Kristin Holt | Victorian Oatmeal Cookies. Image: Tasty Oatmeal Cookies, copyright Freepik, used with premium subscription.

For the Love of Victorian 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. Victorian Oatmeal Cookies.

Deliciousness! Oatmeal raisin cookies. They’re my first pick on a cookie buffet (yes, cookie buffets are indeed a thing). My first choice is oatmeal raisin long before chocolate chip, and second only to my own homemade iced sugar cookie. I’ve baked cookies with ever-improving recipes since Mom first allowed me to bake without supervision. (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 of homemade cookies. Thus 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.) Victorian Oatmeal Cookies

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

When was the first Victorian 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.

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

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…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.”

Kristin Holt | Victorian Oatmeal Cookies. Fannie Merritt Farmer (left), Principal of the Boston Cooking School and author of Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, 1st edition, <strong>1896</strong>. Image: <a href="https://www.britannica.com/biography/Fannie-Merritt-Farmer" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Britannica.com</a>

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

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Kristin Holt | Victorian Oatmeal Cookies. Google search: "Who made the first oatmeal cookie?"

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

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Kristin Holt | Image: Title Page of Boston Cooking-School Cook Book by Fannie Merrit Farmer, 1896.

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

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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.

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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.

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Victorian Oatmeal Cookies ~ Recipes in order of publication date, beginning in 1883 and concluding in 1896

1880s

Kristin Holt | 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.

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:

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

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.

Kristin Holt | Oatmeal Biscuits (cookies) on Oats, Image copyright credit: freepik, image used with paid premium subscription.

Kristin Holt | Oatmeal Cookies recipe published in Jamestown Weekly Alert of Jameston, ND on February 15, 1884.

Victorian 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.

Kristin Holt | Spoon of brown sugar, image copyright Freepik, used with premium subscription.

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

“Bessie Tower” (contributor’s name?) Oatmeal Cookies (made by adjusting a Graham wafers recipe), published in The Boston Globe of Boston, Massachusetts on July 5, 1885.

Kristin Holt | Fresh butter, image copyright Freepik, used with premium membership.

Kristin Holt | Oatmeal Cookies (with cinnamon), published in LeRoy Re[orter of LeRoy, Kansas on June 26, 1886.

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

Kristin Holt | Cinnamon powder and stick, image copyright Freepik, used with premium subscription.

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

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

Cooked Oatmeal. Image Credit: FeelGoodFoodie.net (https://feelgoodfoodie.net/recipe/how-to-make-oatmeal/)

1890s

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

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.

Kristin Holt | Oats. Image copyright: Freepik, used with premium subscription.

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

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

Kristin Holt | Victorian Oatmeal Cookies. Image: Blackstrap Molasses, By Badagnani - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4129522

Blackstrap Molasses, By Badagnani – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4129522

Kristin Holt | Victorian Oatmeal Cookies (with vanilla). Published in The News-Courant of Cottonwood Falls, Kansas on February 16, 1893.

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

Kristin Holt | Victorian Oatmeal Cookies. Image: Illustration of Vanilla. Image copyright: Freepik, used with Premium Subscription.

Kristin Holt | Victorian Oatmeal Cookies (with sour cream and brown sugar). Published in The Boston Globe of Boston, Massachusetts on February 13, 1895.

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

Kristin Holt | Baking image, copyright Freepik, used with premium subscription.

Kristin Holt | Victorian Oatmeal Cookies Recipe (with sour milk and molasses). Published in Three Hundred Tested Recipes Contributed by Many Good Cooks, 2nd Edition. Issued December 1895. Published in Springfield, Massachusetts.

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).

White Sugar, image copyright Freepik, used with premium subscription.

Kristin Holt | Victorian Oatmeal Cookies (with beef drippings instead of butter, and with brown sugar). Published in Daily Sentinel of Junction City, Kansas on March 27, 1895.

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.

Image: Beef Drippings. Image posted by "redsturgeon" on 1-39-18 on lemonfool.co.uk

Kristin Holt | Victorian Oatmeal Cookies Recipe. Published in The Boston Globe on September 4, 1895.

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

Kristin Holt | Ginger root: whole, sliced, crushed. Image copyright: Freepik, used with premium subscription.

Kristin Holt | Victorian Oatmeal Cookies Recipe. Published in The Cook Book: Three Hundred Tested REcipes, 2nd Edition, 1895.

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

Kristin Holt | Sea salt in clay pot, image copyright Freepik, used with premium subscription.

1896

Mrs. Farmer’s Famous Oatmeal Cookies Recipe

Kristin Holt | Victorian Oatmeal Cookies. Fannie Merritt Farmer's Oatmeal Cookie Recipe. The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, 1st edition, 1896.

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

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

Kristin Holt | Victorian Oatmeal Cookies. Image- baking ingredients (pitcher of milk?, flour, butter, eggs, whisk, sugar, etc.) Image copyright: Freepik, used with premium subscription.

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!)

Kristin Holt | Image: USA Today Bestselling Author Kristin Holt

Partial Signature of Kristin Holt, USA Today Bestselling Author.

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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

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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.

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

Kristin Holt | Victorian Oatmeal Cookies. This image shows a Soft Oatmeal Cookies recipe from allrecipes.com with 4.5 stars overall.

Soft Oatmeal Cookie Recipe, courtesy of AllRecipes.com

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Image Credit

Kristin Holt | Victorian Oatmeal Cookies

I admit that the image featured on allrecipes.com for Soft Oatmeal Cookies is simply too delicious to look at. Therefore, 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.

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

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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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