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The Hermit Cookie: A Reclusive Recipe from America's Archives

December 13, 2016

In a July 1888 article in the Springfield, Massachusetts Republican, Anna Barrows listed the perfect larder for a picnic: Potted meats (think: pre-Spam); refreshing “acid jellies” of juice and gelatin; and one recipe for a cookie "quite as good as fruit cake.” Though fruitcake’s reputation has suffered in the intervening years and acid jellies are not on any current menus, we still know the "hermit" cookie, a spice cookie studded with fruit and nuts. Barrows, a leading journalist of household science, spoke with the voice of professionalized domesticity when she advised readers: "To any rich cookie dough, add one teaspoonful mixed spice—clove, cinnamon and allspice—and one solid cup-ful of chopped fruit, either citron, currants, seeded raisins, or a mixture of all." She praised the hermit cookie as the ultimate in the convenience cookie: "This will keep for months, if out of humanity's reach, hence, perhaps their name." However the cookie came by its reclusive name—and there's no clear answer—the hermit was a cookie that traveled. Dozens of stories suggest that sailors coveted the cookies that would "keep" as they sailed clippers down the the Eastern Seaboard and beyond. Others say that hermit bars came from the Cape Cod town of Harwich. Still, other suggestions for the cookie’s unique name remain: As Brette Sember speculates in her 2012 book Cookie: A Love Story, other explanations argue that the name is adapted from the Moravian cookie (another spice cookie from Colonial America), or that the cookie resembles a hermit’s robe. This etymological mystery will likely go unsolved. A hermit cookie recipe from Fannie Farmer's "The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook" (1896). From Maine to Massachusetts, the hermit was a favorite offering in pantries and bakeshops by the early 20th centuries. Fannie Farmer included a hermit with mace, cloves,...

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