Growing up, I looked forward to eating sand tarts every Christmas at my grandparents’ house in Pennsylvania. They are common in Pennsylvania Dutch country and throughout the state. My grandmother baked a lot of good cookies during the holidays, but this one was my favorite. She made them so thin you could practically see through them, and they were a sugary, buttery delight.
I thought oatmeal cookies had been around for centuries — they just seem so old-fashioned. But it turns out that this cookie was essentially a 20th-century creation, one that became hugely popular in just a decade or two.
Until recently, not many people ate oats, let alone oatmeal cookies. The grain was considered animal fodder, except in parts of northern Europe and the British Isles — particularly Scotland, where oat porridge and oat cakes were staples for many centuries. Continue reading
Long before bitcoins, the new digital currency that completely mystifies me, a coin called the pine tree shilling caused a big stir in colonial America. In the mid-17th century, the Massachusetts Bay Colony was flourishing but had a shortage of actual money. England did not want to send its coins to the colonies, since they were in short supply. So two settlers, John Hull and Robert Sanderson, starting minting their own money. These silver coins were known as pine tree shillings because one side was stamped with the image of a tree, usually a pine. (Pine trees, used for ships’ masts, were one of the Bay Colony’s main exports.)
Eventually someone had the bright idea to press one of these shillings into a cookie before baking, creating a tree design. Continue reading
Back in college, I had a roommate who was a great baker, and one of her specialties was Joe Froggers. I didn’t realize at the time that these wonderfully soft, thick gingerbread-like cookies had a colonial origin, and a good story behind them. They are named for Joseph Brown, or “Black Joe,” a freed slave whose mother was black and whose father was Native American. Black Joe fought in the Revolutionary War and in the 1790s opened a tavern in Marblehead, Massachusetts, north of Boston, where he had lived before the war. Continue reading
I recently bought a block of American Heritage Chocolate, a gritty, stone-ground chocolate made in the colonial style, at the Genesee Country Village and Museum in Mumford, New York. I was excited about using it for this blog, but soon discovered that not many 18th-century English or American recipes actually called for chocolate.
Chocolate was widely consumed in colonial America — it was even part of military rations for American and British troops during the Revolutionary War. But until the mid-19th century, it was nearly always used for drinking, not baked in desserts or eaten on its own.
Shrewsbury cakes are actually cookies, which were called cakes or biscuits in colonial times — and still are in England. The word cookie comes from the Dutch settlers’ word koekje, or “little cake,” which was Anglicized to “cooky” and then “cookie.” (I think they should have stopped at “cooky”.) Continue reading