It’s the season of Girl Scout cookies and no doubt you’ve already bought more boxes than you meant to, unable to resist the sweet siren song of cute little girls selling colorful boxes of cookies on a card table outside the grocery store.
But how much do you know about these cookies? I’m going to give you a history lesson, starting with the fact that this year is the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scout cookie.
“The first known cookie sale was in 1917 in Muskogee, Oklahoma,” said Stefanie Ellis, PR director of the Girl Scouts of Western Washington. “A group of girls just decided they were going to make these cookies in their kitchens and they sold them in their cafeterias after school.”
Ellis said those first cookies were shortbread. You can find that original recipe at the bottom of this article.
The shortbread recipe went vintage viral after it was published in a Girl Scout magazine in 1922.
“Hundreds of girls across the country started selling this cookie,” Ellis said. “So that is sort of the precursor to the Trefoil cookie that we have now.”
Girl Scout cookies
It wasn’t until 1936 that Girl Scout cookies were manufactured by commercial bakeries.
“That recipe was a shortbread cookie and it was from our [First Lady at the time], Mrs. Herbert Hoover,” said Lanette Reh, Girl Scouts of Western Washington’s volunteer historian.
Here in Seattle, we had our own Girl Scout cookie bakery, on Lake Union, but that eventually shuttered.
“At one point there were 29 licensed bakers,” Ellis said. “Then, in 1951, that’s when we got three cookies. There was the sandwich, the shortbread that we still have today and then a chocolate mint.”
“The chocolate mint was actually a chocolate based cookie and the filling was actually a white mint, then dark chocolate put over the whole thing,” Reh notes. “So it wasn’t all blended with mint flavoring as it is today.”
The Northwest no longer gets its cookies made in Seattle. Now there are only two bakeries in the country making Girl Scout cookies, one in Kentucky, which is where Washington’s cookies come from, and one in Virginia.
“Each bakery owns the recipe and the trademark,” Ellis said. “So that means you’re going to find your Samoas here but the other bakery calls them Caramel Delights. So if people come from another part of the country and they’re like, ‘Where are my Peanut Butter Patties?’ Well, those are actually called Tagalongs here. We call them Trefoils, they call them Shortbread Cookies. We call them Do-Si-dos, they call them Peanut Butter Sandwiches.”
“Both bakers are required to make Thin Mints, Trefoils and the Do-Si-dos/Peanut Butter Patties,” she said. “But then any other cookie is up to the baker to make. A lot of it is based on where the bakery’s council clients are and what the actual taste preferences are. For example, lemon cookies sell really well in the south. Not as much here. But here, chocolate sells really well.”
This year, for example, the Kentucky bakery introduced a S’mores cookie. But Ellis said Thin Mints have remained the most popular Girl Scout cookie for decades.
“During peak baking season, at our bakery, which is between September and March, they make 4.5 million Thin Mints a day — a day!” Ellis said.
In 2015, the Girl Scouts sold 194 million boxes of cookies. Seventy percent of the money stays with local troops and goes towards camp or whatever the troop wants to spend it on. Ellis says selling cookies help the girls learn business and social skills.
“The cookie sale is the largest girl-led business in the world,” Ellis said. “So girls kindergarten through 12th grade selling cookies. We call them cookie bosses. They’re their own entrepreneurs. They’re running their own business, is what their cookie sale is.”
Which often leads to great things later in life.
“Two-thirds of the women in congress were Girl Scouts,” Ellis said. “Virtually every female astronaut ever flown into space was a girl Scout.”
Get your cookies soon. The sales end on March 19.
The original Girl Scout cookie recipe
Original sugar cookie recipe from Florence E. Neil, a local director in the Chicago Girl Scout council, published in July 1922 by Girl Scouts of the USA in The American Girl magazine. Girl Scouts everywhere started making this cookie and selling them in wax paper bags for 25 to 35 cents per dozen.
Girl Scout Cookies
1 cup of butter, or substitute
1 cup of sugar
2 tablespoons of milk
1 teaspoon of vanilla
2 cups of flour
2 teaspoons of baking powder
Cream butter and sugar; add well-beaten eggs, then milk, flavoring, flour, and baking powder. Roll thin and bake in quick oven. (Sprinkle sugar on top.)
This amount makes six to seven dozen.
Modern-day tips (not part of the original recipe): Refrigerate batter for at least one hour before rolling and cutting cookies. Bake in a quick oven (375°) for approximately 8 to 10 minutes or until the edges begin to brown.