Choctoberfest: The Origin of the Brownie


Happy Choctober, everybody! You’re right, it *is* way better than Ocsober.

For the entirety of this month I’ll be posting chocolate-centric articles for your reading pleasure.

Disclaimer – Delicious History will in no way be held responsible for any severe chocolate cravings resulting from the reading these posts.

Without further ado, let’s kickoff Choctoberfest with a much beloved favourite – The Chocolate Brownie. I highly recommend that you pause for a moment to get yourself a glass of milk to accompany this.

A original 1896 Boston Cooking-School Cook Book

The name ‘brownie’ first appeared in the 1896 Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, where it describes molasses cakes baked individually in small tins. For those who are unfamiliar with molasses, it’s a kind of syrup that comes from the beating of cane sugar, grapes or sugar beets. Personally, I’ll stick to the chocolate variety of brownies. Thanks for asking though.

The origin of the  brownie is thought to be American and to derive its name not only from the colour, but also the elfin characters featured in the popular stories and verses by author Palmer Cox. The Eastman Kodak Brownie camera was also named after these elves.

Unfortunately, like so many food explorations here at Delicious History, the exact origin of the chocolate brownie is shrouded in myth. There are in fact several legends involving how they came to be:

– A chef mistakenly added melted chocolate to a batch of biscuits
– A cook was baking a cake but didn’t have enough flour
– A housewife in Bangor, Maine was making a chocolate cake but forgot to add baking powder. When her cake didn’t rise properly she cut and served the flat pieces.

The latter tale is the most widely circulated and is even cited in Betty Crocker’s Baking Classics and John Mariani’s The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink.

The earliest published recipe for chocolate brownies appeared in the Boston Daily Globe on 2 April 1905. It read:

BANGOR BROWNIES. Cream 1/2 cup butter, add 2 eggs, 1 cup sugar, 2 squares of chocolate (melted), 1/2 cup broken walnuts meats, 1/2 cup flour. Spread thin in buttered pans. Bake in moderate oven, and cut before cold.

Culinary historians have traced the first appearance of the brownie in a recipe book to the 1906 edition of The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, edited by Fannie Merritt Farmer. This recipe is an early, less rich version of the brownie we know, love and nom today.

The second recipe for brownies, appearing in 1907, was in Lowney’s Cook Book. The recipe added both an extra egg and additional chocolate to the Cooking-School recipe, thus creating a richer brownie. She named the recipe Bangor Brownies. This of course assists the origin theory of the housewife who forgot to add the baking soda.

The original 1907 recipe publication of Bangor Brownies

The use of the terms ‘Bangor Brownies’ or sometimes ‘Boston Brownies’ continued into the 1950s. It also took until the Roaring Twenties for brownies to become a national staple.

It goes without saying how popular chocolate brownies remain today. Any self-respecting dessert queen has a killer recipe in her repertoire, and you can find them in most cafes and bakeries. Suffice to say, they have come a long way since first being made with molasses…

Did you enjoy this post? Would you like to hear it in your earbuds? If so, I humbly ask you to take the time to donate $1 to the Delicious History Podcast Project.Only $500 is needed make this dream a reality, and all donations over $10 receive a reward! 

Advertisements

14 thoughts on “Choctoberfest: The Origin of the Brownie

  1. I reject the first theory on account of the fact that adding chocolate to anything should never be considered an accident.

  2. The Bangor recipe looks very much like what my mother and grandmother made. Instead of walnuts, my mother used raisins – totally delicious as far as I was concerned. Now she uses chocolate chips – as if more chocolate is required!! Interestingly, I asked her to bring a pan of brownies to a family dinner tomorrow night!

    • Ohh, I’ve never had brownies with raisins in them before. That sounds pretty tasty to me!

      Haha, what excellent timing! Although in my opinion, brownies should be in circulation so frequently that any crossover isn’t considered as coincidence, but as a mere factor of life 😉

      Thank you so much for reading!

  3. Someone said it first, in which I wholeheartedly agree, that adding chocolate to almost anything can never be an accident. Example: a bit of chocolate in curry makes for a sweeter, creamier sauce. Just thought you’d like to know.

    Three cheers for Choctoberfest! I wouldn’t be surprised if you cause relapses in people who had previously kicked their chocolate addictions. 😉

FEED ME

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s