Caraway Cookies Revived

We are so distracted by chocolate these days that we have forgotten how good some other flavors are.

Wednesday (today, if you are reading this in the paper) I am off-island baking in a bee hive oven at the historic Conway House in Camden, as part of the Merryspring Nature Center’s fundraising Kitchen Tour. I am one of sixteen chefs (probably the only one who isn’t really a chef, and the only one who does historic fireplace cooking) cooking up a minor storm. I’m doing caraway cookies, what in the late 1700s and early 1800s was called a “seed cake.” Jane Carr, who is a board member at the Camden Historical Society, is also baking up some to offer the tour-goers a taste. Now, the reason she and others are also making them is that we have to expect hundreds of people and I thought we ought to have a back up supply.

Jane reported that her baking was going well, and commented, “I must say to my surprise how delicious I found them.” I’d call them a Golden Oldie, one of lots of recipes a couple or more hundred years old that are really delicious even if they sound odd or unfamiliar.

We are used to caraway baked in rye bread or cooked with cabbage, but not in sugar cookies. In past times though, caraway and fennel, were used in sweet baking, and so were anise and poppy seeds as they still are today, especially in ethnic holiday recipes. Even though the word cookie was used in early America, when cooks in past times made small sweets like these, they called them “cakes” plural, as in pancakes. Gradually the word cookie came to dominate the vocabulary and other flavors dominated the cookie jar.

Since Jane found these good, I thought I would share them with you. You might like something a bit different for a change, and these are wonderful with a cup of tea. There might even be one or two of you out there who had a grandmother old-fashioned enough to make seed cookies from time to time. If so, I’d love to hear about it.

No big secret to making these. There is no baking powder. Rubbing the flour into the butter is a little like making pie crust only you don’t worry about keeping it cold. You can use vanilla or a dab of milk in place of rosewater.

Caraway Cookies

2 cups of flour
¾ cup sugar
1 cup butter
2 eggs
½ cup caraway seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons rosewater, vanilla, or milk

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Rub the flour and sugar into the butter until it looks like crumbs. Beat the eggs slightly and stirred them into the flour, sugar, and butter mixture, then add the seeds and rosewater, milk or vanilla. Drop teaspoon sized pieces of dough onto a greased cookie sheet. Bake for twenty minutes until golden.

Yields 48 small cookies.

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About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.