Andrea here—with the first day of summer just two days away, and the cold, rainy spring finally showing hints of sunny warmth where I am, I can't help but find myself thinking of long, lazy outdoors days. Preferable with a book.
And a brownie.
Many of you have probably gathered that I’m rather fond of chocolate in all its glorious guises. (So much so that the main character in my Lady Arianna Regency mystery series is an expert in the history and culinary possibilities of chocolate . . . because what doesn’t taste better with chocolate!)
Now, my research on the subject has been mainly in the origins of the first edible chocolate. But as I said, with thoughts of summer—and brownies—dancing in my head, I decided some modern sleuthing was in order. And so, allow me to share a small nibble on the origins of THE BROWNIE! (Yes, yes, hard work, but someone has to do it.)
In perusing various websites, it seems most agree on the brownie’s origin story. (I’m also a fan of the Marvel superhero universe, so I love origin stories.) It seems that Bertha Palmer, wife of Potter Palmer, the owner of the posh Palmer Hotel in Chicago, was asked to create an unfussy handheld dessert that could be easily included in the box lunches offered at the Women’s Pavilion at World Colombian Exposition taking place in the city in 1893. The chefs at her hotel came up with a flat chocolate and walnut confection topped with an apricot glaze. (This “brownie”—though it wasn’t called that yet—which is made according to the original recipe, is apparently is still offered at the hotel.)
Now, here’s where things get a bit sticky. How did the name come about? The first recipes for brownies appeared in Fanny Farmer’s 1896 edition of The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook. But heresy of heresies, it was a molasses treat and contained no chocolate! From what I have gathered, the first mention of chocolate brownies appeared in an issue of the Kansas City Journal in 1898.
Just who published the first recipe for chocolate brownies gets even stickier. I’ve uncovered conflicting history. One report credits the honor to a cookbook created in the town of Machias, Maine in 1899. The Machias Cookbook ( https://archive.org/stream/machiascookbook00unkngoog#page/n29/mode/2up/search/brownie ) called it Brownie’s Food (more on this in a moment) and features most of the ingredients we think of in classic brownie. Other report claims that the first recipe appeared in the Home Cookery Service Club Cook Book, published in New Hampshire in 1904. (I’ll let them duel it out with cooking spoons!)
By 1907, the brownie was fast becoming an American sweetheart. Recipes were appearing around the country, and Maine once was part of its history. The “Bangor” brownie (named for the town of Bangor, Maine) came into being right around that time. It featured extra chocolate and an extra egg, making for a richer, fudgier brownie (Thank you, Bangor!)
One might assume that the name “brownie” was chosen for a very obvious reason. But there’s an intriguing alternative suggestion. That the Machias Cookbook called its recipe Brownies Food, is thought to pay homage to the very popular cartoons and books of the era by Canadian artist Palmer Cox, which feature mischievous fairy-sprites called Brownies. (It’s said that Eastman Kodak also named their little box camera the Brownie in homage to Cox’s fanciful characters.)