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…

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Vintage Ads: Filet-O-Fish


I seem to be coming up with a lot of new segments lately. For example, ‘Tealicious History’ and ‘Last Meals of the Damned’. Well, I have another one for you. Wanna fight about it?

I’ve always enjoyed looking at old ads. I find them to be so revealing about the social and economic climates from whence they came. Plus, sometimes they’re incredibly politically incorrect, which is always fun and amusing.

I thought I’d start with a 1968 ad from our old friend McDonald’s:

I think the character name is stretching it a tad. Picture Credit: Waffle Whiffer via Flickr

The slogan ‘We do it all for you’ is rather telling in regards to McDonald’s desire to appeal to a wide demographic. They’re not prejudice, they’re happy to take EVERYBODY’S money.

The Filet-O-Fish was created in 1962 in Ohio. The area had a large Roman Catholic population, most of whom didn’t eat meat on Fridays, a practice that isn’t quite so widely observed today. The Catholic church, for the most part, only considers it to be obligatory during Lent.

In order to boost sales, the concept of a fish sandwich was created. Conveniently enough, it also appealed to pescetarians (fish eating vegetarians) and those with special dietary requirements. For example, the fish used in the sandwich is considered to be halal.

I hope you enjoyed our first vintage ad. I realise that it was quite short, and they will probably continue to be so. The good news is that it means I can easily publish more posts each week. Exciting stuff!