The History of… THE COOKIE!
By Nicolette Ferreira
A cookie (most commonly known in English as a biscuit) is something romantic. It is a gift left for Santa under the Christmas tree in children’s stories. It is a treat enjoyed with a healthy glass of milk in American movies. It is… delectable. Naughty. Divine. Comforting. Crunchy. Get a cup of Chai, a cookie or two, as we travel back in history to the origin of this pleasurable satisfaction!
The earliest cookie-style cakes are thought to date back to 7th century Persia (now Iran), one of the first countries to cultivate sugar. Early contact with these sources of sugar cane introduced it in the Mediterranean. The word ‘cookie’ arrived in the English language in North America through the Dutch who used the name ‘koekje’ (meaning little cake), for this delectable treat.
Cookies are called ‘biscuits’ in England and Australia, in Spain they are ‘galletas’, Germans call them ‘keks’ (or ‘Plätzchen’ when they are Christmas cookies), and in Italy they are usually called, among other names, ‘amaretti’ and ‘biscotti’. In our own country, ‘biscuit’ is usually perceived as the correct version, but due to the proximity of the Afrikaans word ‘koekie’ to the English ‘cookie’, we all get confused! So you say biscuit, I say cookie!
‘Biscuit’ comes from the Latin word ‘bis coctum’, which means, “twice baked.” According to culinary historians, the first historic record of cookies was their use as test cakes. A small amount of cake batter was baked to test the oven temperature. The first cookies were thus created by accident! Hmmm… it must have been divine intervention!
Cookies were a winning recipe from the start – with international traveling increasing at the time, cookies were ideal for taking along on lengthy excursions, as they were not likely to go off. One of the most popular early cookies, which traveled especially well and became known on every continent by similar names, was the jumble, a relatively hard cookie made largely from nuts, sweetener, and water.
Seeing that we are traveling back in history, I dusted off an ancient copy of the June 1896 copy of ‘The Girl’s Own Paper”, published in London from 1880. I found this recipe and delightful description of Vanilla Crescents:
Ingredients: Eight ounces of best flour, six ounces of fresh butter, three ounces of peeled almonds chopped very finely indeed, and two yolks of egg.
Mix all this up with a knife on your pastry board, and then roll it out with a rolling pin. Cut the paste thus formed into small pieces and form them into little crescents about two or three inches long and as thick as your thumb – if you have a small hand. Bake in a very moderate oven, and remember that they must not brown. Cover with finest vanilla sugar powdered thickly over them. These biscuits, if properly made, should be very light and extremely brittle. They keep good and fresh if placed in an air-tight tin.
Best flour. Fresh butter. Finest vanilla. It already sounds good to me! Another very thrilling cookie experience is of course the fortune cookie. It’s origin, however, remains a mystery. There are various myths on how this delightful cookie originated:
One story is that a Chinese immigrant in Los Angeles, David Jung, founder of the Hong Kong Noodle Company, invented the fortune cookie in 1918. Apparently he was concerned with all the poor he saw in the streets around his shop, so he created a cookie with an inspirational verse to give to the poor for free.
Another story is that a Japanese immigrant, named Makoto Hagiwara, invented the fortune cookie in San Francisco in the early 1900s. Hagiwara was the designer of the famous Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. An anti-Japanese mayor fired Makoto, and when he was later reinstated he created cookies with thank you notes inside for those who supported him through the difficult time.
There is also a story that states that when the Mongols occupied China in the 13th and 14th century, Chu Yuan Chang, a patriotic revolutionary of the time, made plans for an uprising against the Mongols. In order to instruct all the Chinese of the date of the uprising, messages were hidden in ‘Moon Cakes’. A tradition of giving cakes with messages was born.
We may never know the real story of the Fortune Cookie, but I do no the destiny of this cookie in my hand! Divine. Crunchy. Sweet. Finished!