Historical/ Historical Recipes

Raisin Rock Cookies- A 1940’s Recipe

I have recipe books or recipes from the 1500’s, 1600’s, 1700’s, 1800’s, 1900’s, and of course, this century. I love looking at old recipes and cookbooks- and getting a glimpse into the mindset of people, typically women, through their cooking and baking during the past 500 years. In the 1500’s, a person making Shrewbury Cakes (cookies) would be told to “Take fine flowre and good Damaske water you must have no other liquor than that, then take sweet butter, two or three yolkes of eggs and a good quantity of sugar and (seasonings) as your Cookes mouth shall serve him……..and a little Gods good about a spoonful.” And then one should “worke all these together with your hands as hard as you can for the space of halfe an houre, then roule it in little round Cakes, about the thickness of three shillings one upon another.” Baking was obviously very labor-intensive and the baker focused on how she made her cookies or breads rather than what other’s would need to do to reproduce her recipe.

By the 1930’s, recipes had become somewhat standardized with an ingredient section and a procedure section. An important, although perhaps unintended, focus of cooking and baking were the new appliances available and the subservient position of the homemaker to others. In The Victory Binding of the American Woman’s Cook Book,* one is told that “Time and your oven await the occasion and the man” and “George Washington made history while Martha made cream pies like this one.” (By the way, it is highly unlikely that Martha Washington ever made a pie in her entire life!)

So what does this have to do with Rock Cookies? Although I was born in Ohio, I now live in Virginia, about 20 miles from Washington, D.C. I believe there are more historical sites within a one hour drive from DC that anywhere else in the country. Several of those sites are in Prince William County, where I live. And one of those sites is called the Rippon Lodge Historical Site. Recently a Murder Mystery play was held at this historical site and I was drafted, just a few days before the play was held, to play the part of an essential member of the cast. (One cannot have a murder mystery unless the murderess shows up!) The time period for the play was the 1940s, during WWII. So I pulled out my Victory Binding of the American Woman’s Cook Book* and made one of the recipes, called Rock Cookies, to share with my fellow cast members.

This cookie is quite different from what one may find today in a bakery or grocery store. And it took considerable restraint on my part not to change the ingredients (2 teaspoons of baking soda?!). But it is a good (not great) cookie typical of this time period in both the ingredients (emphasis on shortening rather than butter) and the use of sour milk or buttermilk. Sour milk in this case does NOT refer to milk that has gone bad; rather, it refers to fresh milk that has been soured with the addition of vinegar.

I hope you enjoy this bit of historical American baking.

Raisin Rock Cookies- A 1940's Recipe

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A chewy cookie packed with raisins and walnuts and an example of typical American baking during WWII.


  • 3 cups sifted cake flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup shortening
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup sour milk or buttermilk
  • 1 cup nuts, chopped
  • 1 cup raisins, chopped



Sift flour, salt, soda and spices together. Cream shortening and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs. Add sifted ingredients alternately with sour milk in small amounts. Add nuts and raisins and mix thoroughly. Drop from teaspoon onto greased baking sheet and bake in moderate oven until brown.


Make 48.

*The Victory Binding of the American Woman’s Cook Book, Wartime Edition with Victory Substitutes and Economical Recipes for Delicious Wartime Meals. Edited and Revised by Ruth Berolzheimer, Director, Culinary Arts Institute. Published by Consolidated Book Publishers, Inc., Chicago, 1943.

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