Cookie Traditions Around the World

This post is not all about cookies. I know, it’s hard to believe. The thing is, even though I remember baking peanut butter bumble bee cookies for my mother and grandmothers, that tradition seems to be largely familial in origin. Historically, Mother’s Day is traditionally celebrated with cakes instead of cookies.

The Origin of Mother’s Day

In the United States, Mother’s Day was made an official holiday in 1914. It’s a floating holiday here in the States, always falling on the second Sunday of May. This tradition was adopted in many other countries in Europe including Germany, Greece, Latvia, Denmark and Finland. But the idea of Mother’s Day predates the official holiday by centuries.
The Greeks celebrated Rhea, the mother of the gods and the ancient Romans celebrated Cybele, the celebration of the goddess Cybele. Even today, Mother’s Day in different countries often matches up with more ancient versions of the celebration.

Food on Mother’s Day

No matter where Mother’s day is celebrated, there are several common themes. For that one day, children and fathers take over the jobs the mothers usually do, cooking meals and generally making mom’s life as easy as possible. These meals often have traditional elements.

Simnell Cake

Simnell Mothers Day Cake

Mothers Day Cake

This marzipan covered fruit cake is the traditional food gift in Britain from children to their mothers. It’s quite similar to the Christmas fruit cake. According to popular legend, Simon and his sister Nell wanted to make a cake for their mother. One wanted to bake it. The other wanted to broil it. They ended up doing both and bringing the cake to their mother.

 

French Bloom Cake

In France, Mother’s Day is not celebrated on the second Sunday of May, but instead is celebrated on the last Sunday of the month. A huge family dinner in honor of mother and a special cake decorated as a bouquet of flowers is traditional.

American Traditions

Making cookies is a lot easier than baking cakes. It may be for this reason that cookie baking and gifting is catching on in America, though it hasn’t quite overtaken breakfast in bed or the traditional dinner out. I still think that a plate of bumble bee peanut butter cookies from a 6-year-old is one of the best Mother’s Day gifts, but then again, I might be biased.

Happy Mother’s Day everyone!

Sugar, flour, eggs, vanilla, and baking powder or baking soda. By themselves, these humble ingredients are the main parts of infinite recipes, but when combined in a certain way, they compose one of the most traditional, well known and well loved cookies in the whole world: The Sugar Cookie.

History of the Sugar Cookie

The modern incarnation of the sugar cookie can be traced back to the mid 1700s in Nazareth Pennsylvania. There, German Protestant settlers created the round, crumbly, buttery cookie that came to be known as the Nazareth Cookie.

Nazareth Sugar Cookie

Plain Sugar Cookie

The Nazareth Sugar Cookie was adopted as Pennsylvania’s official cookie by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (House Bill 219,) though there has been some ambiguity concerning this issue after a 4th grade class at Caln Elementary School in Coatesville lobbied for a resolution that would designate chocolate chip cookies as Pennsylvania’s official cookie.

 

This blogger sides with the Nazareth Sugar Cookie for historical reasons despite her own personal preference for chocolate chip cookies.

Ancient History or How the Cookie Jumbles.

That’s right. Jumbles. Arguably, the precursor to the Nazareth Sugar Cookie is the Jumble, a biscuit that gained popularity in the 17th and 18th century in Europe chiefly because of the fact that, as a non-leavened food, it could be dried and stored for many months.

Jumbal Cookies

Jumble Cookies

Jumbles were known by many different names including gemmel, jambal and jumbal. They were often savory rather than sweet, flavored with rosewater or anniseed. They were traditionally shaped in knots and other intricate shapes and baked until crispy in order to withstand the test of time.

 

These cookies were introduced to Europe by the Moors of Spain and probably had their origins in the middle east where sugar figured heavily into the daily diet. These very early middle eastern cookies probably also included nuts and fruits such as dates.

Early Jumbles probably looked more like these middle eastern cookies than the mixture of ingredients that we see today.

Middle Eastern Cookies

Middle Easter Jumbals

Modern Sugar Cookie Traditions

The modern Nazareth-style sugar cookie has gained enormous popularity in America. Sometime in the 1930s it became traditional for children to leave sugar cookies and milk out for Santa Clause on Christmas Eve. Because of how easy it is to cut and shape the sugar cookie dough, customized sugar cookies like ours have become wildly popular.

It’s interesting to see how far the sugar cookie has come from its origins as hard tack for travelers. What was a necessity for survival has become a sweet treat for kids of all ages. What’s your favorite way to eat sugar cookies?

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When you think about Easter, you likely think about Easter Eggs. But we have news for you, our cookie-loving friends. Easter Cookies are just as much a tradition around the world as eggs are. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of ethnic traditions involving baking around Easter, but we’re going to focus on some of the more well-known traditions concerning cookies.

Greek and Italian Easter Cookies

Easter Cookies

Koulourakia: Greek Easter Cookies

Cookies and sweetbreads are a staple around Easter time in many Mediterranean countries. In Greece, the traditional Easter cookie is Koulourakia. It’s a butter-based braided cookie with a hint of vanilla.

Italian Easter Cookies

Italian Easter Cookies

The Italians have a citrus flavored cookie made in a similar way. These cookies go by a variety of names: Knot Cookies, Lemon Knots, Anginetti and Taralucci are just a few. They’re tasty, crumbly Easter cookies frosted lightly, and sprinkled with multicolored confetti.

 

Nordic Easter Cookies

Swedish Easter Cookies

Semla: Swedish Easter Cookies

Semla are not precisely cookies. They get their name from the type of flower from which they are made: semolina. Versions of this delicious pastry filled with almond paste are served from Shrove Tuesday, the last day before Lent, until Easter in many Nordic countries. In Sweden, it’s called Fastlagsbulle. In Denmark and Norway, it’s called fastelavnsbolle, and is sometimes filled with whipped cream or jam rather than almond paste. In Finland, the pastry is known as Laskiaispulla. This traditional Easter bun can be found as far east as Latvia and Estonia.

The Easter Sugar Cookie

The sugar cookie is sort of the blank canvass of the cookie world. It’s easily decorated and so easy to make a variety of shapes with. For this reason, Americans have latched onto the sugar cookie for creating Easter themed cookies in a multitude of shapes. You can find bunny cookies, decorated egg cookies, flower cookies, chick cookies and almost any other shape and decoration remotely related to Easter.

We’d love to hear about your Easter cookie traditions! Maybe see some spectacular Easter Cookie pictures? Feel free to post in the comments section! Happy Easter!

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In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I thought I’d write about the various cookies of Ireland.

The Oatmeal Cookie

Oatmeal cookies didn’t start out as the tasty, sugary desserts we know now. Back in the 1800′s, oats were plentiful in Ireland, England and Scotland. They were a staple food group for people and animals, used in a variety of dishes. Oat cakes were easy to make, preserve and dry. They were also inexpensive and filling. They were largely considered peasant food. Eventually, as more and more people could afford sweeteners, they began including honey, molasses and even sugar. The eventual result was today’s Oatmeal Cookie. Cookie gifts were often presented at the Celtic festival of Beltane to commemorate the beginning the summer season.

Shortbread Cookies

So, why’s it called “shortbread?” Well, it’s not because of height. The name “shortbread” actually refers to the ingredients. The term “shortening” is used to describe any fat that was used to create a nice, crumbly texture and rich, creamy taste. In this cookie’s case, butter is used.
Shortbread is extremely popular in Ireland and the British Isles. The dough holds its form while baking so shortbread can take on a number of shapes. Some of the most common shapes are shortbread “fingers” and shortbread rounds.

The Sugar Cookie

Often enjoyed at tea time, the sugar cookie is popular, not just in Ireland, but all over the world. Sugar cookies are simple to make and are the cookie equivalent of a blank slate. They can be cut into as many different shapes as you can think of and frosted in a myriad of ways.

Our Shamrock Smiley Cookies

Although they haven’t been served on St. Paddy’s day in Irish households through antiquity, we’re starting to see that our Shamrock Smiley Cookies are becoming a bit of a St. Paddy’s day tradition here in America. We would love hear about your St. Patrick’s day traditions and maybe even get a few pics of you chowing down on our Shamrock cookies!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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