Cookie stories and histories

I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts, well, cookies in this case, that when I say “grandma” you think “extra treats.”

Many a kiddo received a “no” from mom only to look sideways at the family matriarch who nodded ascent with a conspiratorial wink. At least mine did. I got my hands on several extra molasses cookies (cut with a SPAM can), raisins puffs and sugar cookies this way (and strawberry jam – but that’s a different column).

The Anoka County Historical Society developed a new program entitled, “Grandma’s Cookie Jar” and debuted it with our friends at the Andover YMCA last week. The group gathered for some cookie history, but also to bring a favorite cookie jar, share some stories and delight in a family recipe one generous human baked especially to share.

Cookies, we come to find out, saw their beginnings in Persia in the seventh century A.D. These had some sugar, but far less than anything we would consume today. They also featured spices, newly brought from Asia on the trading routes. The Crusades gave the British an opportunity to bring the spoils of a ransacked culture home, thus giving birth to the delicate tea-time treats they’re known for.

Fast-forward to the American colonies and (you guessed it) the recipes arrived on the ships along with the passengers. The tradition of sugar cookies and English “jumbles” provided a base for the immigrants from Italy to add figs, the southern cultures to add bourbon or ginger, and the Spanish to add anise.

Back in the wood-fired stove days, home cooks would test their ovens to ensure the proper temperature had been reached. In the case of cakes, this meant taking a small portion of the batter, dropping it on a tin sheet and baking it. Come to find out these handheld treats were pretty convenient, so the tradition continued. Similarly, once these cooks had completed the main baking for the moment and the fire was dying down in the oven, they would use the residual heat to cook up these smaller quantities of batter.

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, author of “The Yearling” (Pulitzer Prize, 1939) and memoir “Cross Creek,” wrote a cookbook entitled “Cross Creek Cookery” (1942). The book shared recipes of the area, as well as her childhood memories, but when the subject of a cookie jar emerged, Rawlings voiced the following opinion: “Any child who does not have a country grandmother who keeps a cooky (sic) jar is as much to be pitied as one who grows up with protruding teeth. If it is impossible for a grandmother to live in or move to the country, solely to insure the proper spiritual start for coming generations, at least it is possible to have a cooky (sic) jar.”

The magic of heritage recipes, family traditions and favorite memories of cookies abound. ACHS would love to hear yours! Just jot down a few lines, maybe a paragraph – a page would be great if you’re really on a roll. Add a photo of the person, cookie or vessel they lived in, and submit it to us.

Rebecca Ebnet-Desens is the executive director of the Anoka County Historical Society.