Peanut Butter Cookies
by Melissa Slager, Guest Contributor
Peanut butter cookies are made of peanut butter. But what are little girls made of? Sugar and spice and everything…
“Hee, hee,” giggled Little Sister. “I burped on it.”
OK, so the old rhyme may not fit anymore. But since it’s in the dedication of “Fun with Cooking: Easy Recipes for Beginners” by Mae Blacker Freeman, it’s where we’ll start today for this episode of emoh@home.
My older daughter wanted to volunteer with the Everett Museum of History. Our first assignment? Recreate the recipe for “Peanut Butter Cookies” from this 1947 cookbook. Museum volunteer Sherry Steele graciously loaned the cookbook to the Museum, noting the cookie recipe was one of her favorites.
*sigh* Well. It’s a tough assignment. But we can do it – you know, in the name of history.
My history-buff daughter, who took the lead, was excited for the assignment.
“It is very historical,” she noted, eying the recipe pages. “I think it was done in the early 1900s … judging by the black and white pictures, and the pages are a bit yellowed, and the girl on the front cover.” (And, yes, she considers 1947 to be part of the early 1900s.)
True to the era, this cookbook has a particular audience in mind.
As the introduction puts it: A girl who makes the things in this book, following carefully all instructions, gains enough experience to go on to more complicated dishes.
But the recipes are good for all young cooks. So we donned aprons (part of the instructions, you know) and got started.
We first assembled our ingredients. We decided to recreate some of the cookbook’s how-to photos, which feature a 10-year-old Pennsylvania girl.
There was a lot of product placement back then. All familiar names: Morton’s salt, Calumet baking powder, Arm & Hammer baking soda. We did some product placement of our own, sharing the cookbook’s taste in salt at least. Otherwise, we’re more the type to grab whatever’s in the WinCo bulk bins (seriously, so much cheaper).
But we were more deliberate with the peanut butter. It’s the key ingredient, after all. In the spirit of things, we sought peanut butter that looked old — not past its best-by date, mind you, but, like, vintage old… Eyeing the options in Winco, we settled on Adams peanut butter. We later discovered that Adams Peanut Butter Company was started in 1916 by Rex F. Adams, a Tacoma football coach. Well, hi-de-ho, that’s killer-diller!
After measuring out the peanut butter, the girls decided to lick the spoon. Obviously.
Not being nut-butter girls, typically, I was surprised by the smiles.
“It tastes like ballgame peanut butter peanut shells,” Big Sister said.
Is that a good thing?
“Uh-huh. They taste really good.”
So good, in fact, she decides to go with the handwritten note in the cookbook and add more peanut butter.
The recipe’s directions are well-written. For the most part, the girls don’t have a problem following them on their own.
Until it got to the part about sifting the dry ingredients onto a piece of wax paper.
“What does ‘sift’ mean?”
I know enough about baking to know the recipe envisioned using an actual sifter, a metal contraption common to the 1940s kitchen. We do not own one. (Is a sifter still a part of the modern kitchen?) But in a similar situation some years ago, I read that using a fork accomplishes roughly the same goal. So we did that. Since the wax paper was already out, they mixed everything directly on the paper. In hindsight, that was fairly silly. But oh well. Little Sister carefully folded the paper and poured in the dry ingredients while Big Sister whirled the wooden spoon.
The directions note at this step: You will have to use your muscles as this is a fairly hard mixture.
“It makes me pant,” Big Sister said. “Baking is now a new sport!”
“Can I do it? I’m strong!” Little Sister chimed in.
Turns out it wasn’t even as stiff as it was supposed to be. (Remember that added peanut butter?) Big Sister’s first attempt to roll a spoonful of batter more closely resembled a Frisbee than a beach ball.
No problem. The handy handwritten note at the bottom of the page just says to add more flour.
Scoop, scoop. Scoop again. “That looks about right,” she said.
She didn’t really follow the whole “peaks” forming part. But close enough. The dough rolled right up.
After a while, the girls seemed to get bored rolling dough balls, even though the recipe *only makes 24 cookies*… So we end up with a range of cookie balls, from golf ball size to softball size. Hmm…
I think they were eager to get to the fork part: Make a criss-cross pattern by pressing with a fork. Indeed, they spent a lot of time on this part. Some cookies were fork-tonged flat against the cookie sheet, in fact. Hmm…
Final step: Bake for 12 minutes in a medium oven, 375 degrees.
Oh, right… Apparently, we are the reason modern recipe writers now put “Preheat oven to…” for Step 1. The wait for cookies would be a bit longer as we waited for the slowpoke oven to warm up. I looked around at piles of dirty baking implements. “What can we do while we wait…?” *hint, hint*
“Umm… Lick batter?” Big Sister guessed.
“Who wants to lick the spoon?” she asked.
I literally started jumping up and down. (I am not ashamed.) “Oo! Me! Me! I helped! I helped! Well, sort of…”
Big Sister handed the spoon to Little Sister. “She helped more.”
After helping our baker-in-chief with the hot scary oven, we waited for the last “ding” of the timer…
The mismatched size of cookies made for some uneven baking. The thin ones burnt to a crisp. As final proof, one fell off the spatula on its way to the cooling rack and shattered like china.
“Everyone say goodbye to the cookie,” said Little Sister as she held the dustpan over the garbage can.
Two seconds later…
“Mom, she hit me with the broom.”
Sugar and spice, people. It’s all sugar and spice here.
On the other end of the cookie spectrum was a gigantic cookie that very nearly baked its way off the cookie sheet.
“You might need the pancake flipper for that one,” Little Sister noted.
“This one is mine,” Big Sister said, a greedy look in her eye.
“We should share it,” Little Sister scolded.
“It is mine,” Big Sister said, ignoring her completely. “All mine!” *evil laughter*
What about the burnt ones?
Big Sister averted her eyes and threw up her palm in disgust. “It’s a disgrace to human-baking-kind.”
But we probably should keep them, I noted. Daddy, the Human Garbage Disposal, will probably eat them. (Postscript: He did.)
All in all, our attempt was less perfect than the cookbook envisioned. Vanilla down! Hair stuck on the butter. Drippy egg white.
But we called it a success. The proof was in that peanut buttery taste.
As the girls said, with mouths full: “Can we make them again some time?”
Please, go right ahead.
(A mom could get used to this…)
The final take from Big Sister: “Pretty good.” Her one change would be to add less flour when she added more. The cookies were a bit dry, and that might be why. She said this is a good recipe for kids — “and adults.” She gave it 4-1/2 stars out of 5.
The final take from Little Sister: “Some got burnt, but it worked out good. I enjoyed it, even though she never let me get a chance to stir. It’s a fun recipe.”
The final take from Mom: This is pretty close to two other recipes for peanut butter cookies I have in cookbooks on my shelf (but have never made). Both of those recipes don’t bother with baking powder. One changes the ratio of butter (less) to peanut butter (more), which may be worth trying with this recipe.
What they’d keep:
What they’d change:
Things Googled during this episode: Adams peanut butter, 1940s slang, peanut butter ingredients
Cost: A 16-ounce jar of Adams peanut butter will run you about $3.50 to $5.50.
For now, the jury’s still out on which method is better: adding more flour or swapping some butters. Give it a try and let us know what you think.
Ooo… Or maybe I put the girls on that one, too… You know. In the name of science.
Thank you to Melissa Slager and family for this amazing guest post!
If you decide to try this recipe be sure to post all about it and tag us on social media with #emohathome. We’d love to see it! And don’t forget to share this gem with your friends so more people can watch us embarrass ourselves for the sake of history.
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