Sick of corn?

How could I be? But then I should probably talk about cookies at least a little. The funny thing is, a lot of what I’ve been saying about corn cakes also applies to cookies…except of course the part about Europeans not caring for them. As anyone who’s been to Europe can attest, there’s nothing that defines Europeans, other than their affinity for Jerry Lewis movies and collectivist politics, quite like their love of all things sweet. True, they may not be dessert hounds in the same way we are, but I think that further proves my point. Instead of stuffing some sort of sweet meat in at the end of a meal like Americans and Brits, they prefer to make a whole separate event of it, nipping off to a hotel restaurant or café to indulge in some true act of sugar-worship. A big slice of Sacher Torte say, a foot-long éclair, or a scoop of gelato the size of a softball. Indeed to the European, the sweet alone must be shown the kind respect the rest of us show to an entire meal. It’s a wonder my wife hasn’t moved there by now.

As sugar-addicted as they are, it’s a wonder they ever found anything to do or talk about before crystalline sugar arrived on the continent in about 700 A.D. when the Moors took over the Iberian Peninsula, the region now occupied by Spain and Portugal. Of course Moors and Europeans weren’t exactly attending the same bake sales in those days, unless they had something to do with boiling oil and catapults. It took the colonial era and large-scale Carribbean refining to make sugar a common item in European kitchens, which it finally became in the late 1700’s. Prior to then, people sweetened their cakes with honey, if they had anything to sweeten them with at all.

Which brings me back around to the cookie thing. I’ve of course been beating a dead horse even dead-er on the subject of grain-and-water pastes all week. They are indisputably the archtypal cookie. But if we’re going to define a cookie as a disk of sweetened grain-and-water paste, they doubtlessly arrived in Europe with the Moors and sugar. But then a European never would have had the opportunity to try a Moorish cookie in those days, unless they were being force-fed to him as he was being flayed in some Aragonian dungeon. So, just like with sugar, the Europeans had to wait for the Age of Exploration before they could enjoy a good snickerdoodle.

The word “cookie” is derived from the Dutch word “koekje” which means “little cake”. The fact that “cookie” comes from a Dutch word is certainly not accidental, as the Dutch, via the Dutch West India Company, were one of the key players in the colonial sugar trade, and were probably making cookies before just about anyone else. After that the picture gets muddy again, since, just as with the integration of corn meal and flour, the practice of sweetening cakes with sugar spread across Europe faster than a sippy cup-full of grape juice over an oriental rug. But, at least we have a few dates by which to track the cookie’s evolution, something I’ll blog a bit more about tomorrow.

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