Wednesday, September 20, 2023

The Mystery of Joseph Smith and the Washboard Cookie.

Besides using actual cookbooks, there are often times I research recipes, and their origins, online.  Alright Google, give me some interesting results for, “Utah pioneers and recipes they cooked”.  First item was a blogger who referenced newspaper articles and cookbooks, gave recipes, and stated which Mormon “figure head” the recipe was a favorite of.  One such reference was for “Washboard Cookies”, a favorite of Prophet Joseph Smith, and came from The Mormon Pioneer Cookbook which I have used, and referenced, myself. 

Strange, I thought, but while the love of Johnny cakes was linked to Smith, many of the recipes within mentioned Brigham Young more often.  Now there is no index in this cookbook, so turning the pages slowly, my eyes scanned for the recipe, and the mention of Smith.  Nothing.  Alright, let me ask around, and see if those more educated in the Mormon culture could verify this for me.  Hit a roadblock there.  Then I thought to find the origin of washboard cookies, and see if that could get me a linkup.

Washboard cookies, aka lavadores, are Portuguese cookies which have horizontal lines, made with a fork before baking, and resemble the ridges of a washboard.  The original recipe uses lemon for flavoring, but the origin story is basically nonexistent; seems this cookie just always was.  Rereading the countries represented, by the Mormon emigrants who traveled to Utah, Portugal was not one of those countries.  Could there have been folks of Portuguese descent?  Maybe, but too few to get a mention in the cookbook.

Something else that bothered me about the blogger’s cookie recipe, and reference to Smith.  This was supposedly a recipe used by the 1847 pioneers, and instead of lemons, coconut was the main flavoring ingredient.  In 1869, the Mineral Point Tribune, a Wisconsin newspaper, printed the first ever recipe which used coconut as a main ingredient.  Hawaiians did not begin settling onto USA mainland soil, mainly in California, until the late 1800s, and they brought coconuts with them. 

Third issue I have with the blogger’s article was the timeline of how Joseph Smith could have possibly partaken of the cookies made by Utah pioneers.  He could not!  Joseph Smith, the founder and leader of the LDS religion, and his brother, Hyrum Smith, were killed by a mob in Carthage, IL, on June 27, 1844.  They were awaiting trial, in the town jail, but became victims of vigilante justice by those in the anti-Mormon movement.  So, to that blogger, I call, “Shenanigans!” on her article, her made up historical reference, and any reference to the cookie recipe in The Mormon Pioneer Cookbook.

Now I am picturing, editor Bill Boyle, of the San Juan Record, rolling his eyes, as he reads my article, and thinking, “There goes Mary pretending to be Miss Marple; it’s just a cookie recipe for heaven’s sake!”

Have I piqued your curiosity about washboard cookies?  I certainly hope so, as I will be giving you an original recipe.  Since I have mentioned a recipe which uses coconut, I will give you that one too.  The original recipe is from Chef Gorete, born in the Azores, is of Portuguese descent, and, of course, can cook and bake the recipes of her ancestry.



Portuguese Washboard Cookies (Lavadores)



1⁄2 cup butter, room temperature

1 1⁄2 cups sugar, divided

4 large eggs, room temperature 1

 lemon, rind of, grated

4 cups all-purpose flour

1 Tbsp. baking powder

1 dash salt


Preheat oven to 350°F.

Mix the butter with 1 cup of the sugar on medium high-speed for 1 minute. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, blending well after each, until the mixture is fluffy and pale yellow, about 3 minutes. Stir in the lemon rind.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder & salt to combine. Fold the flour into the butter mixture using a spatula, mixing well. Gently knead the dough in the bowl for about 5 minutes.

Place the remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a shallow dish. Using a small cookie scoop, shape pieces of dough into balls, then roll in the sugar. Place the cookies on a parchment lined or lightly greased cookie sheet, 2 inches apart. Flatten the cookies gently using the tines of a fork or make the horizontal lines.

Bake for 18 - 20 minutes, or until a light golden color. I like to rotate the cookie trays from top to bottom, halfway through the cooking process.

Cool on the cookie trays for about 10 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack. Enjoy.

Now the second recipe which does not appear in the cookbook, as a blogger claims, but I will share it anyway.  Even though the origin of the cookie is Portuguese, over the many, many years of creating them, many variations have developed within the country itself.  So, I would rather give credit, for this recipe, to Portugal, and not a blogger with “imaginary facts”.


Washboard Cookies


1 cup brown sugar

1 cup white sugar

1 cup shortening

2 eggs

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 cup boiling water

1 cup shredded coconut

1 teaspoon vanilla

4 1/2 cups flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder


Cream together sugars and shortening and beat in eggs. Dissolve soda in boiling water and add to above mixture. Blend in coconut and vanilla. Sift together flour, salt, baking powder, and blend into mixture. Drop by spoonfuls onto greased cookie sheet and flatten with fork. Bake at 375° for 15 minutes.

Would Joseph Smith have liked washboard cookies?  It is very unlikely we will ever know.  However, something tells me, if cornmeal had been used, the answer would have been a resounding, “Yes!”.

Mary Cokenour