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I'm fascinated by how recipes move through time and place and how they are transformed — or not — in the process.
When I was a kid, my mom made these amazing cookies — chocolate, oatmeal, peanut butter — just delicious, more like fudge than cookies really, but easy to make and oh so tasty. On the 3-by-5 card, tucked into her tan metal recipe box, they were called No-Bake Missouri Cookies.
Since then, I have been served these cookies in so many disparate places that now, when I see them, made and brought by someone I've never met, at a bridal or baby shower or a random potluck, I'm no longer surprised.
The first time it happened, I was with my good friend Betsy. She and I grew up on the same street, so we've known each other, well, going on 50 years. Our mothers knew each other and most of the other families who lived on the street.
I can't remember where or when, but Betsy made these cookies one day and I said something like, "Oh, Missouri Cookies, how wonderful!" to which she replied, approximately, "Oh no, these are Gloria Russell's No-Bake Cookies."
Now, I know Gloria Russell. She actually is a well-known local journalist in southern Rhode Island, and when we were kids, she lived in a cool A-frame house on the opposite side of our street.
So what happened here? Did the recipe arrive in the hands of my mom and Mrs. Russell via two different routes, with two different names? Did the recipe go from my mom to Mrs. Russell — or vice versa — with one of them changing the name in the process? Or did Betsy's mom rename the recipe when it came into her hands so she would always remember where it came from?
Perhaps as circumstantial evidence, I do have another recipe from Betsy's mom. It's called Gertrude Wheeler's Chicken Divan. I never met Mrs. Wheeler, but her chicken divan is divine. I guess I'll never really know, but I love the idea that Betsy's mom wanted to keep track of all these hard-working women who shared their recipes, so she renamed them in their honor.
Most recently, in January, I attended a potluck where my friend Pat's contribution to the event was a plate of very similar cookies. Her recipe though rendered the cookies harder, less fudgy, more crackly, but still delicious. I think hers were called Chocolate Oatmeal No-Bakes, and didn't call for peanut butter, but they clearly were related to my mom's.
I don't imagine I'll ever know where the original recipe came from, but knowing how it found a home in so many recipe collections over the years makes me love the cookies even more. So, for what it's worth, here's my mom's recipe. Drop me a line if you already have it.
No Bake Missouri Cookies
2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons baking cocoa
½ cup oleo (I use butter)
½ cup milk
3 cups oatmeal (old fashioned, not instant)
½ cup peanut butter (I use chunky)
½ cup chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon vanilla
Lay a sheet of wax paper, about 3 feet long, on your kitchen table or counter top.
In a saucepan, mix the cocoa, sugar, butter and milk. Bring to a boil, watching and stirring regularly. When the mixture comes to a full rolling boil (one you can't stir down), let it boil for 1 minute. Turn off the heat and add the rest of the ingredients, stirring to combine thoroughly but working quickly so it doesn't set up before you're ready.
Again, working quickly, drop the mixture by spoonfuls onto the waxed paper. Let the cookies stand for about 30 minutes until they harden. Enjoy.
Jill Blanchette is the night editor at The Day. Her column appears in The Times weeklies every other week. If you have any comments or recipes to share, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.