Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Cookies Were a Sweet Mistake.

 The cookie, a word derived from the Dutch “koekje”, meaning “small or little cake”.  All over the world, cookies are created in all shapes, sizes, flavors and textures.  Guess what?  They were a mistake! 

Persia (modern day Iran) was one of the first countries to grow and harvest sugar cane.  As far back as the 7th century, Persian bakers were using it to make cakes, breads and even delicate candies.  Small discs of dough or batter were used to simply test the temperatures of the ovens; then discarded, or added to animal feed.  By the 14th century, sugar was making the rounds of European countries and the Mediterranean.  Instead of checking only the “doneness” of the discs, curiosity won out, they were tasted and were found to be quite good.  The Renaissance Era, being one of enlightenment and discovery, saw the writing of books intensify, and cookbooks were included.  The addition of eggs, spices and flavorings launched an explosion of new recipes, all dealing with the development of cookies.

However, it was the advancements of “kitchen technology”, during the Industrial Revolution that helped cookies find new textures and shapes.   A typical cookie press was made from craved wood; the more polished, the less likely to crack and splinter.  With the smelting and molding of metals, the cookie press became more durable, but expensive and heavy to yield and carry.  As pioneers moved across the American plains and mountains, bringing along cookie presses, in a covered wagon, became too burdensome.  Glancing through pioneer cookbooks, if there were any cookie recipes, they were simplistic and the shapes molded by hand.  Even going through my variety of “Indians of the Southwest” cookbooks, the recipes I kept finding were variations of the typical sugar cookie; all using whole wheat and/or white processed flour.

As with the Persians of the 7th century, cakes and breads were more common fare among the peoples of the Americans.  It was not till the “discovery” of the New World that more food variations were introduced by pioneers, traders and adventurers.

Three ingredients typically found in native baking are blue corn flour, juniper ash and pinon nuts.   While I did find recipes for breads and cakes, again, cookie recipes were a mystery.  It was on a food blog, “The Fancy Navajo” (, that I was able to find a perfect recipe to try out.  A Navajo lifestyle and food blogger, from Phoenix, AZ, Alana Yazzie is proud of her heritage and culture; and sees the importance of keeping it alive through sharing.   I am a member of the “Navajo, Pueblo, Apache and Hispanic Cooking” page, on Facebook, and her food blog and recipes are often recommended.

Since this was the first time trying her recipe, I kept it simple and neat by rolling out the dough into balls, and letting them do their own thing, in the oven, while baking.  The cookies have a lovely purple-blue coloring, crisp throughout, and tend to melt in the mouth as chewed.  I added raw pinon nuts into the dough, instead of just a topping.  They toasted as the cookies baked, adding a great nutty flavor.  If flattened, the cookies bake in about 8-9 minutes, but since I left them as balls, they took about 12 minutes in my oven.


Fancy Navajo Blue Corn Cookies



1/2 Cup Unsalted Cold Butter

1 Egg

3/4 Cup Sugar

1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda

1/2 Teaspoon Juniper Ash  

1/4 Teaspoon Salt

1/2 Cup Flour

1 ¼ Cup Blue Cornmeal



Preheat oven to 350 F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or nonstick mat.

In a large mixing bowl cream butter and sugar together until pale and creamy.

Add in vanilla and egg until thoroughly combined.

Add in baking soda, juniper ash, and salt until thoroughly combined.

Add in Flour and Blue Corn Meal in ¼ cup increments until combined.


Prepare cookie dough for baking, they can be rolled out in ¼ inch thickness, or scooped and pressed down.  


Bake for 8-9 minutes or until the edges start to turn brown. Let cool for 2 minutes before removing from baking sheet. Cookies should mostly be blue and the edges slightly brown. If the cookies are mostly brown, then they are over baked and you may need to reduce time for baking.


Yields: 18 cookies.


While I know most folks have their “go-to” cookie, try something different next time.  You might just find yourself pleasantly surprised.

Mary Cokenour