The cookie has a long evolution. The first grain stuffs baked were bread forms. These early breads have been traced to the Neolithic era – around 10,000 years back. The earliest breads were unleavened flat breads cooked on a hot stone – think tortilla and such. The next step in the cookie evolution was the risen and baked bread forms. Next, inventive cooks started adding sweets and goodies to the breads and this evolved into the cake. When the bakers started adding all the goodies, they would frequently make small test cakes. These were often so good that the cooks would make whole batches of the little cakes. Various sweet little cakes were common in the Middle East and spread west from the Byzantine Empire. These are still around in Greek and Lebanese cooking: kourambiedes (Greek shortbread) and mamoul (Lebanese/Syrian date stuffed) come to mind. As the little cakes moved west, a Dutch word “Koeptje” was applied. Means – little cakes (how surprising). Anglicized into – cookie.Of course, the Brits would call them tea cakes.
The oat has been cultivated only fairly recently – like the past 3,000 years. It is thought that the oat was derived from a weed which grew in the wheat and barley fields. Unlike wheat, oats grow rancid rather quickly and have to be processed immediately upon harvest. Groats-maker was a recognized Medieval trade – the first step of oat processing is the removal of the outer husk. This is called a groat. It is rock hard and has to be soaked and boiled for a good while or you’d never get them chewed up.
The oat has a pretty good reputation in modern times. Lots of soluble fiber, anti-inflammatory properties, and all that. However, throughout most of history oats were regarded as only fit for animal consumption. If it makes your horse work better, wouldn’t it make you work better? The Romans scorned them. The Scots ate them. It has been observed that the Romans never beat the Scots – oats, anyone?
It took until the Middle Ages for them to be seriously regarded as human food. The Scots bannocks and oatcakes came to the Americas in the 17th Century. Americans constantly diddled with things in a spirit of unfettered creativity. It was the American cooks that evolved the cookie forms we know today from the European varieties.
As far as we can tell, the modern, true oatmeal cookie was not created until somewhere in the 19th or 20th Century in America. Here’s my take on this wonderful treat:
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temp
192 grams (1 cup) dark brown sugar
100 grams (½ cup) sugar
2 eggs, room temp
1¼ teaspoon vanilla
237 grams (1½ cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of powdered cloves if you want a bit more kick (highly optional)
½ teaspoon salt
300 grams (3 cups) oatmeal
150 grams (1 cup) raisins (optional – but better with)
Oven at 350°.
Cream butter and sugars. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Mix dry guys together: flour, salt, cinnamon, soda. Mix dry guys in gradually and thoroughly. Mix in oatmeal. Mix in raisins. Drop tablespoons on a ungreased cookie sheet, leave enough room for expansion. I find that the kitchen scoops with the squeeze handles work best for quick measuring and dropping. These handy jobbies come in various sizes, making quick, uniform cookies practical. Bake about 13 to 14 minutes, golden brown.
Cool on a wire rack.
Hey, if you want a really quick and dirty, no cook dessert – kinda-sorta related to mamoul, just take pitted dates, shove a pecan half into each date, roll in powdered sugar. Makes a rather nice afternoon tea sort of goodie. Not a cookie, of course.