What’s a brownie?

Why, an elf of course. More specifically a house elf, one which, provided it’s treated with respect and given the odd morsel of food, is wont to perform all manner of helpful household tasks. Like what? Oh, tidying up, milking the cows, churning the butter, that sort of thing. Quite the household convenience they are, but they have a dark side. Forget to feed one and you might well wake up one morning to find your crops have wilted, or your barn’s been burned to the ground. In this way they resemble low-level mafia operators running protection rackets, save of course for the fact that they hate money. Try to bribe or pay one, and he’ll disappear forever, leaving you at the mercy of one of those expensive franchise maid services.

Brownies are thought to be a product of Celtic mythology, a cheerier version of a hobgoblin. They featured prominently in Scottish and English folklore, which is how they made it to America. Once, just about everyone in America knew what a brownie was. One of the most popular comic strips in the late 1800’s, written and drawn by Canadian-American author Palmer Cox, was called The Brownies. So popular were those strips that they spawned their own stage shows, songs and all manner of merchandise including dishware, greeting cards, calendars, games and toys. There was even a soda pop named after them.

As for food, well, that much ought to be obvious by now. There were brownie candies and brownie cakes and cookies, all of them sold through big retailers like Sears. Interestingly, none of these confections contained chocolate. Sure they were brown, but the brown color came from molasses, the HFCS of its day. It wasn’t until the very early 1900’s that chocolate found its way into the recipe, but brownies have been synonymous with it ever since.

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