Victorian Oatmeal Cookies Recipes from vintage newspapers and cookbooks

For the Love of Oatmeal Cookies

Today, April 30, is National Oatmeal Cookie Day. That’s one reason to spread the yumminess that is homemade (or potentially so) cookies with the texture and depth of flavor that is the blend of spices, butter, rolled oats, and raisins. And sugar. Brown and white.

I love oatmeal raisin cookies. They’re my first pick on a cookie buffet (yes, cookie buffets are indeed a thing) long before chocolate chip, and second only to my own homemade iced sugar cookie. I’ve baked cookies with ever-improving recipes since circa age twelve when Mom allowed me the freedom to bake without supervision. (Oh, and required me to leave the kitchen at least as clean as I found it. That part bugged me.)

You might say I’m a bit of a connoisseur when it comes to homemade cookies. My reasons for clarifying just how history became warped about when oatmeal cookies came to be… and why folks resisted trying them (the resistance part will come in another post).

Link to Oatmeal & Victorina-America's Attitude by Author Kristin Holt.

When was the first oatmeal cookie?

A popular theory for the origin of oatmeal raisin cookies is that they descended from Scottish/British oat cakes. In wartimes, soldiers would carry oat cakes to battle with them for boosts of energy during battle. The first recipe for these babies was written by Fannie Merritt Farmer in 1896.


Source: Where 7 of America’s Favorite Cookies Originated (Spoon University)


…we’ll find that nearly everyone on page 1 of Google agrees. Fannie Merritt Farmer and her 1896 publication: The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book is “the first printed recipe for oatmeal cookies.”

Fannie Merritt Farmer (left), Principal of the Boston Cooking School and author of Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, 1st edition, 1896. Image:


Google search: “Who made the first oatmeal cookie?”


The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, 1st edition, by Fannie Merritt Farmer. Published in Boston, 1896.


Wikipedia, where many of us turn in absence of volumes of Encyclopedias in book form, states the same:

The first recorded oatmeal cookie recipe was published in the United States by Fannie Merritt Farmer in her 1896 cookbook, the Boston Cooking-School Cook Book. While Farmer’s original recipe did not contain raisins, their inclusion grew more common over time, due in part to the oatmeal raisin cookie recipes featured on every Quaker Oats container beginning in the early 1900s. (emphasis added). Source: Wikipedia- Oatmeal Raisin Cookie

These two citations are far from alone. Google “first recipe oatmeal cookies” and you’ll see.


I Disagree: Fannie Merritt Farmer was NOT first to publish an oatmeal cookie recipe…

…not in cookbooks nor in newspapers in the United States of America.

I’ve located 14 published recipes (United States vintage newspapers and cook books) PRIOR to Fannie Merritt Farmer’s in 1896. See the chronologically listed clippings, below. Each contains the name of the newspaper or cook book (correct Victorian spelling of this now-compound word), along with publication date.


Oatmeal Cookie Recipes in order of publication date, beginning in 1883 and concluding in 1896

Domestic Notes explain that oatmeal cookies can be made just like an ordinary sugar cooky (sic), substituting 2/3 of the wheat flour with oatmeal. Published in The Lyons Representative of Lyons, Kansas on November 8, 1883.

This particular “notice” made its way around syndicated (?) newspapers in the late autumn of 1883. Here’s among the earliest my particular newspaper search engine located:

Oatmeal Cookies– are healthful, and can be made like an ordinary sugar cooky [sic], etc. Published in The Buffalo Commercial of Buffalo, NY on Oct 23, 1883.

Oatmeal Cookies (with brown sugar, molasses, and ginger), published in Jamestown Weekly Alert of Jamestown, North Dakota on February 15, 1884. Hey! These call for either “sheet bars” or to be dropped by spoonfuls! This is the ONLY recipe calling for this method that I’ve discovered prior to 1900. See cookie notes near the end of this article.

Oatmeal Cookies (made by adjusting a Graham wafers recipe), published in The Boston Globe of Boston, Massachusetts on July 5, 1885.

Oatmeal Cookies (with cinnamon), published in LeRoy Reporter of LeRoy, Kansas on June 26, 1886.

Oatmeal Cookies (with cold boiled oatmeal and cream of tartar), published in The Livingston Journal of Livingston, Alabama on May 17, 1888.

Oatmeal Cookies (with cream of tartar, cold boiled oatmeal, and only 1 Tbsp. of butter), published in Vermont Journal of Windsor, Vermont on February 22, 1890.

Oatmeal Cookies (with molasses and ginger), published in The Paola Times of Paola, Kansas on August 21, 1890.

Blackstrap Molasses, By Badagnani – Own work, CC BY 3.0,

Oatmeal Cookies (with vanilla), published in The News-Courant of Cottonwood Falls, Kansas on February 16, 1893.

Oatmeal Cookies (with sour cream and brown sugar), published in The Boston Globe of Boston, Massachusetts on February 13, 1895.

Oatmeal Cookies Recipe (with sour milk and molasses), published in Three Hundred Tested Recipes Contributed by Many Good Cooks, 2nd Ed, Issued December 1895 (published in Springfield, Massachusetts).

Oatmeal Cookies (with best beef drippings instead of butter, and with brown sugar), published in Daily Sentinel of Junction City, Kansas on March 27, 1895.

Oatmeal Cookies (with ginger, where bolted oatmeal seems to be a typo– boiled?), published in The Boston Globe on September 4, 1895.

Oatmeal Cookies, published in The Cook Book: Three Hundred Tested Recipes, 2nd Edition, 1895.


Mrs. Farmer’s Famous Oatmeal Cookies Recipe

Fannie Farmer Merritt Farmer’s Oatmeal Cookie Recipe, The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, 1st. edition, 1896.


The historical truth: oatmeal cookie recipes were in use, shared among homemakers, and published long before Fannie Merritt Farmer’s 1896 publication.

How did History (mistakenly) favor Fannie Merritt Farmer, and remember her (erroneously) as FIRST?

That seems to be the question of the day. At least for me.

The best I can discern, working with now dubious information online (Just because somebody says something or posts it online doesn’t–cannot–make it true), name recognition paid off for the knowledgeable, skillful, and justly trusted woman. She knew kitchens inside and out. She had the practice and skill necessary to be the BEST in her field (educating women to be superior cooks).

If there’s a better explanation, I haven’t found it. What do you think? (Scroll down and comment– do you agree? disagree? Have you found enlightening information from original sources? We’d love to hear!)

Partial Signature of Kristin Holt, USA Today Bestselling Author.


Up Next!

Given the history of oatmeal in the United States and her Victorian Melting Pot, the attitudes about oats and oatmeal made for a rough beginning. No wonder cookies with oats as a primary ingredients showed up when they did.

Link to Oatmeal & Victorian-American Attitude by Author Kristin Holt

Why did it take Victorian bakers SO long to put raisins (which they put in nearly everything else) in their oatmeal cookies?

Link to "Victorian Oatmeal Raisin Cookies" by Author Kristin Holt


P.S. Important Cookie Baking Details for the Victorian-era Baker

Please take note of a few elements illustrated in the many recipes posted in this article:

  • Cookies in mid- to late-nineteenth century were rolled and cut with rare exception. Note that the “drop” form of putting cookies on the baking pan is shown only once in these fifteen recipes.
  • Note the absence of instructions. According to Wikipedia, Mrs. Farmer, Principal of the Boston Cooking School, was a champion of instructive recipes, and ensuring her educated cooks knew all the “invisible” stuff cooks must do that aren’t in the recipe. One just had to know it.
  • Oven temperatures did not have gauges until the 20th century. Instead, cooks used descriptive words for how hot an oven should be, and experienced women taught inexperienced girls how to test an oven, then make it hotter or cooler for best results with their baking.


P.P.S. Modern Oatmeal Cookies Recipe (and its beautiful pic)

Soft Oatmeal Cookie Recipe, courtesy of


Image Credit

And I admit that the image featured on for Soft Oatmeal Cookies is simply too delicious to look at. I hereby credit Gary D. Amundson, the user who uploaded the mouthwatering shot of this fresh, hot cookie baked in his kitchen (scroll through the shots!).

Gary D. Amundson’s pic of Soft Oatmeal Cookies.


P.P.P.S. Are you interested in Fannie Merritt Farmer’s famous 1896 cook book?

“Cook book” was the correct spelling in the late 19th century and beyond. Today’s spelling is “cookbook”.

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Copyright © 2019 Kristin Holt LC