Sugar Cookies in Victorian America

Sugar Cookies are an American favorite. Anyone who’s visited one of the new-and-popular cookie joints popping up across America knows that a fancy sugar cookie is always on the list. Despite the cookie’s popularity today, Americans have been baking and enjoying “sugar cookies” since well before the 19th century. In fact, “Sugar cookies,” wrote Mobile Cuisine (immediately below) have a lengthy historical background.” Works for me. Hold on tight, while I share some of the coolest, most fascinating stuff about Sugar Cookies in Victorian America.

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Historical Background

Sugar cookies have a lengthy historical background. The origins of cookies date back to the 7th century in Persia, along with the cultivation of sugar.

  • The sugar cookie as we know it today was created by Protestant settlers in the Nazareth colony of Pennsylvania in the 1700’s. They baked their cookies in the shape of a keystone, the state’s symbol.
  • The first sugar cookies weren’t called by this name. When word started spreading throughout Europe in the 17th century about these tasty desserts, and later when they were introduced to the Americas, some entertaining terms were employed to describe these small treats. After all, this child-sized indulgence deserves a few whimsical appellations like jumbles, jumbals, crybabies, plunkets and gemmels. Early cookie recipes that probably morphed into the modern sugar cookie were called gimblettes in France and cimbellines in Italy, too.

source: Mobile Cuisine

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Spices and Flavorings

This next snippet fascinates me beyond measure, as it encapsulates the Victorian-American attitude about spices, plain cookies, “health foods” and so much more. So worth a careful read, especially for those of us who are beyond fascinated about the day-to-day life and general societal attitudes about life in the 19th century United States.

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Kristin Holt | Sugar Cookies in Victorian America: A snippet from David Walbert's A Brief History of the Sugar Cookie. Link provided.

A snippet from David Walbert’s A Brief History of the Sugar Cookie. “By the 1870s, plain cookies were common weekday fare in middle-class homes,”…

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If you’re looking for a detailed history of (sugar) cookies, see What’s Cooking America. Or read all of David Walbert’s fascinating page, A Brief History of the Sugar Cookie. Sugar Cookies in Victorian America.

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July 9: National Sugar Cookie Day

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National Sugar Cookie Day, July 9th

National Sugar Cookie Day, July 9th

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Today, July 9th, is National Sugar Cookie Day! Yay! Someone else thought sugar cookies important enough to celebrate and make an annual day’s focus. What better day to combine two things I love? Okay, make that three. First, I LOVE sugar cookies (and I love sugar). Second, I can be a patriot and love national days as well as the next person. Lastly, (here’s the BIGGIE) where sugar cookies and HISTORY connect, I want to be.

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19th Century Sugar Cookie Recipes

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As explained by Mobile Cuisine and by David Walbert, above, the sugar cookie wasn’t always known as such. Other names were employed throughout the 19th century: jumbles, jumbals, “cookies” (originally meant a ‘plain’, sweet cake), crybabies, plunkets, etc. Note that my sampling of vintage recipes from publications of the day support these reports.

Note: I’ve listed the recipes in chronological order, starting with the oldest.

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Kristin Holt | Sugar Cookies in Victorian America | Farmer's Tea Cake Recipe and Sugar Cookie Recipe, from Nebraska Advertiser of Brownville, Nebraska. February 12, 1857.

Farmer’s Tea Cake Recipe and Sugar Cookie Recipe, from Nebraska Advertiser of Brownville, Nebraska. February 12, 1857.

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Kristin Holt | Vintage newspaper clipping for "Cookies Without Eggs". Ingredients make this cookie look, smell, and taste like a sugar cookie with caraway seed). Published in The Summit County Beacon of Akron, OH on Feb 9, 1860. | Sugar Cookies in Victorian America

Cookies without eggs (ingredients make this cookie look, smell, and taste like a sugar cookie with caraway seed), published in The Summit County Beacon of Akron, Ohio on February 9, 1860. An example of what a Victorian woman would have called a “plain cookie.”

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Krisitn Holt | Sugar Cookies in Victorian America. "Domestic Economy. A small square piece of citron on the top of a sugar cookie improves teh flavor and the looks of the cake." from Oskaloosa Sickle of Oskaloosa, Kansas on December 17, 1881.

“Domestic Economy. A small square piece of citron on the top of a sugar cookie improves the flavor and the looks of the cake.” from Oskaloosa Sickle of Oskaloosa, Kansas on December 17, 1881.

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Kristin Holt | Sugar Cookies in Victorian America | Sugar Cookies recipe from The Boston Globe, Boston, Massachusetts on November 1, 1885.

Sugar Cookies recipe from The Boston Globe, Boston, Massachusetts on November 1, 1885.

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Kristin Holt | Sour Milk Cookies recipe from Vermont Journal Newspaper of Windsor, VT on Feb 22, 1890. | Sugar Cookies in Victorian America

Sour Milk Cookies (essentially sugar cookies, given recipe ingredients and method) Recipe, published in Vermont Journal Newspaper of Windsor, Vermont on February 22, 1890.

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Mrs. Pratt’s Currant Jumbles ~ 19th Century Cookies that are essentially sugar cookies…

Kristin Holt | Sugar Cookies in Victorian America | Mrs. Pratt's Currant Jumbles, an illustrated vintage header image; a fiction story by Florence H. Hunt, published in Kellogg's Wichita Record of Wichita, Kansas. April 27, 1895.

Mrs. Pratt’s Currant Jumbles, a fiction story by Florence H. Hunt, Header Image. Published in Kellogg’s Wichita Record of Wichita, Kansas. April 27, 1895.

Kristin Holt | Sugar Cookies in Victorian America | Mrs. Pratt's Currant Jumbles, a few paragraphs from the fictional story (a slice of life story), from Kellogg's Wichita Record of Wichita, Kansas. April 27, 1895.

Mrs. Pratt’s Currant Jumbles, a few paragraphs from the fictional story (a slice of life story), from Kellogg’s Wichita Record of Wichita, Kansas. April 27, 1895.

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Kristin Holt | Sugar Cookies in Victorian America | Sugar Cookies recipe from The Topeka Daily Press of Topeka, Kansas. July 6, 1895.

Sugar Cookies recipe from The Topeka Daily Press of Topeka, Kansas. July 6, 1895.

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Kristin Holt | Sugar Cookies Recipe from The Boston Globe on September 4, 1895. | Sugar Cookies in Victorian America

Sugar Cookies Recipe, published in The Boston Globe of Boston, Mass., on September 4, 1895.

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Kristin Holt | Sugar Cookies in Victorian America | Two Sugar Cookie Recipes from Mound Valley Herald of Mound Valley, Kansas on August 21, 1896.

Two Sugar Cookie Recipes from Mound Valley Herald of Mound Valley, Kansas on August 21, 1896.

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Vintage Cookie Cutters

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Roll and Cut

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As we’ve learned in previous articles about Victorian-American cookies, virtually all (that I’ve come across) were rolled out before cutting. Even oatmeal cookies were rolled. “Drop”-style cookies, or rolling dough into a ball to form uniform round cookies does not appear in recipes until turn of the century (year 1900). See the sampling of vintage cookie cutters, below.

So, sad but true, this gorgeous photo of mouthwatering sugar cookies might be a 20th century specialty rather than a truly Victorian recipe:

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Kristin Holt | Old Fashioned Sugar Cookies photo from Sweet Lavender Bake Shop.

Old Fashioned Sugar Cookies photo from Sweet Lavender Bake Shop.

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Cutters

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Don’t they look good? I’m a serious sugar cookie fan. So, now, off to vintage cookie cutters! Don’t they look fun!? And alternately a little hard to turn out perfectly shaped cookies? Look at those tight tulip peaks on the flower’s upper edge. (Come to find out from various reading online, the fine little corners of vintage cookie cutters weren’t a problem; dough was dryer, heavier, and stiff. Would cut and release the tin cutter without breakage.)

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Note: Tulip cookie cutter has a finger hole allowing cookie cutter to be pulled out of rolled dough without a handle.

Kristin Holt | Antique 19th Century Pennsylvania Tin Cookie Cutter in shape of a tulip with wavy edges, from Pinterest. | Sugar Cookies in Victorian America

Antique 19th Century Pennsylvania Tin Cookie Cutter in shape of a tulip with wavy edges, from Pinterest.

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Kristin Holt | Sugar Cookies in Victorian America | photograph of 19th century (tin) crimped biscuit cutter (3.5 inch-diameter), for sale on ebay.

Photograph of 19th century (tin) crimped biscuit cutter (3.5 inch-diameter), for sale on ebay.

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Kristin Holt | Sugar Cookies in Victorian America | Small 19th Century Scalloped Cutter, underside view. For sale on Ebay. Link provided.

Small 19th Century Scalloped Cutter, underside view. For sale on Ebay.

Kristin Holt | Sugar Cookies in Victorian America | Small 19th Century Scalloped Cutter, Handle-side view. For sale on Ebay. Link provided.

Small 19th Century Scalloped Cutter, Handle-side view. For sale on Ebay.

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Kristin Holt | Sugar Cookies in Victorian America | 19th century bird-shaped cookie cutter, handle view. Image: an item for sale on ebay.

19th century bird-shaped cookie cutter, handle view. Image: an item for sale on ebay.

Kristin Holt | Sugar Cookies in Victorian America | 19th century bird-shaped cookie cutter, cutting-side view. Image: an item for sale on ebay.

19th century bird-shaped cookie cutter, cutting-side view. Image: an item for sale on ebay.

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For contrast, a Jumbles Recipe for Drop Cookies (at turn of the century!)

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Kristin Holt | Sugar Cookies in Victorian America | Afternoon Tea Cakes; Best Way of Making Good Jumbles [cookies] and Little Cakes Part 1 of 2. Syndicated from the New York Journal. Published in Kansas City Journal of Kansas City, Missouri. March 6, 1897. Note these cookies are DROPPED rather than rolled and cut. This method began at turn of the century.

Afternoon Tea Cakes Part 1 of 2; Best Way of Making Good Jumbles [cookies] and Little Cakes. Syndicated from the New York Journal. Published in Kansas City Journal of Kansas City, Missouri. March 6, 1897. Note these cookies are DROPPED rather than rolled and cut. This method began at turn of the century.

Kristin Holt | Sugar Cookies in Victorian America | Afternoon Tea Cakes; Best Way of Making Good Jumbles [cookies] and Little Cakes Part 2 of 2. Syndicated from the New York Journal. Published in Kansas City Journal of Kansas City, Missouri. March 6, 1897. Note these cookies are DROPPED rather than rolled and cut. This method began at turn of the century.

Afternoon Tea Cakes; Best Way of Making Good Jumbles [cookies] and Little Cakes Part 2 of 2. Syndicated from the New York Journal. Published in Kansas City Journal of Kansas City, Missouri. March 6, 1897. Note these cookies are DROPPED rather than rolled and cut. This method began at turn of the century.

 

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Kristin Holt’s Scrumptious Soft Sugar Cookie Recipe

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Kristin Holt | Kristin Holt's Soft Sugar Cookies; Recipe is savable, downloadable, sharable, printable PDF!

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Savable! Downloadable! Printable! Pinable! Sharable!

For your ease, and to best meet your needs, I’m sharing this recipe in two ways: First, a cute sharable image, below. Save. Share on social media. Use it on your iPad in the kitchen. Second option: Click on the blue labeled link and download a one-sheet (8.5×11-inch normal paper) PDF you may save, print, share, forward, and add to your personal recipe file.

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A PDF of Recipe to Save, Download, Print, Share…

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Kristin Holt’s Soft Sugar Cookies Recipe

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This recipe is my absolute favorite. Anyone who says “sugar cookies are plain” is downright uninformed. This recipe is rich with real dairy butter, modern sour cream (not your Victorian sour cream), and cream-cheese frosting. Flavored with both vanilla and almond, this cookie is to die for! One of their BEST features is the flavor and quality of cookie improves with age. So when baking for an event, it’s easy to prepare by baking a day or two in advance. We’ve had an amazing experience with keeping these cookies after baking and frosting, with wax paper between layers, in a tight-fitting plastic container (like a Rubbermaid or Tupperware “box” [flat-bottomed and square sides]). This surprisingly good sugar cookie stays delicious for about a week when signs of staleness finally appear.

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An Image of Recipe to Save, Pin, Download, Forward…

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Kristin Holt | Sugar Cookies in Victorian America | Kristin Holt's Soft Sugar Cookies Recipe. Save, Print, Download, Forward. Bake!

Kristin Holt’s Soft Sugar Cookies Recipe. Save, Print, Download, Forward. Bake!

Sugar Cookies in Victorian America

Pictures of Kristin’s Cookies, decorated!

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Kristin Holt | Sugar Cookies in Victorian America | Kristin Holt's Soft Sugar Cookies recipe, photograph images of decorated cookies. We achieved the frosting effects by use of a food decorator such as the brand offered by Amazon, referenced here.

Kristin Holt’s Soft Sugar Cookies recipe, photograph images of decorated cookies. We achieved the frosting effects by use of a food decorator such as the brand offered by Amazon, referenced here.

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Kristin Holt | Sugar Cookies in Victorian America | Kristin's Soft Sugar Cookies, photograph of a heart decorated for Valentine's Day.

Kristin’s Soft Sugar Cookies, photograph of a heart decorated for Valentine’s Day.

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By the way, I’ve shared FOUR other personal cookie/cookie bar recipes. Here they are!

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Kristin Holt - "Sandy Turtles" Holiday Recipe from Author Kristin Holt.

Kristin Holt - Author Kristin Holt's Oatmeal Cookies Recipe: to download, save, share, print

Kristin Holt - "Cadbury Mini Egg Cookies" Recipe posted by USA Today Bestselling Author Kristin Holt.

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What about Chocolate Chips?

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Chocolate Chip cookies weren’t a thing until invented in 1937 by Ruth Graves Wakefield (1905-1977), of  Whitman, Massachusetts, who ran the Toll House Restaurant. This historical tidbit surprises me, still, as my research of the history of chocolate in the United States verifies many production companies well before the 20th century.

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Kristin Holt | Sugar Cookies in Victorian America | Sophia's cookie jar (about 100 years old), originally a sugar bucket for sale circa 1900. Photograph taken and design copyright Kristin Holt, USA Today Bestselling Author.

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This love of Sugar Cookies in the Victorian Era (and today) brought to you by Kristin Holt, author of sweet romances set in the Victorian-era American West

Kristin Holt | Sweet American Historical Romance and Historical Articles by writer Kristin Holt, USA Today Bestselling Author

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Copyright © 2019 Kristin Holt LC