Molasses cookies—homey and historic, from the days when sugar was unaffordable to most households—from This Little Cookie
. Photo by Dhanraj Emanuel.
Updated October 2008
The History Of Cookies
Page 2: The History Of Cookies In America
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The Cookie Comes To America
According to the book, English and Dutch immigrants brought the cookie to America in the 1600s. The Dutch used the word koekje, while the English primarily referred to cookies as small cakes, seed biscuits, or tea cakes, or by specific names, such as jumble (a spiced butter cookie) or macaroon. By the early 1700s, koekje had evolved to cookie or cookey, and was well-entrenched in New York City, then the nation’s capital—a factor that resulted in widespread use of the term.
During the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, most cookies were baked at home as special treats, both because of the amount of labor and the high cost of sugar. Recipes for jumbles, macaroons and gingerbread are found in early cookbooks. Our simple butter cookie recipes are similar to English tea cakes and Scottish shortbread (the term “tea cake” is used to describe that type of cookie in the Southern U.S. as well).
During the 19th century, affordable sugar and flour, plus the introduction of chemical raising agents such as bicarbonate of soda (baking soda), led to the development of other types of cookie recipes.‡ Another explosion of cookie recipes took place in the early 1900s, not surprisingly paralleling the introduction of modern ovens with thermostats.** Cookbooks yield recipes for cinnamon-accented Snickerdoodles, raisin-filled Hermits, Sand Tarts and many varieties of butter cookies including Southern-style Tea Cakes. The famous chocolate chip cookie was not to appear until 1930, an accident (as so many good foods are). Read the full story.
‡The Oxford Companion to Food, op.cit. (page 76).
**Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, Andrew F. Smith editor [Oxford University Press:New York] 2004, Volume 1 (p. 317-318).