the sugar, a cup at a time. By the time you’re adding the third cup, it will be getting quite hard to stir, and I ended up having to use my hands to mush the last bits of flour in.

The recipe instructions say that you should now refrigerate the dough overnight. (I’m pretty sure that’s not what a recipe from 1890 would say, so clearly, I’m not the first person to mess around and update this recipe. I suppose it could have said something like– “stick this some place cool, like near a block of ice, or maybe outside or near the door or window if it’s winter?”)

Regardless, I basically ignored the whole cooling the dough for hours thing. I did stick it in the fridge while I waited for the oven to heat up, and I took it out in bits, only rolling out portions of the dough ball at a time.

Heat your oven up to 400F and prepare your baking sheet. I couldn’t find my parchment paper roll, so I ended up baking these cookies on top of tinfoil.

Now, roll out some of your dough at a time, rolling it as thin as you have the patience for, and apply whichever cut-outs you have.

I was able fit about 16 cut outs at a time on my baking sheet.

Bake cookies for anywhere between 3 and 8 minutes, depending on thin-ness and size of cut out, until they are nicely browned around the edges. (A few of mine got a bit too much time. Start closer to three minutes than 8!)

Part way through the cut-out and bake session, I remembered that I already had had a few Christmas cookie cut outs from ages past, and I dug out a star shape.

I suspect that if I had more patience and had rolled out the dough more, I would have had more cookies, but as it is, I was quite happy with the fifty or so that I did get.

You could, of course, add icing to these cookies, which aren’t as sweet as some, and might strike some tongues as a bit bland. However, I quite liked them just as they were, and they are easier to freeze for later if they haven’t been decorated. You can always add icing later. (That’s what people cleverer then me have said!)

Next stop on the Christmas cookie baking list: Imperial Cookies, or, as some people know them – Empire Cookies. Or Empire Biscuits. Or Linzer or German Biscuit. Or Belgian Biscuit. Or… they got the ‘Freedom Fry’ treatment during the first world war, is what it is. I grew up knowing them as Imperial Cookies. I’ve only made them twice before, and it takes tiiiiime, so I might have to devote a seperate blog post to their construction later, in the new year.

For now, enjoy your cookies, or biscuits, whichever they may be!

1 thought on “Cookies from 1890?!”

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