Not-So-Famous Firsts: Cookies

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"C" is for cookie, and that's good enough for some not-so-famous cookie firsts.

Girl Scout Cookies

The first batches of Girl Scout cookies were made at home as part of a badge-earning project. Scouts mixed batter and baked in their home kitchen with Mom lurking nearby as a "technical advisor." In 1917 a troop in Muskogee, Oklahoma, brought their cookies to the local high school cafeteria and offered them for sale as part of a service project (and perhaps as a response to yet another Dad grumbling "Oh, no, not cookies for dinner again?! Can't we unload these somewhere?") The sale was so successful that the July 1922 issue of American Girl (the official Girl Scout magazine) featured a recipe for a simple sugar cookie that could be baked for about 26 cents per dozen and sold for a suggested price of 30 cents per dozen.

In 1934, the Greater Philadelphia Council became the first Girl Scout group to use a commercial baker to produce their cookies. By 1935, the Girl Scout Federation of Greater New York had earned enough money via cookie sales to purchase a die with the trefoil imprint, thus producing the first "branded" cookies.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

There's a reason that Nestlé, the leading supplier of chocolate chips, is so stubborn when it comes to the nomenclature of this cookie favorite. Ruth Wakefield, who had a degree in Household Arts and who'd worked as a dietitian, found herself the mistress of a tourist lodge (called a toll house back when it was originally constructed in the 1700s) her husband purchased in Whitman, Massachusetts, in 1930. One fine day in 1933, Ruth was in the midst of concocting a batch of her famous Butter Drop Do cookies when she realized that she was out of Baker's chocolate. She decided to improvise and added pieces she'd cut off of a Nestlé Semi-Sweet Chocolate bar instead. Much to her surprise, the chocolate morsels didn't fully melt and blend into the dough; instead, they sort of semi-melted into chocolate-y chunks punctuating her cookie dough.

Customer response was so enthusiastic that the very business-savvy Wakefield contacted the folks at Nestlé and struck up a deal—they could print her recipe on packages of their semi-sweet chocolate bars in exchange for a stipend. Thanks to the royalties, Nestlé would prefer that—if the chocolate chip cookie you are enjoying contains their semi-sweet morsels—you kindly refer to it as a Toll House Cookie.

Fig Newtons

fig-newtonsBack in the late 1800s, many prominent physicians believed that the bulk of human illness was related to digestive problems. The easy, homespun remedy? A combination of fiber plus colon cleanser cleverly disguised as a cookie. Fig cakes became a local favorite in many areas, but because they were a labor-intensive confection, they remained basically a homemade treat. That changed in 1891, when an Ohio-born baker named Charles Roser patented a machine that mass-produced fig cookies. The Kennedy Biscuit Company (later Nabisco) bought the machinery and the recipe from Roser and named the new product Fig Newton, after the Boston suburb Newton, Massachusetts.

Oreo

Even though the cream-filled chocolate sandwich cookie has become synonymous with Oreo, it turns out that Nabisco's version of this iconic confection was actually a knock-off. Sunshine Biscuits launched basically the same cookie in 1908. Their "Hydrox" cookie was a huge seller until 1912, when Nabisco put Oreos on retail shelves. Sunshine was quickly kicked to the curb by Nabisco's distribution channels and advertising budget, and soon Hydrox (the original chocolate sandwich cookie) was relegated to the status of also-ran.

"˜Nilla Wafers

Nabisco's "˜Nilla Wafers have only been on the market since 1967, which makes us wonder how in the world folks made traditional banana pudding prior to that time. But—aha!—further investigation reveals a Shakespearian "what's in a name" and "a rose is a rose" situation; that is, Nabisco started producing these very same cookies back in 1929, only at that time they were called by their proper name, Vanilla Wafers. According to newspaper and magazine articles of that era, it appears that even 80-some years ago, Vanilla Wafers were used more for recipes (as a quick pie crust, as an inexpensive base for strawberry shortcake, etc.) than for simply dunking in milk and noshing.

Keebler Elves

elves-irish

Jay Leno once joked that the Notre Dame Fighting Irish mascot was going to be replaced by the Keebler Elves. What Leno didn't realize at the time of his jibe was that he wasn't too far off the mark when it came to the physical similarities between the Notre Dame logo and the Keebler elves—the man who created the Elves was a Notre Dame graduate and staunch supporter of his alma mater.

Notre Dame alum William Harty was the Vice President of Sales and Marketing of the Leo Burnett advertising agency when the company was bidding for the Keebler account. Harty came up with the concept of cookies being baked inside a hollow tree, rather than a factory, and that mischievous (but dedicated) elves were in charge of the process. The first TV commercials featuring the Keebler elves hit the airwaves in 1967, and any resemblance between the Keebler bakers and the Notre Dame leprechaun mascot was strictly"¦..uncommonly coincidental.

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March 8, 2010 - 7:52am
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