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What are Oatmeal Cookies?

By Chris Kohatsu
Updated May 16, 2024
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Say “oatmeal cookies” to an American and chances are their eyes will light up and their mouths will water. A unique and significant creation in American food history, oatmeal cookies have been cherished and enjoyed by children and adults dating as far back as the early 1900’s and prevalent through today.

Part crispy cookie, part moist cake, the oatmeal cookie is made in a variety of ways: from thin and crispy, to moist and chewy, to even extra sweet or laced with salt. Oatmeal cookies are made with a variety of ingredients including raisins, cranberries, bananas, cherries, walnuts, and white or dark chocolate chips.

Oatmeal cookies came into American kitchens by way of the Quaker Oats Company. The original oatmeal cookie recipe was mass distributed in 1908, printed on boxes of rolled oats. Billed as “oat cakes” the recipe called for 3 cups of rolled oats along with butter, sugar, and flour. The oat cakes were an instant hit with kitchen cooks. After the stock market crash of 1929, cookies were used as an inexpensive way to boost morale. The oat cake recipe was reformulated and rebranded as “oat macaroons” with the batter being stiff and heavier than the previous oat cake batter.

With the new recipe, the drop cookie method was born. When America went to war, Americans were subject to food rationing, severely limiting civilian access to wheat and dairy products. Oatmeal was a welcome and suggested alternative to wheat. In 1943, the Quaker Oats company reformulated their recipe again, this time using the term "oatmeal cookies." The revised recipe utilized bacon drippings or shortening instead of butter and dried fruits for minimal sugar needs.

The oatmeal cookie recipe released by Quaker Oats has been re-branded twice, re-emerging on oatmeal packages as “Famous Oatmeal Cookies”, and as it is known today as “Quaker’s Best Oatmeal Cookies.” This oatmeal cookie recipe has earned the distinction of the longest printed recipe on any Quaker Oats product.

If you’re interested in baking your own batch of oatmeal cookies, keep this in mind: old fashioned rolled oats work best. Oatmeal cookies were created specifically to promote this type of oat, so instant, quick-cook, and steel-cut oatmeal may produce mediocre cookies.

Additionally, a number of studies have shown that consumption of oatmeal can be healthy, as it lowers cholesterol and can assist those interested in weight loss. Unfortunately, oatmeal cookies are not linked to these healthy lifestyle habits. Whether made with eggs and butter, or its wartime substitution version of bacon drippings and shortening, oatmeal cookies contain a considerable amount of fat and calories. So enjoy your oatmeal cookies, but do so in moderation.

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Discussion Comments

By amypollick — On Mar 30, 2012

I love chewy oatmeal cookies with chocolate chips. It just doesn't get any better: the best of all worlds. I had some oatmeal cookies with chocolate chips, but also included dried cranberries and sunflower seeds. Yum, yum. I really liked those, too. I think I actually prefer dried cranberries to raisins in these.

The oatmeal cookie base is such a good foundation to create one's own idea of the "perfect" cookie.

By DinoLeash — On Nov 05, 2010

@cellmania: I love pumpkin oatmeal cookies. I usually make them every year around the holidays. Actually, I look for any excuse to make them! They are quite simple to make and you can use fresh or canned pumpkin.

The ingredients are: 2 cups flour, 1 cup butter, 1 cup oatmeal, 1 cup pumpkin, 1 beaten egg, 1 tsp. vanilla extract, 1 tsp. baking soda, 1 cup brown sugar, ½ tsp. salt, and 1 cup raisins (optional).

First, in a bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients (except sugar). In another bowl, cream together the sugar, butter, egg, vanilla, raisins, and pumpkin. Add the dry ingredients to that mixture and mix well. On a cookie sheet, drop ¼ cup dough at a time for each cookie. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes.

By CellMania — On Nov 05, 2010

I am looking for a recipe for pumpkin oatmeal cookies. I am sure I have had them before but I can no longer find the recipe. Any recipes would be appreciated. Thanks!

By StormyKnight — On Nov 05, 2010

@carrotisland: You are talking about boiled chocolate-oatmeal cookies. They are so delicious and easy to make. I love them because no baking is required.

You need 3 cups quick oats, 2 cups sugar, 3 Tbsp. cocoa, ½ cup milk, 1 tsp. vanilla extract, ¼ cup butter, and½ cup peanut butter.

In a boiler, mix the sugar, cocoa, butter, and milk. Bring to a boil and cook one minute. Remove from the heat after the one minute and quickly add the peanut butter, oats, and vanilla. Drop by teaspoonful onto waxed paper on a cookie sheet. Let them cool for about 30 minutes.

By CarrotIsland — On Nov 05, 2010

Does anyone have a recipe for those cookies that are made with oatmeal and cocoa? I think that they might be called boiled cookies or something. I don't think you have to bake them.

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