A Glimpse at Recipes of The Past: Lumberjack Cookies

I have a small but very treasured collection of cooking books. I have Russian cooking books with recipes prepared for the Czarist family and recipes cooked for the French Aristocracy, as well as a collection of recipe books that I bought here in America, dating back to our American ancestors.
Why do I like these old books so much?
Firstly, the illustrations found in these books are a rare sight indeed nowadays, because each illustration is beautifully drawn in detail, giving insight to a modern-day person of the dedicated and personal atmosphere that emanated from that time period.
Secondly, each recipe in these books has its own story. It’s not just a list of ingredients thrown into a pot and boiled—it’s an entire experience beginning from the detailing of the recipe’s origination to its eventual passage from generation to generation. This is why I have decided to begin a column on this blog dedicated to posting and discussing recipes taken from these books. There’s something very sentimental about making history come back to life.
Feel free to add to our historical recipe collection.

From “Favorite New England Recipes” 1972

Lumberjack Cookies
Lumbering is a unique occupation and projects a day-to-day life unlike any other. In the upper reaches of the rivers, when spring freshets deepen the water enough to float the logs, men of a particularly courageous breed shepherd the raw wood down the rivers, sometimes for hundreds of miles, to the sawmills. They spend many days on the logs and on a raft with a shanty on it that brings up the rear. In the shanty is a man at whom the others characteristically jeer but deeply value – the cook.

Molasses cookies

One morning early in this century, such a log drive was moving along the Muskegon past a riverside farm, when a dignified little woman marched to the water’s edge and waved to them. She wished to parley with the lumberjack cook. Just why is explained by Mrs.Paul V.Bretz of St.Paul, Minnesota. “The great lumbering industry of Michigan was beginning to wane, but there was still some lumbering along with the Mu. When the logs where being floated down the river to the mills, there was always a cook shanty on a raft following the log drive. It was a great treat for children to have a meal with the lumberjacks on this river raft. They could look forward to fried salt pork, boiled potatoes, boiled beans, hot bread, cookies, and strong black coffee. Good hearty fare.
“These were molasses cookies and so good that my husband prevailed upon his mother to go to the river and learn the recipe from the cook. We always called them ‘Lumberjack Cookies,’ and here is the recipe:”

Molasses cookies

Lumberjack Cookies

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  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 cup shortening
  • 1 cup molasses
  • 1 cup sour milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ginger, vanilla, and mace (or nutmeg) to taste
  • flour enough to make a soft dough



Drop by tablespoons on a lightly greased cookie sheet and bake in a moderate oven (350F) until done about 10 minutes.

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  • Reply
    December 1, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    What an interesting historical lesson! I'll admit I know little about every day history of the United States, but I'd absolutely love to try these cookies.

  • Reply
    December 2, 2011 at 1:24 am

    This looks delicious. Would love for you to share this with us over at

  • Reply
    Parsley Sage
    December 3, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    Stunning photos with a brilliant post! It's always great to cook with some context…making you think about what you're baking and what was going on when people were making these dishes in the past 🙂


  • Reply
    December 4, 2011 at 10:24 am

    Such beautiful pictures – I love that you can hang them on a string. I might have to make these for the christmas tree.

  • Leave a Reply

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