History of Brownies
This is an updated history with new source materials and print outs of older source materials. It pushes the first published “chocolate brownie” recipe back to 1904. However, more sources are needed to accurately complete the history. Does anyone have access to the following Boston Cooking School Cook Book editions: 1900, 1901, 1902, 1903, 1904, 1905, 1906, or any other editions up to 1910? A print out or accurate copy of the brownies recipes in those editions is needed.
“This dessert was created in the kitchen of the Palmer House Hotel during the 1893 Columbian Exposition when Mrs. Bertha Palmer requested the chef make a “ladies dessert” that would be easier to eat than a piece of pie, and smaller serving than a slice of layer cake, which could be used in box lunches at the Women’s Building at the Fair.” “This recipe is still served today at the Palmer House Hilton on State Street and is one of their most popular confections.”
The popular confection is called the Palmer House Brownie which is topped with an apricot glaze. The Palmer House Hotel’s recipe given in the article does not state if it is the original recipe or a modified version. The Palmer brownie calls for double the quantity of chocolate that normal brownies recipes use and an apricot glaze. The extra chocolate and glaze is not found in the 1904 - 1910 published chocolate brownies recipes. It seems unlikely the hotel’s recipe was copied.
Up to 1880 ingredients in recipes were given in paragraph form. In Mrs. Linclon’s 1884 edition of the Boston Cooking School Cook Book she changed the format in the cake section. She formed two columns and listed the ingredients. At the bottom of the columns she wrote out the instructions in paragraph form. This format took a while to trickle down to the everyday housewife who submitted recipes to community cook books. The 1904 Home Cookery compiled by the ladies of the Congregational Church (Laconia, NH) has a good example. The Brownies recipe submitted by Mrs. C.F. Pitman was taken from Fannie Farmer’s 1896 Boston Cooking School Cook Book. It changes the modern format of listing the ingredients in two columns back to a paragraph format. The two recipes are identical, otherwise. Since individual cooks took it upon themselves to change the format in how a recipe was presented the format can not be used to date a recipe. The old recipes presented in this article have been converted to a standardized format so the ingredient list can easily be compared.
The Name “Brownie”
Author Palmer Cox popularized the name “Brownie” with the publication of his book The Brownies, Their Book in 1887. With the rise in popularity of the book, commercial businesses developed advertising tie-ins to the name. For example, Kodak names its popular camera “Brownie,” various candy companies use “brownie” in the name of their chocolate candy treats, Sears & Roebuck Co. name use the name for a cookie.
[Molasses] Brownie (small cake type)
Brownies (Molasses Cakes)
This recipe is identical to the Brownies recipe in the 1896 Boston Cooking School Cook Book except that is was written out in paragraph format instead of Fannie Farmer’s listed format. (It was reformated to list format for ease of comparison)
(Biscuits are semi-sweet English style cookies)
1898 Candy Ad
1901 Candy Ad
1903 Candy Ad
1907 Candy Ad
“Chocolate” Brownies Recipes Neither Cake, nor Candy, nor Cookie
1904 Home Cookery Brownies (p 132) 1904 Service Club Cook Book Bangor Brownies (p 68) 1905 Boston Daily Globe* Bangor Brownies (p 34)
Brownies (p 132)
Service Club Cook Book
Bangor Brownies (p 68)
Boston Daily Globe*
Bangor Brownies (p 34)
*April 2, 1905 p.34
The first two published chocolate Brownies recipes show up simultaneously in 1904 in New Hampshire and Illinois. These are very different geographical regions one is on the east coast and the other is in the mid west. Both are community type cook books by women’s groups: Congregational Church of Laconia, NH and Service Club of Chicago, IL. These two 1904 recipes have slight variations: the Chicago, Illinois recipe is called “Bangor Brownies” and called for Baker’s Chocolate. Baker’s Chocolate established in 1780 was a Dorchester, Massachusetts company. The New Hampshire recipe is called “Brownies” and called for chocolate squares with no company name attached. The New Hampshire recipe also called for vanilla which did not show up in the Bangor Brownie recipe. Otherwise, New Hampshire’s basic recipe is identical to the Illinois recipe. In 1905 the Boston Globe published a Bangor Brownies recipe identical to the Chicago, Illinois Bangor Brownies recipe except it does not reference Baker’s Chocolate.
These three earliest published brownies recipes with exactly the same quantity of ingredients with one exception, the addition of vanilla to one of them from three different states, suggests there was originally a single source for the recipe. But what was that source?
1907 Lowney’s Cook Book Bangor Brownies (p 261) Lowney’s Brownies (p 265) 1910 Revised Edition Boston Cooking School Cook Book Brownies (p 495)
Lowney’s Cook Book
Bangor Brownies (p 261)
Lowney’s Brownies (p 265)
1910 Revised Edition
Boston Cooking School Cook Book
Brownies (p 495)
Lowney’s Bangor Brownies is different from the 1904 Chicago and 1905 Boston Bangor Brownies. Lowney’s recipe has less butter, brown sugar instead of white sugar, an extra chocolate square and one less egg. This recipe seems to come from a totally different source than the Chicago and Boston recipes.
Lowney’s Brownies is identical to the 1904 Chicago and 1905 Boston Bangor Brownies with the exception of adding a little salt. Also, it changes the Baker’s Chocolate name to its own name, Lowney’s chocolate squares.
The 1910 Boston Cooking School’s recipe for chocolate Brownies is a combination of the 1904 Laconia, NH’s Brownies (2 squares chocolate, and vanilla), and the 1907 Lowney’s Bangor Brownies (¼ cup butter, 1 egg and cut in strips). At this point it is unknown if the 1910 Brownie recipe is the same as the 1906 Boston Cooking School Cook Book recipe as this earlier recipe has not been posted online and is not available to the author.
Chocolate Companies (Boston Area)
Walter M. Lowney Company
Both companies sold cocoa and chocolate for cooking. However, each company specialized in different products. Baker’s specialty was cocoa and chocolate bars or squares. Lowney’s specialty was bonbons, chocolate candies. Baker’s continuously advertised year after year in the Boston Cooking School Cook Book because its product was used in the cooking process. Baker’s chocolate is still produced and used today. The blue wrapper and yellow label are no longer. Today it comes in an orange and chocolate brown colored box.
Lowney’s became a successful chocolate candy manufacturer. In the Illustrated Boston, The Metropolis of New England it states, “In 1886, he [Walter Lowney] sold $400,000 worth of goods.” “He uses one to two tons of best chocolate every day, and turns out from two to three tons of finished goods each day.”
What’s in a name?
At an unknown date after 1893, the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago named its creation, the “Palmer House Brownie”. The brownies recipe on-line has the basic (1 to ½) ratio of 16 oz. sugar to 8 oz. flour which makes the Palmer’s a brownie. But as discussed earlier in this article the Palmer House Brownie used double the chocolate found in other early brownie recipes and in addition it had an apricot glaze which none of the other early brownies recipes used. Although the basic brownies recipe matches the common brownies recipe it is not known if this is the original recipe used by the Palmer House and therefore at this point can not be credited with originating chocolate brownies. Furthermore its name was not used even within the Chicago area as evidenced by the 1904 Service Club Cook Book published in Chicago.
n 1896 the Boston Cooking School Cook Book called its small dark chocolate colored cakes made with molasses, Brownies. In 1904 a local group of women from a church called a baked good flavored with chocolate that had more sugar than flour, Brownies. Also, in 1904 out in Chicago another group of women published a similar recipe to the New Hampshire women and called it Bangor Brownies. The following year 1905, the Boston Daily Globe published the same recipe which was also called Bangor Brownies. In 1907 Lowney’s Cook Book from the Walter M. Lowney’s Company in Boston published two recipes one for Bangor Brownies which was different from the earlier ones and Lowney’s Brownies which matched the earlier Bangor Brownies recipes. This suggests the Bangor name got widely associated with Brownies but the recipe was altered by different cooks. And in some cases, the recipe remained the same but the name changed as in the Lowney’s Brownies’ recipe.
In the 1926 edition of the Boston Cooking School Cook Book if you reduced the nuts to a ¼ cup and added a ¼ cup Sultana raisins to the batter you had “Sultana Sticks”. In Hershey’s 1934 Cookbook there is “Chocolate Syrup Brownies”. In the 1936 New England Cook Book there is a recipe for “Mt. Holyoke Brownies” (Massachusetts). In the 1947 Social Circle Cook Book, Amesbury, Massachusetts there is a recipe for “Eleanor’s Tea Room Brownies”. In Eleanor Early’s 1954 New England Cookbook there is “Ravine Brownies” from the Ravine House in Randolph, New Hampshire. In a regional cookbook Pennsylvania Dutch Cookbook (1961-1972) they had the most appropriate name “Neither Cake Nor Candy (Brownies)”. Their recipe called for a ½ cup walnuts and ½ cup raisins.
Named recipes created associations with specific companies, places and establishments like hotels. Early on the Bangor name got attached. There is only one town in the United States with that name Bangor, Maine.
Some of these early recipes had slight alterations and some were copied exactly. What remained a constant was the basic recipe. So what is a brownie? It is a chocolate baked good with a ratio of 1 cup sugar to ½ cup flour. This gives the brownie its rich moist texture that is neither cake, nor cookie, nor candy.
Sears, Roebuck Catalogue (1897) Page 16
Kansas City Journal April 1, 1898 page 12
The Minneapolis Journal March 29, 1901 Page 5, 1st column
The Washington Times December 13, 1903 Page 16
The Washington Times December 22, 1905, page 3, bottom center
The Washington Times December 20, 1907, page 5, bottom center
* All newspaper images courtesy of the Library of Congress Chronicling American Collection
Boston Cooking School Cookbook (1896) page 424
Home Cookery (1904, Laconia, NH) page 132
Service Club Cook Book (1904, Chicago, IL) page 68
Lowney’s Cook Book (1907, Boston, MA) page 261
Lowney’s Cook Book (1907, Boston, MA) page 265
Boston Cooking School Cookbook (Revised Edition, 1910) Page 495