Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Snickerdoodles is one of food history's attractive nuisances. They sound like they ought to be "olde tyme" recipes. Cute or funny sounding names are candidates for this category, like Anadama bread, slumps, grunts, and pandowdy. Food writers (and their editors) are awful suckers for these things so from time to time, I get a little question like, "can you tell me the history of the colonial cookie snickerdoodles." Of course, no one is born knowing what is or isn't colonial so I say something like "there is apparently no evidence for snickerdoodles appearing before the twentieth century....yadda, yadda."

But now thanks to the tireless efforts of Barry Popik we have an "early sighting/citing." Barry searches newspapers for the earliest mention of a word he can find. He found a reference to Snickerdoodles dated 1898 on page 8 in the Boston (Mass.) Daily Globe for Jun 14, 1898. That, of course, means that the cookie was around sooner than 1898, as all etymologies reflect common usage. There is even a recipe for them submitted by M. Elizabeth Adams.

Three quarters of a cup of butter, 2 cups of sugar, 1 cup of milk, 3 cups of flour, 2 eggs, 2 teaspoons of cream of tartar, 1 teaspoon of soda. Mix; drop on a tin in spoonfuls, sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon, and bake in quick oven.

Barry also found a cool reference to them in Boise, Idaho, in 1901 in the Idaho Daily Statesman, Sunday, October 20, 1901 on page 11: "'Snickerdoodles' is the somewhat fantastic name of quickly made little cakes especially dear to the children hearts." The old receipt for them copied from an old scrapbook says:

'Stir together two cups of sugar and half a cup of butter. When creamy, add two well-beaten eggs, then one cup of milk, with a teaspoonful of soda, dissolved in it; and, lastly, add two and a half cups of flour, with two teaspoonfuls of cream of tartar and half a spoonful of salt. Beat the batter thoroughly, and bake in shallow pans, dusting the top of the cake before baking with cinnamon and sugar. Bake fifteen minutes, and when cool cut in squares. This receipt will make two panfuls, which will cut into twenty-four squares.'

To learn more about Barry Popik and his work, just google him. To learn more about snickerdoodles, make them. Use Ms. Adam's recipe above.


  1. So nice to see you out here in the blogesphere! I just became your second follower (sounds so creepy) and look forward to reading your musings etc...

    I've never heard of Barry Popik but will google him as soon as I hop off your site.

  2. Yes, following is a bit creepy -- it makes me feel like 1) Christ, 2) the Pied Piper 3) a suspect in a crime. And which Kathleen would this be? Curtin? Wall? Purvis? I seem to know so many....

  3. For your entertainment, here's another 1898 sighting... Minnie M. Thomas entered a recipe for Snicker Dooddles (yes, with the extra d), in a community cookbook.
    The Puritan cook-book: composed of contributed recipes, edited by the Loyalists and the Sisters of Dorcas, Sunday-School Classes in Asbury Methodist Episcopal Church (Rochester, N.Y.), 1898, p. 65.

  4. My working life is rarely dull, as there is never such a thing as a typical day. food historian