By Veronica MacDonald Ditko
An Accidental Anthropologist
The Holidays have passed but there is still one food that keeps on hanging around if you’re lucky – cookies. Or maybe the cookies are now hanging on your hips (admit it – isn’t that your new year’s resolution!?). Either way, they’ve made their annual appearance.
I’m guessing here, but there are probably thousands upon thousands of cookie varieties across the world. And there isn’t one culture that doesn’t have them, unless they have not been introduced to sugar yet. But where there is an acquaintance with sweeteners, and a non-nomadic lifestyle, there are baked sweets.
I never really gave much thought to cookies until a few weeks ago. I was reading one of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, the author of Little House on the Prairie, and she spelled it a peculiar way: COOKY.
I had to stop and read the sentence again. It almost felt like I didn’t know the word.
Then it dawned on me. The word “cook” was in it. And it took on a cute, colloquial kind of feeling. I imagined that way back in the day, before proper ovens, people would stand over a fire and cook sweet dough in a pan. Or maybe cookies really didn’t come around until proper ovens. But the point is they are cooked to death. And a mother was probably using baby talk to her child to describe it, and the word “cookie” caught on.
But spelling them “COOKY” also made them feel a little kooky. I looked into the roots of the word. As it turns out, the term “cookie” did not appear until about 1700, and is derived from cake (or koek). And even more curious is that cookie means different things to different people.
In Scotland, a cookie means a bun. In North Carolina, it means a donut. Ask a bunch of children in New Jersey if they want a cookie, and they will likely not refuse, but each anticipate a different cookie: chocolate chip, ginger snap, oatmeal raisin, sugar, anisette, meringue, nutty…etc…etc…
The fact is, whatever the terms “cookie” or “cooky” mean to you says a lot about you. It says a lot about your own culture. It says a lot about the cookies you grew up with. For me, anything with chocolate chips or cinnamon is a winner. And those are exactly the kind of cookies I had as a kid and bake (or buy!) for my kids today.
Veronica MacDonald Ditko is originally from the Jersey Shore, but married and settled in northern New Jersey. Her journalism career started a decade ago after studying Psychology and Anthropology in Massachusetts. She has written for several newspapers and magazines including The Daily Hampshire Gazette, The Springfield Union News and Sunday Republican, Happi, Chemical Week, The Hawthorne Press, The Jewish Standard, Suite101.com and more.