The History of…. The Brownie.. (Maybe)
History intrigues me. I always have felt you cannot look to the future until you look at your past. My 5th grade teacher Mr. Fickart said “History Repeats Itself”…
This is a new idea I have regarding history of food. When I was researching my latest book L.A.’s Legendary Restaurants three of the recipes in the book were “firsts”. I thought it would be an interesting blog as to the “firsts” as we know them in food. Or the claims we have heard. With a recipe or two thrown in.
Many have claimed they invented what today we know as “the Brownie” I enjoy the Potter and Bertha Horne Palmer story. It all starts at the Palmer (Today known as The Palmer Hotel ~ A Hilton Hotel). Today the Palmer sits 17 E. Monroe (at State) in Chicago. The current hotel is the third Palmer at this location. The first was built in 1871 (as a wedding gift to his wife) and 13 days later it burnt down in the Great Chicago Fire. Four years later, it reopened as “The World’s Only Fire Proof Hotel”. In the 1920’s the current hotel was built bigger on the same site to accommodate the business in downtown. Today the Palmer has 1,641 rooms that make it the second largest hotel in Chicago.
Bertha Palmer was the President of the Board of Ladies Managers of the World’s Columbian Commission in 1890. Duties of the President were important besides conducting and leading dozens of the lady managers of the board. Because of her influence and stature in the community and having the largest most opulent hotel didn’t hurt. Bertha called on her pastry chef at the hotel to design a dessert for the upcoming woman’s picnic for the board (It was held at Grant Park in the Ladies Pavilion). She knew the ladies could not have a piece of cake or pie in their picnic basket without it ruining their gloves. Cookies were too mundane. So he created a “bar cookie” of sorts. Today when you stay at the Palmer, you get a brownie during turn down service.
Technically, there is no written evidence on menus or such that the Palmer called them Brownies. The first recipe for “brownies” in a cookbook was Fanny Famer, in the 1896 edition of the Boston Cooking School Cookbook. But it didn’t have chocolate, so it was what we today all a “Blondie”. The first time in print with reference to Chocolate and Brownie was on April 1st, 1898 in the Kansas City Journal on sale for .15 cents a pound. The updated 1909 Boston Cooking School Cookbook had two recipes one for Brownies with and one without chocolate.
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