A Brief History of Joe Frogger Cookies

The first time I ate a Joe Frogger cookie it was a dream come true. Picture this: An eight year old girl handed a molasses cookie the size of a dinner plate, and a giant glass of milk to go with it. I bought this monstrous cookie on a school field trip to a living colonial museum, where pilgrim girls churned butter and blacksmiths shoed horses. I don’t remember much more about the trip because I was engaged in some major cookie eating.

I had never had a cookie like that before – it was super crunchy on the outside, a bit soft inside, and heavy as an iron skillet, perfect for milk-dipping. It would be years before I found out that it was called a Joe Frogger, and even more years before I found an authentic recipe for Joe Froggers on the Internet. The legend goes that this cookie, which was originally made with molasses and rum, came from a man named Joe Brown from Marblehead, Massachusetts. He was a free African American who owned a tavern in town with his wife, Lucretia. It’s said that Joe would use the cookies to trade for rum from sailors who came to town. A bit of rum was added to the cookies, and I’m certain that even more rum ended up in Joe Brown’s belly. Because the tavern was located next to a frog pond, locals named Brown Joe Frogger, hence the name of the famous cookie.

There is an alternative story to the Joe Frogger cookie however, where his wife Lucretia was the one who actually invented, and spent most of her life, making the cookies. She supposedly poured the batter into a cast iron skillet and the odd shapes that the cookies took on looked like frogs’ legs. I’m not sure how the rum played a part in that story, but something tells me that Joe Brown probably stood on the sidelines, sipping rum, watching his wife make cookies. Nevertheless, Joe and Lucretia Brown ran a successful business in Marblehead, and their cookies have won their place in the heart of colonial America, and beyond.

Joe Froggers are not the easiest cookie to make. I suggest you use a standing mixture with a paddle attachment, because the dough is extremely stiff and very hard to stir by hand. The other thing about the dough is that it’s quite sticky and needs to be refrigerated overnight. You may have to use quite a bit of flour for rolling and only roll a few cookies at a time because when the dough comes to room temperature it can be a mess to work with. A coffee can makes a good cookie cutter, or you can use a salad plate as a guide and cut around the edge with a sharp knife. But you can make them smaller, too.

For best results, bake your Joe Froggers on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and be sure to keep an eye on them as they bake. They should be just barely browned on the edges and still soft in the middle. You don’t want to over bake them because they become harder as they cool. But most people I know eat them dipped in milk or coffee anyway, so go ahead and bake them to your liking.

Joe Froggers will last forever in a cookie jar – they never get stale. And they’re a great surprise for a cookie-loving child – and I’m sure you must know at least one of those!

Music credit: Once Tomorrow (Instrumental Version) by Josh Woodward is used under CC BY 3.0.


A Brief History of Pizza

During the latter half of the 20th century, pizza in the United States became the divine dish of all Americans, and it still is today. Since the beginning of time, humans have cooked flatbreads on open fires, and then, bored with their lackluster flavor, added seasonings and toppings to make them more interesting. But the Italians claim that they created the first pizza, and who am I to argue with that, because look at all the other divine creations you’ll find in that country – the statue of David, the Sistine Chapel, and of course, The Pope. And you know that he must eat pizza, too. The question I want to ask the Pope, though is — does he eat cold pizza? Does he awake after a big night, and grab a slice from the fridge on the way to say mass at St. Peter’s Basilica? I’m certain he does.

Although we don’t know exactly where the first pizza came from, we do know that Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba in Naples, Italy is widely regarded as the world’s first pizzeria. Peasants had been adding tomatoes to their flatbreads for many years, and that is what was sold in open air markets. But in Campania, Italy, in 1889, Raffaele Esposito created what we know as pizza today, in his restaurant Pizzeria di Pietro, for the arriving Italian king and queen, King Umberto I and Queen Margherita. The two varieties he invented were the Marinara and the Margherita, considered to be the pizzas of purists, and the ONLY ones that most Italians will eat. Marinara is made with tomatoes, oregano, garlic, and olive oil. Margherita is topped with mozzarella, basil and tomatoes, the colors of the Italian flag.

My nephew, Shane, eating his favorite White Clam Pizza from Frank Pepe’s in New Haven, Connecticut.

We Americans, with our shameless and arrogant ways, added other toppings to pizza, and messed around with the original crust recipes. After all, why should we eat a pizza with tomatoes and cheese when we can have it our way, with sausage and peppers, mushrooms and pepperoni? Just for fun, I decided to ask members of my social network what kind of pizza they prefer, trying to get an idea of what is the most popular pizza in America. And out of a hundred responses, no two were the same.

Do you know what that means?? Like a mathematician who is certain to prove his postulate, I was left dumbfounded to discover that when it comes to pizza, there is no certainty. It’s as if, since we are all created as individuals, we are genetically and inherently wired to like different pizzas. That means that we could actually be identified by our own pizzas, like our individual, one-of-a-kind fingerprints. For instance, people could identify me as a white pizza, thin crust, extra crispy, with artichoke hearts and garlic. I could recognize my friend Arturo by his pineapple, ham, and jalapeño pizza, and my friend Ginger, by her Thai-inspired pizza, sporting a tangy peanut sauce, green onions, chicken, and slivered carrots. And even as our differences in pizza will set us apart, we are all drawn together for the love of pizza.

ABC Pizza in Granby, Connecticut, hasn’t changed at all since it opened in the 1970s. A favorite local hangout.

There are many foods out there that all Americans enjoy – burgers, fries, mac and cheese, and spaghetti. But none that gets us through the good times and the tough times, like pizza does – late nights in the dorm, heartbreaking team defeats, the challenge of feeding a family of four on a tight budget. Pizza is always there for us, helping us define who we are.

This story originally appeared in Jacksonville Magazine in 2014.

Music credit: Once Tomorrow (Instrumental Version) by Josh Woodward is used under CC BY 3.0.



A Brief History of Beef Stroganoff

Beef Stroganoff was the epicurean dish of the 1950s and 60s. In fact, I think it might have been the first gourmet dish my mother learned to make when she was first married. This dish was always the one that my siblings and I requested for our birthdays, and the meal that my mother served at her dinner parties. So how did this simple stew of beef and mushrooms become so popular?

Well, during World War II, beef was highly rationed, and folks living in that era would consider a rich, succulent all-beef stew to be an extravagance! So that’s why it became a dish that was only served for very special occasions, even long after the war had ended.

The original recipe for Beef Stroganoff dates back to Russia in the late 1800s, created by a chef who cooked this dish for his employer, Count Pavel Alexandrovich Stroganov. The Count was considered a celebrity and a true connoisseur of food. But legend has it that the poor Count didn’t have any teeth and so his chef created this special dish so that his master would be able to eat it without any effort. The original dish contained beef, mushrooms, and sour cream, just like today’s, but many Russians argue that mushrooms were not traditional, and that our present Beef Stroganoff is really an Americanized version of the original. No matter, Beef Stroganoff was found on the menu of the famous Russian Tea Room in New York City in the 1930s, and in hundreds of other famous restaurants throughout the years.

Nowadays, Beef Stroganoff seems pretty pedestrian – I mean – it’s just a beef and mushroom stew served over wide egg noodles, right? But when you put all these simple ingredients together the correct way, it’s a luscious meal, perfect for any occasion. Here are a few suggestions to make your Beef Stroganoff come out perfect every time. First off, I suggest using boneless top sirloin steak for this dish, even though I’ve read a lot of recipes that call for beef tenderloin. I think the steak has much more flavor, and it’s certainly more economical than beef tenderloin. The steak should be cut thinly on the bias, into 2 inch strips – that way your guests should only need a fork to eat it. Although most recipes suggest cooking the beef and mushrooms together until the beef is tender, I like to cook the mushrooms separately by sautéing them in butter until they are golden brown. Then I add the mushrooms to the stew the last 15 minutes of cooking. The buttery mushrooms add a unique richness to the dish. The other key to success is to add the sour cream right before serving, stirring it in gently. Do not let the Stroganoff come to boil after you add the sour cream or the sauce will break, and it won’t look very pretty.

Because Beef Stroganoff is kind of a “vintage” food, I like to serve side dishes that reflect the era of the 1960s. That means maybe an iceberg lettuce salad with Good Seasons Salad Dressing (yes they still make that today!) and a side dish of Green Beans Almondine, flavored with butter, lemon juice, and toasted almonds. In the 1960s, tiny yeast rolls were also popular, and if you really want to go all the way, you could serve lime gelatin with Cool Whip for dessert. But personally, I’d prefer a piece of chocolate cake.

Music credit: Once Tomorrow (Instrumental Version) by Josh Woodward is used under CC BY 3.0.


A Brief History of Brunswick Stew

There’s a war waging in the Southeastern United States, and I’m not talking about the war between the Republicans and the Democrats. I’m talking about the great Brunswick Stew War, which has been going on for over 100 years or more. See, Brunswick, Georgia claims to be the birthplace of the very first Brunswick Stew. And Brunswick County, Virginia, makes the same claim. But if you look at the dates, Brunswick, Georgia made its first stew in 1898, and Brunswick County’s stew was created in 1828, 70 years earlier. The story goes that Dr. Creed Haskins, a member of the Virginia state legislature, wanted a special dish for a political rally. Jimmy Matthews, an African American hunting camp cook, and the original creator of the Brunswick Stew which was then made with squirrel, provided the recipe for the rally, and the stew went on to become one of the most beloved dishes of all of Virginia’s political events.

Cast iron stew pot located in Brunswick, Georgia

If you happen to stop by the Brunswick/St. Simon’s Island Visitor Center in Georgia, you will see a 25 gallon iron pot sitting atop a monument, declaring it to be the vessel in which this favorite Southern food was first cooked in 1898.

If you ask anyone from Brunswick, Georgia, naturally they will tell you theirs was the first and best Brunswick Stew, and actually it is quite good, but so is the Virginia Brunswick Stew! Here are the differences I have noticed: The Georgia stew has a vinegar-based barbecue sauce in their concoction, along with chicken, tomatoes, and other vegetables. It seems thicker and chunkier than the Virginia stew. The Virginia version is meatier, though, flavored mostly with peppers and salt. They’re both quite different, and no matter where you go in the Southeast, no two Brunswick Stews are ever quite the same

I have a friend who has been eating the same Brunswick Stew for nine years, and this is one of those times where I would say “don’t try this at home.” He makes his Brunswick Stew the way his parents made it, using lots of vinegar to help preserve it. He told me that his family would cook up a pot of the stew and keep it on the stove for days, even weeks, a great testament to the use vinegar as a preservative. When my friend gets tired of eating his Brunswick Stew, he puts it in the freezer for a few months, and then when he’s hankering for Brunswick Stew again, he takes it out, thaws it in a pot, and adds more ingredients and vinegar. I generally discourage eating any food that’s over a week old, but my curiosity has gotten the best of me, and I secretly hope he will still be eating his Brunswick Stew 20 years from now.

The Proclamation Stew Crew at the Virginia Folklife Festival, September 2013, at UVA Charlottesville
John Clary, Proclamation Stew Master, checking on the stew.








Getting back to our stew wars, in 1987, Brunswick, Georgia and Brunswick County, Virginia started the wars to use as an economic development tool. The Virginia General Assembly agreed with Brunswick County, Virginia that it was the original home of the stew and so proclaimed it on February 22, 1988. A man named John Drew Clary is the head of a group of Virginia Brunswick Stew chefs, who today call themselves the Proclamation Stew Crew. They are the go-to guys of the Virginia Brunswick Stew, and own a rig that allows them to cook 2000 pounds of Brunswick Stew for special events. John was kind enough to share his secret recipe with us here at A Brief History of Food.

But let us not forget the Georgia Brunswick Stew, the one made with barbecue sauce? Yes, we have a recipe for that one too, provided by a Brunswick, Georgia native, who would prefer to remain anonymous, and stay out of the stew wars. I think the best way to resolve this Southern conflict is to grab a fork, and maybe a spoon, and dig in!

Music credit: Once Tomorrow (Instrumental Version) by Josh Woodward is used under CC BY 3.0.


A Brief History of Baked Beans

When I was a young girl, my mother made Boston Baked Beans every Saturday night, served with Boston Brown Bread and hot dogs. This was a tradition in our family, and I thought that everyone ate beans on Saturdays. Along with the baked bean ritual, we had our Saturday night baths, where Mother scrubbed us until our skin turned pink, and then painstakingly combed the tangles from our hair. This was in preparation for church the next morning.

Colonial HouseLittle did I know there was a reason for preparing beans on Saturday, which stemmed from Colonial America, and our Puritan upbringing. Sunday was the Sabbath; no work was allowed on that day, and that included cooking. Most Puritans spent Sunday in church, and during the winter months, their austere places of worship were cold and drafty. Because there was no cooking there would be no warm or filling meal at the end of the day, if not for the miracle of baked beans. Beans were prepared on Saturday, and the leftovers were kept in the oven until Sunday. The wood fired ovens would hold their heat, and keep the beans warm enough so the church goers would have a hearty meal when they returned home.

The Boston Molasses Disaster, a.k.a. The Great Molasses Flood
The Boston Molasses Disaster, a.k.a. The Great Molasses Flood

Beans are eaten all over the country, but what makes Boston Baked Beans unique is the addition of molasses, which was plentiful in Boston. On January 15, 1919, a huge tank of molasses exploded in Boston’s inner harbor in one of the most peculiar structural failures ever to occur. Without warning, a massive tidal wave of nearly 12,000 tons of thick, brown, molasses gushed from a fractured steel tank, leaving twenty-one dead, and over one hundred and fifty injured. The tank was owned by the Purity Distilling Company; the wave of molasses which spilled from the tank was two stories high, killing people, animals, and crushing buildings. This event is referred to as The Great Boston Molasses Disaster, and residents today claim that they can still smell molasses on particularly hot days. There is a fascinating book on the subject called Dark Tide, by Stephen Puleo, and it’s available on Amazon or on the author’s web site: stephenpuleo.com.

My recipe for Boston Baked Beans is one I’ve prepared for many years. I use a combination of molasses and maple syrup, and the flavor is sublime. Here are a few keys to success: when you buy the beans, be sure to check the expiration date on the bag. You want to get the freshest beans because old beans will not get tender, no matter how long you cook them. The other key to perfect beans is to cook them in water until they are completely tender, but not mushy, before you bake them with the other ingredients. If the beans are still even a little bit hard, the sugar and salt will make them harder. Another tip is to make sure you check the beans while they are cooking, stirring them now and then and adding extra water to keep them moist.

The traditional accompaniment for Boston Baked Beans is Boston Brown Bread. The bread contains cornmeal and molasses, and is steamed in a hot water bath. It may seem like a complicated recipe but indeed it’s quite simple. But if you’re not in the mood to make bread, B&M Boston Brown Bread is a good substitute, and you can find it at most grocery stores.

Music credit: Once Tomorrow (Instrumental Version) by Josh Woodward is used under CC BY 3.0.