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Hermit Cookies

1877 -- Recipes for large, round, spice cookies with raisins had existed for centuries, called tea cakes. One of the mysteries is how the name hermits arose in the US. Another mystery is when the cookies became square, soft, and brown as they usually are today.

The American History Cookbook uses a published recipe from an 1877 Portland, Maine cookbook.

You have a excellent chance to find earlier recipes with the name "hermits." This is one of the easier mysteries on the list, as food historians have not studied hermits, nor read through the cookbooks of the 1860s and 1870s well. Since this site has not even picked an early recipe for soft, brown, square hermits, that part of mystery is wide open! Some say that the cookies were named because they look like a hermit's brown sack-cloth robe, but the earliest recipes are for white and round cookies. One possible lead is that the Moravians, an ethno-religious group well-known for thin spice cookies in North Carolina and Pennsylvania, were sometimes called "herrnhutter" in German or Dutch, and that might have sounded like "hermits" to an English-speaking cook. Look for a cookie based on chopped raisins.

When you find an earlier recipe or reference, email this site and get credit!

Click here to return to the main page of American culinary history mysteries.

Copyright 2003, 2004 by Mark H. Zanger. Remember, there is no copyright on recipes or other common household formulae, but copyright and fair use laws do apply to selection of recipes and cultural-historical commentary.