By Mary E. Gage
We often forget our not so distant ancestors used language that is foreign to us today. Back in the 1800s dishes called Fresh Smother, Duff and Jo-Floggers or Joe-Froggers were served on fishing vessels along the north Atlantic coast from Newfoundland down to New York. These names come from “The Fisheries: Cod, Mackerel, and Herring” a report published in 1843 by Lorenzo Sabine. The report was reporting in real time about then current practices. In it Sabine noted, “…Nor does his dialect end here. Chebacco-boats and small schooners are known to him [sailors] as pinkies, hogies, and jiggers.” (Sabine, 1843 p.70). As can be seen the fisherman had a language of their own. Gus Stahl of the Oyster Bay Historical Society in an article titled Seagoing Delicacies: Early Sailor’s Fare (1996 p.3-4) identified these three dishes as:
Fresh Smother: Pot-pie of sea-birds
“Our steward, a Portuguese, was a clever fellow, and, in honor of my first halibut, brought me a mugful of hot coffee, and a pancake with plums in it, called by the fishermen a ‘Joe-flogger’.” (Proctor 1873 p.55 Fishermen’s Memorial and Record Book)
“Jo-Flogger.–A sailor’s name for a pancake.” (Hullock, 1883, see glossary, The Sportsman’s Gazetter and General Guide)
“Mince turnovers were the dessert. Uncle, an old seaman, called them ‘Jo-froggers,’ in commemoration of days on the Newfoundland and Georges fishing banks, when the cook fried them in pork-fat …” (Knudson, 1920 The Joyous Turnover)
Throughout the 1800s cookbooks from London to the eastern seaboard of America printed numerous versions of a recipe that matches Joe Froggers. The Cook’s Own Book (1842, Boston, MA) carried this recipe: “Pancake Rissoles” Mince finely some cold veal, season it with grated lemon-peel, nutmeg, pepper, salt, … Fry a thin pancake, turn it, and put into the middle two table-spoonfuls of the minced veal; fold in at each side and at the ends in an oblong form, and fry them of a light brown color, …” [mince (meat) turnovers] (page 132). Modern Cookery (1845, Philadelphia, PA) stated “Rissoles – This is the French name for small fried pastry of various forms, filled with meat or fish previously cooked …” (p. 301). Rissoles were a popular recipe with many variations and found in many 1800 cookbooks in England and Northeastern America.
Joe Froggers / Jo-Floggers were a dish of their times. On land they were filled with minced meat and called Rissoles. On fishing vessels they were filled with plums, probably prunes the preserved version of plums and called Jo-Floggers or Joe-Froggers. Joe Froggers were cooked fresh on board the boats.
Sea language sometimes was picked up by landsmen and transferred to land language. This occurred with only a hint of the original meaning. “Having named two containers commonly found on deck, we mustn’t forget an important third, a cask called the scuttle butt which contained drinking water. Called that because it was a butt or staved container and had in its head a scuttle or trap door, the scuttle butt was a place of resort for idlers who gathered around it to exchange gossip or rumor. The name has entered the language of landsmen as a synonym for rumor and its maritime origin has been largely forgotten.” (Stahl, 1996, 4)
The land term transferred the name of a physical object, the scuttle butt with its associated practice of exchanging gossip and rumors to a term minus the physical object that of exchanging gossip and rumors. The office scuttle butt often is heard around the water cooler. Some things never change.
In the seaport town of Marblehead, Massachusetts they have a famous cookie called the Joe Frogger. It is a large, thin, round gingerbread cookie flavored with rum. The gingerbread cookie was larger than most and due to its oversize resembled a pancake. This may have been how it came to acquire its name, Joe Frogger after its namesake, the pancakes made on board fishing vessels.
Nothing is known about the cookie’s history. It is thought its recipe was kept secret by its creator. At some point, it was shared and went on to become a much loved cookie. However, the meaning of the cookie’s maritime name and link with the fishing industry was lost. In lieu of the Joe Froggers’ real history a local folk story developed. Between 1953 and 1959 the Joe Frogger story and/or the cookie’s recipe was published in the following magazines: The Saturday Evening Post, Better Homes and Gardens, Saturday Review, Historic Marblehead: A Guided Tour of Places of Interest …, and the book The American Festival Guide: A Handbook of More Than 200 …, and Hobbies. “Black Uncle Joe who lived in a cabin by the frog pond in Marblehead, Mass. originally baked these spicy sweets for the local fishermen. They bought enormous batches to stock their galleys for long trips. Good keepers, these sweets! The name? It’s just one of those things – big flat cookies were remindful of the big fat frogs that sat on the lily pads in Uncle Joe’s pond.” In 1954, this story by Christine Paddleford, a well known syndicated food column writer was spread across America. Paddleford got her story from Sturbridge Village. Sturbridge Village was one of the major sources for perpetuating the story as it sold Joe Froggers and passed along its story to food writers. “The Sturbridge [Village] chef says the recipe came from a Marblehead woman who said it had been in her family for over 100 years.” (Hanes). That was around the 1950’s which dates the recipe to circa 1850 the right time period. This folk story has taken on the relevance of a historic story. See Marblehead Museum online post with J.O.J.’s Joe Froggers are back! dated Juy 3, 2014.
Folk stories are apart of every culture’s heritage. They are quaint, we love them but! There was a person named Black Joe a former slave who gained his freedom and purchased a house which is thought to have been used by him and his wife for a tavern within its local neighborhood. Anya Seton in her extensive research on Marblehead for her novel The Hearth and Eagle introduced Black Joe and Cressy his wife. During her time in Marblehead Anya learned about the Joe Frogger cookies but did not find or make a link to Black Joe (Advocate, Baton Rouge, LA with AP article on Seton, 12/19/1948). Her book was published in 1948. (Joe Froggers are not mentioned in the book.) By the 1950’s the fully developed story in which Black Joe is the cookie’s originator appears across America.
There is no question a large flat rum flavored gingerbread cookie originated in Marblehead. Rum was the key ingredient. At the time it was not the type of liquor used to flavor cakes and gingerbread that was brandy followed by wine and sometimes distilled rose water. The rum was the secret ingredient which may have been kept secret by the originator who may or may not have sold a few cookies at his or her tavern. But was that tavern Black Joe’s? We will never know.
Cream shortening and sugar until light.
Add baking soda to molasses. [Add to creamed mixture] [This is the creamed mixture]
Dissolve salt in water and mix with rum. [Mix water and rum, salt is optional; this is the liquid ingredients]
Sift flour with ginger, clove, nutmeg and allspice. [Flour mixture]
Add liquid ingredients alternatively with flour mixture to cream mixture.
Stir well between additions. Dough would be sticky. Chill overnight in refrigerator. In morning, flour board and rolling pin. Roll dough out to ¼ to ½ inch thickness. Cut with larger cutter.
Bake in 375 degree oven for 10 to 12 minutes. Makes about 4 dozen 5 inch cookies.
*The version of the recipe on the Marblehead Museum website uses 1 cup rum and no water.
A Boston Housekeeper
Knudson, Grace P. T.
Proctor, George H.