BALTIMORE — Lumpy, bumpy and hopelessly old-fashioned, the oatmeal cookie lacks any semblance of foodie cred. Panache? Style? Decadence? Oatmeal cookies have none of that.
But its very plainness and humble stance could explain the reason people seem to love oatmeal cookies a teensy bit more than all the rest. America, it seems, loves an underdog. Even in a cookie.
At Family Circle magazine, where an oatmeal cookie recipe has swept every Presidential Cookie Bake-Off (a rating of cookie recipes from the spouses of presidential candidates) since the contest's inception in 1992, folks know very well the power of simple pleasures.
"Everyone loves chocolate chip, but oatmeal definitely has more of a homey, homemade, from-the-heart quality to it," says Julie Miltenberg, the magazine's senior food editor. "With the way the economy is going . . . people would rather snuggle up with a traditional favorite than try something new."
According to the Food Timeline Web site, oatmeal cookies did not appear in cookbooks until the 20th century. But the culinary ancestors of the modern oatmeal cookie are ancient "bannocks" (chewy biscuitlike oat cookies) and British oatcakes. And the habit of adding raisins, nuts and spices can be traced to the Middle Ages.
For Tom Schwartz of Melbourne, Fla., oatmeal "hockey pucks" are the childhood snack he remembers from growing up in post-Depression Brooklyn.
Schwartz bakes his pucks almost every week. Like his mother who made them for him, he loves that they're affordable and recession-friendly and that he can feel good about feeding them to his grandchildren.
"If you want to give your children snacks between meals," he says, "there's nothing better to give them than something with oatmeal in it."
Joanne Miller of Westminster, Md., readily admits that her relationship with oatmeal cookies, which she used to find dry and bland, is not a long-standing one. But in the few years she has made her spicy iced oatmeal cookies, they've become a family favorite with her husband and grandchildren.
Her recipe brings a definite sophistication, if not outright elegance, to the familiar cookie. It's partly the nuts, raisins and spices, but mainly the luscious brown-butter drizzle
"If you want something special, this is so worth the time," says Miller, who has made it her go-to cookie recipe for any season. "Everywhere I go, people love it," she says. "Everybody wants the recipe."
Here are their recipes to try. Both capture that "homemade, from-the-heart" quality.