December 19, 2010

The Nation's First Christmas Cookie Recipe?

Photo from Flickr.

At this time of year I can't stop eating baked goods. I seem to have an endless capacity for sugar and fat in December. Once January arrives I finally say "Enough!" and get back to a normal eating pattern.

Christmas has traditionally been associated with gluttony and baked goods. Here, for example, is a very old Christmas cookie recipe from Amelia Simmons's 1798 book American Cookery (published in Hartford). Since Simmons wrote the first American cookbook, I suppose this is the country's first Christmas cookie recipe.

Another Christmas Cookey.

To three pound flour, sprinkle a tea cup of fine powdered coriander seed, rub in one pound butter, and one and half pound sugar, dissolve three tea spoonfuls of pearl ash in a tea cup of milk, kneed all together well, roll three quarters of an inch thick, and cut or stamp into shape and size you please, bake slowly fifteen or twenty minutes; tho' hard and dry at first, if put into an earthen pot, and dry cellar, or damp room, they will be finer, softer and better when six months old.

A few thoughts here:

1. The recipe is called "Another Christmas Cookey", but there is no other Christmas cookey recipe in the book. The recipe preceding this one is for sugar cookies, and I guess her readers would understand they were for Christmas.

2. Coriander seed has fallen out of fashion as a cookie flavor! Is it time for a revival? This recipe uses a lot of coriander, assuming a tea cup is as big as a modern measuring cup.

3. The recipe calls for pearl ash. Also known as potash or potassium bicarbonate, this was an early chemical leavener similar to baking powder. Apparently, it can still be found at beer-making supply stores. This site compares different leaveners, which I found interesting.

4. If you want these cookies for Christmas, you better start in June since it takes six months for them to soften up! Increasing the amount of butter would probably make these softer right out of the oven, and would also decrease the risk of them getting moldy down in your cellar.


jeff said...

i think the large amount of coriander may have been used to cover the "ripeness" of cookies stored in cellars for 6 months.

arandomchild said...

They're always talking about the epidemic of American overeating these days, but I've noticed that a lot of the older recipes tend to use ingredients by the pound, as opposed to modern day recipes that measure by the cup. Just how many cookies does this thing make?

Anonymous said...

I am just here to tell you how much I enjoyed your comment on traditional Christmases. It made my day.

Peter Muise said...

Thanks for all the comments!

Arandomchild, I think they made things in big quantities back then. I've read about a colonial cake recipe that required fourteen pounds of flour!

Johanna said...

In in 1804 edition, it's listed as "Another, Christmas Cookey."--as in another cookey, this time a Christmas one.