Ivy and I baked snickerdoodles yesterday. This would not be blogworthy, except for what I learned about how even home-baked cookies have changed over the past sixty years.
I baked them, mostly, from the Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book I got for Christmas. It’s a fascimile of the original 1950 edition, and let me say, parenthetically, that I love the Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book — the cookie chapter, at least, which has photos that look like my grandmother’s Christmas tray. But there are chapters into which no cook ought tread. (Savory Dill Franks: I’ll say no more.) The snickerdoodles looked like snickerdoodles — butter cookie, shape into balls, roll in cinnamon sugar — but the recipe had no vanilla. The only flavoring was the cinnamon on the outside. So I checked my Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, 1989 edition, the one my parents bought me for Christmas the year I first had an apartment and my own kitchen. (The one with the red-check-tablecloth design cover. You know.) That recipe called for vanilla, so I thought, fine, I’ll add a little vanilla to Betty’s recipe.
Then I looked a little closer. The 1950 recipe made twice as many cookies, five dozen, a lot of cookies, but so did most of the cookie recipes in the Picture Cook Book. More kids in the house in 1950, and cookies were still wholesome then, none of this “sometime food” garbage, because the kids hadn’t already consumed two Pop-tarts, a Milky Way and three Mountain Dews before they got home from school.
But the proportions of the ingredients were different, too. The 1990 recipe calls for a bit less flour, half the baking soda and cream of tartar, and one-third more sugar. And half as much cinnamon in the cinnamon sugar. So vanilla yes, but less flavorful overall, and far sweeter.
Ironically, a note added to the cover page of the fascimilar notes that “Mom or Grandma may have used more salt, sugar, and fat in her cooking than we do today… So you may want to try these recipe using today’s ingredients and methods.” Just the opposite, actually: Those forty years brought so much more packaged, processed food into the American diet, with ever more sugar, that even home cookies were corrupted.
Home-baked cookies don’t need to be so sweet. Cocoa Puffs, sure, because they’ve got nothing else going for them. But snickerdoodles? Fresh baked from real, fresh ingredients? Warm from the oven, made with your dad on a crummy Tuesday afternoon, licking the dough off the rubber spatula? Do we really have to load even that with enough sugar to give diabetes to the Grande Armée?
Apparently, we do. Apparently home cooking has to taste like processed food, because that is what the Great American Palate has come to expect.
The Great American Palate can bite me.
Not that Betty’s recipe was perfect. I used mostly her proportions, but I substituted butter for the shortening (she gets a pass on that in the wake of World War II). Vanilla is optional, I think. They were plenty sweet, and a little lighter from the extra leavening, and they had a good kick of cinnamon. Kathy and I, who had eaten both kinds, agreed that these were better. Ivy, having no point of comparison, ate two.
Adapted from Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book, 1948. Makes about 30. Takes about twenty-five minutes, including baking time… maybe more if you have a seven year-old helping.
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 1/2 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- Cream together the butter and sugar. Mix in the egg. (You can use a mixer for this, or just mix them real well with a wooden spoon… they’re cookies. It ain’t rocket science.)
- Whisk together the flour, salt, soda, and cream of tartar. Stir this into the above.
- Roll the dough into 1-inch balls. (You could chill it first, but who wants to wait?) Roll the balls in the cinnamon sugar and place on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake at 400°F for 8 to 10 minutes, until lightly browned but still soft.
- Drink a glass of milk with these, or you’ll make your momma cry.