History of Food

History of Food

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

June 12 - National Peanut Butter Cookie Day

In researching daily topics there are times I hit a dead end and really have to research!  But surprisingly, when it came to Peanut Butter Cookies I had no idea that Peanut Butter Cookies had such a rich and noted history.   

The idea of nut butter, peanut butter being one of the various nuts used to make nut butter had emerged about 1885, but was not yet publicly available. Nut butter was used in commercial candy making. This was a recipe that was the precursor of the Peanut Butter Cookie. The recipe has one tablespoon of butter and no other shortening. It said to “pound or chop one cupful of peanuts.”  The low fat quantity suggests the chopped peanuts made up the rest of the shortening. Early confirmed peanut butter cookies used one tablespoon shortening, lard or butter and 3 tablespoons of peanut butter. The rest of the ingredients listed, with the exception of a higher amount of peanuts. is similar to the early peanut cookies which used peanut butter. It remains unknown who developed the “Peanut Cookies” recipe, but many can be attributed as contributors.

Mrs. Rorer’s New Cook Book (1902, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) published the first cookie recipe with peanut butter. She had a chapter devoted to “Nuts” in which she explained how to process them. Under it was “Peanut Butter”, “Peanut Meal” and “Peanut Wafers” (page 535).

In the March 16, 1913 issue of the Reading Eagle (Pennsylvania) was an article, “Some of Mrs. Wilson Favorite Recipes: The President’s Wife Gives Hints on Cooking” It was a list of cookie recipes one was “Peanut Cookies”. The recipe called for peanut butter and was a slightly richer recipe than Mrs. Rorer’s Peanut Wafers. This was followed in the November 15, 1913 issue of The Saskatoon Phoenix (Canada) with an article titled, “Jessie Woodrow Wilson, Soon To Be Wed, a Famous Cookie Maker”. Included in the article was the same list of cookie recipes that was listed under Mrs. Wilson’s article, wife of the president. The two newspapers used the high status of President Wilson’s wife and daughter in publishing their cookie recipes to increase sales. The increased sales and the status of the two women popularized the “Peanut Cookie” which used peanut butter. These early Peanut Cookies called for “1 tablespoon of shortening, 3 tablespoons of peanut butter”.  In it peanut butter was substituted for some of the shortening.

Two years later in 1915, the Larkin Company of Buffalo, New York who produced their own peanut butter, published the Larkin Housewives’ Cook Book (1915). In it was the “Special Peanut Cookies” recipe which used Larkin Peanut Butter. It was sent into the Larkin Company by Mrs. G. W. Parrins, Lyons, N.Y. The Special Peanut Cookies recipe was the same recipe that Mrs. Wilson and Jesse Wilson favored. Likely the recipe had been republished in other newspapers in the region.

The earliest use of the term “peanut butter” in a cookie recipe was found in the Newark Sunday Call of Newark, New Jersey on September 19, 1913. The recipe was titled “Prune Peanut Butter Cookies”. This recipe called for brown sugar instead of white sugar, and a large quantity of fat ½ cup shortening and ¾ cup peanut butter to a ratio of 2 cups flour. Although it used prunes in the recipe it is interesting to note this was the forerunner of the modern Peanut Butter Cookie. It used a high ratio of shortening and peanut butter combined, and brown sugar. Some modern Peanut Butter Cookie recipes still use the same ratio of shortening to peanut butter.

In the 1916 Anglo-Chinese Cookbook compiled and edited by Mrs. R. Calder-Marshall & Mrs. P. L. Bryant, two American named ladies and published in Shanghai, China. The ladies included recipe Peanut-Butter Cookies which makes it the earliest pure peanut butter cookie recipe with the name. This was a popular cook book as it was printed in the English language and Chinese language. The Peanut Butter Cookies were listed under “American Cookies”.

The following year in 1917 “Query #3803. – Recipe for Cookies made with Peanut Butter” was answered in the Boston Cooking School’s American Cookery magazine (Vol. 21, No. 8, March 1917, p. 636). It was named “Peanut Butter Cookies”. This recipe is a combination of the earlier recipes but it too retained the low quantity of shortening as well as using less shortening to more peanut butter.

In 1918, three war time Peanut Butter Cookies recipes were published.  The Farm Journal published in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania had an article “Patriotic Women Will Use these New Recipes” (Vo. 42, No. 7, July 1918, p 26). “Peanut Butter Cookies (sugarless), require six tablespoons of fat, one fourth cupful [4 tablespoons] peanut butter, …”  In this recipe there is more fat than peanut butter. The recipe came from a farm journal, farms had access to butter and lard that the general public did not have, hence the increase instead of decrease in fat as is seen in the other war time recipes. It brought the concept of a higher ratio of shortening / peanut butter seen in an earlier recipe to more readers. The other two war time recipes utilized peanut butter much more heavily for the shortening.  Peanut butter apparently was more readily available than other shortenings during the World War I.

The quantity of shortening to peanut butter was not the only issue being worked out. How to shape the cookie was also of importance.  In the August 27, 1917 Reading Eagle a lady contributed three different peanut butter cookie recipes.  “Peanut Butter Cookies – make a soft dough and pat rather than roll out.” “Peanut Butter Drop Cookies – Drop in small spoonfuls on greased baking sheet”. “Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies – shape into balls”. In the July 25, 1917 Robinson Constitution it read, “This Recipe Sounds Good” “Peanut Butter Cookies – Chill, roll thin, shape”  The Newburgh Daily dated April 22, 1918 had “Peanut Butter Cookies – Shape the cookies with a small cutter”. Five recipes each with a different way to handle and shape the cookies. The “drop” and “ball” versions are thick lumps of raw cookie dough. Neither of the recipes said to flatten the lumps, whereas the other recipes called to flatten the dough by rolling or patting.

The fork was originally used to flatten a cookie very thin in lieu of rolling the dough. In time, the fork’s purpose changed. Cookies were often served at ladies functions where presentation was as important as taste. The imprint that the fork left on the cookie made a desirable decorative pattern. Sometime in the 1930’s the criss-cross pattern became the hallmark of the Peanut Butter Cookie.

The changes that came about in the 1930’s perfected the Peanut Butter cookie. But not every cook book author followed suit immediately. The Boston Cooking School Cook Book’s 1936 edition listed “Peanut Butter Cookies” under “Sugar Cookies”. The cook book used a simple way of converting a basic sugar cookie recipe into numerous different types of cookies. It said to substitute peanut butter for the butter. The modern “Peanut Butter Cookies” recipe appears eleven years later in the 1947 edition as a distinct cookie complete with an illustration on how to decorate it with a fork.  Today (2011) Peanut Butter Cookies are still made the same way: half white granulated sugar and half brown sugar, equal quantities of shortening and peanut butter and pressed with fork to form a criss-cross pattern.

On a personal note - my mom and I spent many hours in the kitchen baking.  I make not be a wonderful chef, but I know how to bake.  Peanut Butter Cookies are one of my comfort foods.  Why?  It was the first recipe my mom shared with me in baking cookies.  Thus - trully a comfort food  food for me.

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