January 15, 2013

Joe Froggers: A Cookie Fit for Pirates

Who made the first pumpkin pie?

Who made the first baked beans?

These are profound and unanswerable questions. The origins of many regional dishes are lost in the murky mists of the past. Even if I had a time machine I probably wouldn't find clear answers - most dishes have just evolved into their present form.

However, there are some recipes that do a have a clear point of origin like Tollhouse Cookies, Boston cream pie, and Joe Froggers.

Most people know the first two desserts but I don't think many people have eaten Joe Froggers, a molasses style cookie that originated in Marblehead, Massachusetts.

The origin story goes something like this. Joe Brown was an African-American resident of Marblehead in the 1700s. With his wife Lucretia (who was 22 years his junior), Joe ran a tavern on Gingerbread Hill. Gingerbread Hill sounds cozy and charming but like most taverns of the era, particularly in seaports, things were a little seedy at Joe's establishment. Gambling and heavy drinking were the norm, and as Marblehead historian Joseph Robinson wrote, "a more uncouth assemblage of ruffians could not be found anywhere." Locals with nicknames like Eagle Beak, Pie Mouth, and Cork Leg were among the regulars. Joe's tavern still stands in Marblehead.

However, Joe is famous not just for running a tavern that attracted the riffraff, but because of the cookie that bears his name: Joe Froggers. Joe's last name was not Frogger, but his tavern was located next to a frog pond. Another story says that the cookies got their name because when Lucretia poured the batter in her frying pan they formed a vaguely froglike shape. Perhaps the cookies should really be called Lucretia Froggers?

The Joe Froggers people make now are probably a little different than the original recipe. For one thing, in the 1700s they were the size of salad plates. That's a big cookie! Sailors and fishermen would buy them by the barrel for long sea voyages because they kept well. I like the idea of sailing around with a barrel full of cookies. Like Gingerbread Hill, it sounds charming but I'm sure the reality was something else entirely.

Besides their size and strange name, Joe Froggers are distinguished from other molasses cookies and gingersnaps by one key ingredient: rum. It's mixed right into the batter with the butter and sugar, and adds a nice bite to the cookie. It's only fitting for a cookie developed in a raucous seaside tavern. Dark rum is best. Luckily some our family gave us a bottle of Cruzan black strap rum at Christmas. It's probably the darkest rum out there. I felt like a pirate making these cookies!

I got the information about Joe Brown from this article in Marblehead Magazine. The actual cookies I made from a recipe in Yankee Magazine's Lost and Vintage Recipes, which is actually on sale at news stands right now. It has some interesting recipes beyond the Joe Froggers and is worth picking up.

1 comment:

Dr Christopher J Smith said...

Come from my home town! I grew up in Marblehead, site of "Black Joe's Pond" and tavern and his wife's celebrated gingerbread cookies!