Cookies born and baked in Massachusetts 

  • This easy, no-bake Cherry Graham Cracker Tiffin features walnuts, chocolate chips and cherries. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Cherry Graham Cracker Tiffin STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Clockwise from front: Snowy Chocolate Chip Cookies, Joe Froggers, Boston Cookies STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Cherry Graham Cracker Tiffin STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Clockwise from front: Snowy Chocolate Chip Cookies, Joe Froggers, Boston Cookies STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

For the Gazette
Published: 12/14/2018 4:13:48 PM

When the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture was seeking African American dishes from the North for its Sweet Home Café, it chose Joe Froggers, a cookie created by Joe and Lucretia Brown of Marblehead in the early nineteenth century.

Joe Froggers join Fig Newtons, Toll House Chocolate Chips, Graham crackers and others in the pantheon of Massachusetts cookies. With histories to intrigue as well as flavors to enjoy, they deserve a spot in the Christmas cookie limelight.

The name alone piques interest in Joe Froggers. Joe comes from Joseph Brown (1750-1834), son of an African American mother and a Wampanoag father. Born into slavery, Brown was freed for his service in the Revolutionary wars. He and his wife Lucretia, the daughter of two former slaves, ran a Marblehead tavern, where Lucretia developed her cookies. A nearby frog pond may have prompted “Froggers,” perhaps as a play on Joe Floggers — a popular raisin-studded pancake.

Now upmarket, Marblehead was then a tough port with rambunctious seamen and cheap rum. The rum combines with seawater in Lucretia’s recipe to preserve as well as flavor the cookies so they kept well on long voyages, which ensured their popularity in Marblehead and neighboring ports.

At first, Joe Froggers faced few competing kinds of cookie because, being small, cookies were fiddly to make in the ovens of the day. But as the nineteenth century brought new technologies, newer cookies sidelined Joe Froggers until the 1950s, when they began starring in the café of the recently founded Old Sturbridge Village. Soon newspapers were publishing recipes, and they were famous again.

No other regional cookie comes with such memories of African American entrepreneurship or of Massachusetts’ historic seaports. But Graham crackers have a compelling history rooted in Sylvester Graham’s pioneering work on nutrition.

Born in Connecticut in 1794, Graham suffered poor health. After dropping out of Amherst College to work with temperance societies, he became convinced of the hazards of America’s diet of meat and trashy bread washed down with an average of 24 pints of rum per person per year. Taking the 1832 cholera epidemic as proof of his beliefs, he campaigned for a vegetarian regime anchored by home-made bread of coarse whole-wheat flour without spices or other "stimulants."

When Graham moved to Northampton in 1839, the Gazette mocked him as "Dr. Bran, the philosopher of sawdust pudding,” But he had won followers in the nascent vegetarian movement, and Northampton was centrally located so he could lecture in many cities. Whole-wheat flour was called Graham flour after him, and in 1983 when Sylvester’s Restaurant opened in his old home on Pleasant Street, they featured Graham bread on the menu. Crackers made with Graham flour of course became Graham crackers. Mass-produced since 1898, they now have sugar, honey, cinnamon and other “stimulants,” and they are among America’s favorite snacks.

Regarding Boston’s namesake cookie, the first recipe for Boston Cookies — made with raisins and nutmeg — comes from Detroit in 1881. Fifteen years later Fannie Farmer included them in her Boston Cooking School Cook Book, typically adding her own touches: chopped nuts and currants as well as raisins, and cinnamon rather than nutmeg.

Toll House Chocolate Chip cookies have been the Commonwealth’s official cookie since 1997. They were invented in 1938 by Ruth Wakefield, owner of the Toll House Inn in Whitman. Explaining that she wanted “something different” from her butterscotch cookies, she tried chopping a Nestlé chocolate bar into her cookie dough. An instant hit! Second World War Massachusetts servicemen who got them in care packages spread their fame by sharing them with pals from other states, and the publication of the recipe on Nestle packages of chocolate chips made them available everywhere.


All traditional recipes for Joe Froggers include three mainstays of nineteenth-century New England cooking: rum, spices and molasses. But they vary widely in the amounts of molasses and rum, and in the choice of spices, though ginger is always included. Old recipes call for seawater which, like rum, was thought to act as a preservative so barrels of Joe Froggers could be stored on ocean-going ships. They were big: early recipes also suggest cutting them with a coffee can. Here they are medium size.

2½ cups flour

2 teaspoons ground ginger

½ teaspoon grated nutmeg

1 teaspoon powdered allspice

½ cup molasses

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ cup rum or cold brewed tea

¼ cup hot water

1 ½ teaspoons salt

½ cup butter or vegetable shortening at room temperature

½ cup white sugar plus more for sprinkling

In a mixing bowl, thoroughly mix the flour, ginger, allspice and nutmeg. Set aside. In a small bowl, stir together the molasses and baking soda. It will bubble a little. Set aside. In another small bowl, combine rum and hot water and stir in the salt until it has dissolved. Set aside

In a large bowl, thoroughly cream the butter or shortening and the sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in about half a cup of the flour mixture. Now add the molasses mixture and another half cup of the flour mixtures. Mix in the rum mixture then finally the remaining flour mixture. You should have a softy shiny dough that does not stick to your hands. Cover and chill it for at least an hour, or overnight if you prefer.

To proceed, turn the oven to 350 degrees and either grease 2 baking sheets or line them with baking parchment. Roll out dough between two sheets of waxed or parchment paper until ¼-inch thick. Cut it into 3-inch round cookies. Place on greased cookie sheet, and sprinkle a little sugar on each. Bake for 10-12 minutes for cookies that are darker round the edge and soft in the center, and minute or two longer for crisp cookies or for larger cookies.. Set the cookie sheets to cool for five minutes. Remove to a rack to cool completely. Makes about 2 dozen.


Unlike most cookies, Graham crackers are both a snack and an ingredient in other baked goods — notably pie crusts. Here they play a role in an easy no-bake cookie. “Tiffin” is an Anglo-Indian word derived from a northern English term for a drink or snack. In India, it meant lunch, as it still does. In Britain it’s now the name of a candy bar and this no-bake confection. Dried fruit or nuts are common tiffin ingredients along with many kinds of cereal and plain cookies. Graham crackers are perfect, and this cookie is a fun way to use them. Once an adult has melted the butter, children can help — or even take over the process entirely. Golden syrup is a thick English sugar syrup available locally at Whole Foods and some other food stores. Honey is a good substitute, but maple syrup is too thin.

About 5 Graham crackers

½ stick (4 tablespoons) butter

3 tablespoons Lyle’s golden syrup or thick honey

3 tablespoons light brown sugar

⅓ cup chocolate chips

1 teaspoon almond or vanilla extract

1 cup (or more to taste) puffed rice or other cereal

20 crystallized cherries, each cut in 3-4 bits

1 tablespoon chopped almonds or walnuts (optional)

For the topping

⅓ cup chocolate chips

8 crystallized cherries, halved

1 tablespoon white or colored cake sprinkles

Line an 8-inch square cake pan with parchment and grease the sides. Put the Graham crackers in a plastic bag and bash with a rolling pin or can of food so they break into a mix of bean-size pieces and coarse crumbs. You should have about a cup but quantities don’t have to be exact.

In a large saucepan over moderate heat, melt the butter, then stir in the syrup, sugar, almond extract, and chocolate chips. When all are combined, stir in the Rice Krispies or other cereal plus the crushed Graham crackers.

Add the chopped cherries and any nuts or more cookies or cereal if necessary. Stir to make a thick stiff mass. Quickly spread in the prepared pan leaving one corner empty. (This makes it easier to cut and remove later.)

For the topping melt the remaining chocolate, and spread over the surface with a pastry brush. While it is still soft, dot with halved cherries and scatter with colored sprinkles. Divide into pieces with a knife, but do not remove. Chill for an hour in the fridge then cut into the lines you previously made and remove from the pan. Makes 12-15 pieces.


White chocolate chips and macadamias spirit extra luxury into this version of chocolate chip cookies. If you do not have unsalted macadamias, simply soak salted ones in water for 5-10 minutes, dry them, then pop into the oven for 5 minutes to crisp them up again.

4 ounce-bar white chocolate or 1 cup white chocolate chips

½ cup whole or halved unsalted macadamia nuts

1½ cups flour plus more for dusting

¾ teaspoon baking soda

½ cup (1 stick) room temperature butter

½ cup light brown white sugar

¼ cup white sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 egg

About ¼ cup confectioner’s sugar

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or grease and flour them.

Coarsely chop whole macadamias into 4-5 pies or halved ones into 2-3 pieces. If you are using a bar of white chocolate chop it into pea-size morsels. Set both aside. Also set aside the flour mixed with the baking soda.

In a large bowl, cream the butter with the white and light brown sugars until soft and fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla extract, then beat in half the flour mixture. When it has blended in, beat in the remaining flour. Fold in the chocolate morsels and the chopped macadamias, aiming to distribute them throughout the dough.

Working with about a third of the dough, flour your hands and roll it into lychee-size balls. Keep flouring your hands as you go. Place the balls on the baking sheets. Bake for 8-9 minutes or until golden. Remove from the tray to a wire cooling rack and immediately sift confectioner’s sugar over them. Let cool. Store in an airtight box. Shower with more confectioner’s sugar before serving.


After their first recorded appearance in 1881 in a household guide published in Detroit, recipes for Boston cookies appeared in several midwestern newspapers. In the first Massachusetts recipe in Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cooking School Cook Book (1896) cinnamon replaces nutmeg as the spice. It’s OK, but nutmeg is much, much better. Its mysterious flavor makes the cookies taste special.

½ cup (1 stick) butter at room temperature

¾ cups sugar plus a little more for sprinkling

1 egg

½ teaspoon soda

1 tablespoon hot water

1 ½ cups flour

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

½ teaspoon mace (or another ¼ teaspoon nutmeg)

½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans

¼ cup raisins

¼ cup currants (or another ¼ cup raisins)

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or grease and flour them. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg. Dissolve the soda in the water and add it along with half the flour. Beat this in then add the nutmeg and mace plus the remaining flour. Mix thoroughly. Fold in the walnuts or pecans and the raisins and currants.

Drop by walnut-size dollops 1-inch apart on the prepared pans. Sprinkle a about a quarter teaspoon of sugar on each. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until light gold. Makes about 2 dozen.

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Northampton, MA 01061


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