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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

Monday, April 8, 2024: What would life be without fragrant, delicious, spectacular, scrumptious delightful brownies?

Monday, April 8, 2024: What would life be without fragrant, delicious, spectacular, scrumptious delightful brownies?


(Deeply delightful chocolate brownies...)

For the last couple of times we’ve cooked dinner for the homeless at Sam Jones I’ve been given the honor of wheeling the dessert cart into the main cafeteria and handing out the brownies made with love by members of our Emmaus community.


I think its safe to say that of all the food we deliver, it’s the brownies that earn the most praise, pleasure and ultimate satisfaction. Each person I’ve met accepts the brownie with reverent gratitude as I plop a square of deep chocolate goodness onto their plates (which brim with good food).


(Dan Vrooman revealing the brownies)

Some people scoot a portion of their salad or main dish to make room for their brownie trying to keep it from touching salad dressing or pasta sauce. Others simply allow me to place the brownie, carefully, oh so carefully, on top of their supper. It hovers there only so long as it takes people to sit at their tables. Then the brownies come off the plate and into a carefully folded napkin beside each person’s dinner. They eat the nourishing food we cook and savor the flavor of the brownies down to the last crumb. Delight fill their eyes and for a few glorious moments I imagine they're back in their mother's kitchen filled with the scent of chocolate and vanilla extract.


Some people come by for seconds as long as the brownies last. One woman confessed that she eats only the brownies and she visited my three times – each time rewarded with deep delight in a small dessert. Others wait at the exit as I wheel back to the kitchen and ask for more. "Any more brownies?" they ask hungrily.


I asked one person why there’s such joy in receiving a brownie. His response “because it tells me I matter and I’m worthy of something sweet in my life.”


 You all make really good, rich brownies. And I thought to myself, “Who invented this? I would like to meet that person.” So I decided to do some research.


According to Wikipedia most evidence points to one source: Chefs at Chicago’s Palmer House Hotel, who created the tasty treat for the World Columbian Exposition of 1893.


The origin story goes like this: Bertha Palmer, the wife of Palmer hotel owner Potter Palmer, was president of the Ladies Board for Managers for Exposition. When organizers of the event asked her to create a dessert especially for the boxed lunches at the Women’s Pavilion, Palmer went to her hotel’s pastry chefs and gave them the task of creating a dessert that was easier to eat than a piece of pie and smaller than a layer cake that could easily be s0erved in boxed lunches. The result was a brownie made with double the chocolate normal brownies use, walnuts, and an apricot glaze that’s still made at the hotel to this day.


But there’s no evidence the Palmer House desserts were called brownies, and just who first dubbed them that isn't clear. The first person to put a recipe for "brownies" in a cookbook was Fanny Farmer, who adapted her cookie recipe to be baked in a rectangular pan, in the 1896 edition of The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook. But: that recipe contained no chocolate! Farmer had basically made what we today call a Blondie. Then, in the late 1890s, two advertisements referring to brownies appeared. The first, in the 1897 Sears and Roebuck catalog, advertised brownies underneath the heading “Fancy Crackers, Biscuits [sic], Etc.,” but those treats could have been either chocolate- or molasses-based. The second, from an 1898 issue of the Kansas City Journal, advertised chocolate brownies—the first definitive reference to chocolate and brownies together.


The first known recipe for chocolate brownies—called Brownie's Food—appeared in Machias Cookbook, a Maine community-sourced cookbook, in 1899. The recipe features chocolate, flour, milk, baking soda.


 Finally, in 1906, Farmer published an updated version of her cookbook that included a blondie recipe and a brownie recipe, both called brownies. After that, the recipes started spreading nationally, and eventually, brownies conquered the world!


So just how did brownies come to be called that? Some believe that the treats were named after the traditional mythical sprites popularized by Palmer Cox’s The Brownies


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