Old-fashioned cookies like oatmeal, peanut butter and chocolate chip began as staples in lunch pails and remain timeless treats in the lunch boxes today.
With kids going back to school, it seemed only fitting to launch September with a sweet history lesson on such lunch box cookies.
The lesson begins with the cookie that brings back memories of grandmothers —oatmeal. The oatmeal cookie has been the popular classic for long time, although it may not have resembled the spiced cookie containing oatmeal and raisins that we know today.
They were, in fact, a variant of the plain oatmeal cake that originated in Scotland and was popular all over the British Isles. The cakes popped into the scene right around the time the Scottish began harvesting oatmeal and originally the cakes were a staple food more like a pancake than a cookie.
No one really knows just when or who decided to add raisins to the cakes, but the cakes did officially morph into an actual raisin cookie in 1901, when the Quaker Oats company came to be. From then on, the oatmeal became a more popular cooking ingredient worldwide and in 1908, oat cakes became the first oatmeal “cookie” to appear on the Quaker Oats packaging.
The oatmeal cookie drew its fame due to the misconception of it being considered a health food. Adding the oatmeal and the raisin nutritionally justified the claim and people rationalized to satisfy their “guilt free” treat. While the cookie has gained popularity hiding in the myth that it is a healthy cookie, this really isn’t entirely true. The cookie takes a good crack at being healthy but like all other cookies, the sugar and butter tip them into a class of food that should be enjoyed in moderation.
Another classic is the peanut butter cookie. It actually began as a peanut cookie — plain cookie dough with peanuts added to it. It was in the 1920s that peanut butter became popular and began appearing as a main ingredient in the cookie.
Although still an adult favourite, the peanut butter cookie fell off the lunch box bandwagon in the last decade or so due to the rise of nut allergies in kids. The nutty treat is still popular in coffee shops and bakeries, but its presence diminished in kids’ lunches.
The cookie’s reputation has been redeemed somewhat with growing awareness of gluten sensitivity; peanut butter cookies are one of those rare traditional cookies that can be made without flour and expensive gluten free flours.
Whichever way they are made, one thing that hasn’t changed is their appearance — the traditional peanut butter cookies have a crisscross on top. Ever wonder the significance?
Over the years, cooks have come to their own conclusions. One such conclusion is that it flattens the dough, thus making them crispier. Another reasonable explanation is that it flattens the dough so it can bake more evenly. Others believe that pattern was a way to distinguish them from all other cookies. Personally, I think all this guessing and hindsight is for nothing — it was just a design for the cookie and it was just something to dress it up with since a fork was about as fancy a baking item as a cook had way back then.
Finally, as far as lunch bag fare goes, the ever popular chocolate chip cookie has taken all the glory.
According to the Nestle Toll House website, the creation of chocolate chip cookies was a complete accident. Ruth Wakefield’s substitution ingenuity is credited for creating the cookie.
Wakefield owned a tourist lodge named Toll House Inn. She developed recipes for the meals served to the guests at the inn and gained local popularity for her desserts and baked goods. The story goes that Wakefield was planning to make chocolate butter drop cookies to serve her guest. But as she started to mix the ingredients together, she discovered that she was out of baker’s chocolate.
Improvising, Wakefield chopped up a block of Nestlé semi-sweet chocolate. She had expected the chocolate to melt and disperse through the cookie dough as regular baking chocolate would. Instead, the chocolate pieces retained their individual form, softening to a moist, gooey melt.
From the mind set of “waste not wants not” Wakefield decided to still serve her mishap. Perceived as one of her new creations, the cookies were devoured and the chocolate chip cookie was born!
Nestlé’s chocolate company negotiated a deal with Wakefield — permission to print her cookie recipe in exchange for lifetime supply of chocolate chips! To this day, Nestle Toll House chocolate chip package retains Wakefield’s recipe on its bag.
Although my first chocolate chip cookie baked was using the Toll House recipe, I confess that since my kids were born I have used only one recipe for this cookie. I call it my family recipe because it was first introduced to me by my cousin and it is the recipe I have used for over 20 years.
I printed this recipe in the newspaper 13 years ago and it still is probably one the most requested recipes. The “secret” ingredient, vanilla pudding mix, means these cookies separate themselves from all other chocolate chip cookies!
Nina’s Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 cup butter, softened
1cup packed brown sugar
1 (3.5 ounce) package instant vanilla pudding mix
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups Hershey’s pure milk chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350F (190C).In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugars. Add pudding mix, eggs and vanilla. Combine flour and baking soda; add to creamed mixture and mix well. Fold in chocolate chips. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto parchment lined baking sheets. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned.
Peanut Butter Cookies
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 1/4 cup flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Beat the butter until creamy, 2 minutes. Add the sugars, beat for 2 more minutes. Mix in the peanut butter and egg. Mix together the dry ingredients – flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Stir the dry ingredients into the sugar butter mixture. Wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate at least 3 hours.
Preheat oven to 375F. Shape dough into 1 1/4 inch balls. Place about 3 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten in crisscross pattern with a fork. Bake until light brown, 9 to 10 minutes. Cool on baking sheets for a minute; transfer to rack to cool completely. For chewier cookies, bake at 300F for 15 minutes.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups oats (not instant)
1 1/2 cups raisins
Preheat oven to 350. Mix together flour, soda, powder, salt; set aside. In separate bowl combine butter, sugars, eggs, and vanilla with a hand mixer on low. Increase speed to high and beat until fluffy and the color lightens. Stir the flour mixture into the creamed mixture until no flour is visible. Add the oats and raisins; stir to incorporate. Drop (2 tablespoons) dough 2-inches apart onto baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake 11-13 minutes (on center rack), until golden, but still moist beneath cracks on top. Remove from oven; let cookies sit on baking sheet for 2 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool.
Madhu Badoni is a Red Deer-based freelance food writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @madhubadoni. Watch for Madhu’s Masala-Mix blog on bprda.wpengine.com.