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New England Recipes Masthead I New Egnland Recipes Masthead II

Boston Cookies


The earliest Boston Cookie recipe showed up in 1881 in The Household (of the Detroit Free Press): A Cyclopedia of Practical Hints of Modern Homes (2nd Edition). This recipe went on to become the accepted Boston Cookie recipe. The recipe was a sugar cookie lightly spiced with raisins.  Likely it got passed along via newspapers. Various versions of the recipe called Boston Cookies showed up over the next few years. In 1885 in Morrisania, New York the Ladies of St. Paul’s Church published a recipe more like a hermit cookie. In 1886 a recipe was submitted to the My Favorite Receipts from Grandville, Michigan. This recipe lacked the raisins and spice. The Boston Cookie recipe took fifteen years to make its debut in a New England cookbook. Fannie Farmer in 1896 included it in her Boston Cooking School Cook Book.  Miss Farmer added nuts and an extra cup of flour to the earlier 1881 recipe and thus created what became the standard Boston Cookie recipe.

It is amazing how recipes traveled. The recipe was found published in 1889 in Scammell’s Universal Treasure-House of Useful Knowledge published in Salt Lake City, Utah. It was the same recipe that showed up the 1886 My Favorite Receipts which came from a Michigan lady. In 1897, the recipe showed up in Hood’s Practical Cook’s Book: For the Average Household in Lowell, Massachusetts. This recipe listed nutmeg like the Detroit recipe whereas the Fannie Farmer’s recipe listed cinnamon. It also veered away from rolled or dropped. It called to “spread on tins. The dough should not be molded or rolled.” So the people compiling this cook book did not get their information from the 1896 Boston Cooking School Cook Book. Some other recipe had have been showing up in newspapers. In Mrs. Owen’s New Cook Book and Complete Household Manual from Chicago, Illinois, published in 1899 is a recipe with cinnamon and “Make stiff as will spread on dripping pan. Cut in squares for table. One-half cup milk or sour cream added will make more moist.” This recipe shows how variations come and go. It listed cinnamon which had showed up in the Boston, MA and the method of “spread on pan” that showed up in Lowell, MA.

The basic ratio of butter to sugar was traced back to a cookie called “Jumbles.” The 1872 Appledore Cookbook’s Jumbles recipe called for 1 cup butter, 2 cups sugar, 3 eggs. These cookies were rolled thin and baked until brown “will keep up to 1 year in tin box in dry place.”  The 1881 Detroit Free Press Cyclopedia’s Boston Cookie recipe called for 1 cup butter, 1 cup sugar, 3 eggs plus raisins and nutmeg. It was recommended to drop this cookie batter on to the baking sheet. Drop cookies are not baked until brown (hard).  This was a major change.

The ratios of ingredients in Jumbles and Boston Cookies are similar indicating the Jumbles recipe was used as the basis for the Boston Cookie. The change in baking status was one change that made the two cookies different. Another change was the addition of a single spice and raisins.

Recipe names can sometimes be misleading. In the 1947 edition of the Boston Cooking School Cook Book there are two recipes with nearly identical ingredients they were “Rocks” and “Boston Cookies”. The only real difference was Rocks added vanilla and the Boston Cookie did not.


1881 Detroit Free Press: Cyclopedia’s Boston Cookie Recipe
1 cup butter
1 cups sugar
2 cups flour
1 cups raisins, chopped fine
teaspoonful soda dissolved in a little warm water
3 eggs
Pinch of salt
Pinch of nutmeg
Other flavorings to taste
Mix well, roll thin, or better still drop into the pans with a spoon and sprinkle granulated sugar over each

1896 Boston Cooking School Cook Book Boston Cookie Recipe
1 cup butter
1 cups sugar
 3 eggs
1 teaspoon soda dissolved in 1 tablespoons hot water
3 cups flour
teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup chopped nuts, hickory or English walnut
cup currants
cup raisins, seeded and chopped
Drop by spoonfuls one inch apart on a buttered sheet, and bake in a moderate oven.

1936 New England Cook Book New Hampshire Fruit Cookie

Exacts same recipe as 1896 Boston Cookie with the only two differences:
Added - 1 1/2 tablespoons water
Omitted - 1/2 teaspoon salt

1959 Boston Cooking School Cook Book Boston Cookie Recipe
350 degree oven
1 cup flour
teaspoon baking soda
Few grains of salt
teaspoon cinnamon
cup butter
cup sugar
1 egg
1/3 cup nuts, chopped
1/3 cup raisins, chopped
Arrange by spoonfuls [dropped] 1 inch apart on buttered cooky sheets. Bake until delicately brown (about 12 minutes)

The only difference between the 1896 and 1959 recipes was one minor change: the later recipe called for slightly less butter.  Otherwise the 1959 recipe was exactly like the 1896 only it had reduced the quantities, therefore fewer cookies per batch.