Sunday, March 20, 2016

Samantha's Oatmeal Lace Cookies

Just like the suffragists used to make!

Ever since 1988, March has been declared Women's History Month in the United States, Great Britain and Australia, even though International Women's Day got its start in 1911. I'm not always good at remembering to do posts that coordinate with anything other than major holidays - and even then, I've inconsistently done things for a couple of the big ones - but this year, I knew I wanted to feature a recipe I'd stumbled upon almost a year ago, and kept meaning to bring out!

These simple, delicate cookies first came on my radar thanks to The American Plate by Libby H. O'Connell, and have an interesting origin that make them something that could very easily have made them a favorite recipe of Samantha or Aunt Cornelia. Read on to find out more!

Although women didn't fully win the right to vote in the US until 1920, it was in the works for a long time before that. Samantha might not have known much about it until she found her aunt Cornelia speaking at a rally in 1905, but there's been a call for women to have equal political and social rights since the founding of the United States, and even before that. That voice got louder, but was often overshadowed by things like the Abolitionist and Temperance movements, both of which had large female membership and helped women gain more of a political voice in America.

Like most political movements, the Women's Suffrage movement needed some way to make money so they could continue to host rallies, print literature, and raise awareness for their cause. In 1886, one Massachusetts based suffragette named Hattie Burr edited a collection of recipes submitted to her by her fellow suffragists to make the Women's Suffrage Cookbook, which was sold at their fairs and rallies to help raise money. The idea was so successful, other groups around the country created their own cookbooks, sharing personal recipes whether they were simple or complex, fancy or humble. O'Connell says that these books are an interesting snapshot into the changing American kitchen and cooking methods at this time, as some recipes resemble modern ones with exact measurements and others are incredibly inexact, showing they were just passed down from mother to daughter for potentially generations.

One of the recipes from the original cookbook for oatmeal lace cookies was adapted by O'Connell for readers to try themselves. I had such a positive experience using her recipe for Abraham Lincoln's favorite cake that I've been impatiently waiting to find a time to sit down and get this up on the blog.

You start off by creaming together 1/2 of a cup (one stick) of room temperature butter and 1 cup of light brown sugar. Add one egg and 1/2 of a teaspoon of vanilla and mix it all together. Next, in a separate bowl, mix 2 tablespoons of flour, 1/4 of a teaspoon each of baking powder and salt and 1 cup of oatmeal.

Mix it all together and you've got your dough! 

You're instructed to line your baking sheet with parchment paper, aluminum foil, or a silicone baking mat if you've got one, and drop 1/2 of a tablespoon of dough per cookie onto the sheet.

The recipe warns that these cookies spread out a lot in the oven, so I put a lot of space in between each ball of dough. Nine cookies per tray actually worked out to be a little too crowded, so I had to cut down to eight. It took a while to get through all the dough this way, but it's definitely a step you can't skip or cut corners on. You'll wind up with a baking pan shaped cookie! They bake in the oven for eight minutes at 350 degrees.

If you wind up with squished together cookies, O'Connell advises to slice them apart while they're still warm. They'll be easier to work with, even if the cookies need to cool down quite a bit before they're sturdy enough to be pulled off your baking sheet.

The recipe isn't kidding when it says these will be fragile. They're really fragile, and if you're not patient and careful, you're going to wind up with a totally crumbled cookie. It also makes them a little difficult to store or hold in your hands, even after they've cooled down completely.

I'm not sure if this is the effect you're supposed to get, but mine basically looked like a cluster of oats surrounded by a halo of caramelly sugar. Some cookies had a slightly better distribution than others, but most followed that pattern. The recipe says that the cookies are supposed to be "thin, crispy, and delicious."

So, let's be honest: these cookies are basically just butter and brown sugar. Kind of difficult to go wrong with that combination in the taste department. They had a nice caramel taste I wasn't fully expecting. Another thing that caught me off guard was how greasy mine turned out. They'd definitely would require a lady to remove her gloves if she was eating them at tea! The recipe says they're supposed to have a crisp texture, and I'm not sure if mine needed to cook a little longer or what, but I definitely wouldn't describe them that way. Even hours later, they still felt pretty greasy and wet, and they disintegrated pretty easily. I'm not sure I'd be able to store these in a tin and pass them other to my fellow voters on election day as O'Connell recommends!

Still, they were tasty, easy enough to make, and an interesting look at what sort of recipes the suffragists would have made in their own homes and shared with each other. Maybe Cornelia bought or contributed a recipe to a similar cookbook, and she and her daughters could easily have enjoyed making these cookies together. 

Another interesting thing O'Connell included in this chapter is that at the turn of the century - the height of the suffrage movement - prepackaged foods like Oreos helped women step away from the kitchen, even if they were still the primary cooks and bakers in families without a staff to do the work for them. Critics of suffrage often cited that women needed to be home cooking food for their children as a reason women shouldn't be given political freedoms, and while this wasn't the case at all, treats like Oreos were definitely popular with women who were already busy juggling childcare, jobs and other social and political responsibilities, helping establish them as treats we still enjoy today.

This month, take a moment to think about the women who came before us and united to secure a better future for themselves and their daughters. These cookies are a fun way of taking yourself back and seeing the world through their eyes, and happen to taste pretty good, too!

Happy Women's History Month!


  1. These look tasty! To me it seems kind of ironic that women who were fighting for feminism (and trying to change society's perception that a women's role is in the kitchen) used cookbooks to make money!

    1. It is, but most of the women involved didn't want to abandon their duties in their home entirely, and it was one of the only marketable skill women were really encouraged to have across the social classes! Except for the really wealthy, I suppose. xD

  2. Interesting bit of history there!

    These remind me of swamp cookies, but it sounds like the texture is completely different.

    1. I had never heard of swamp cookies before! They sound good though. Maybe a future recipe in the making, haha.

  3. I wonder if you added more oats or flour if they would have crisped up more? Perhaps next time since I would love to see these make an appearance again.

    1. I could definitely give that a try!