My niece and nephew had never eaten preacher cookies. They were visiting last week, and I asked if they wanted to make a batch. I got blank stares.
I described the ingredients—chocolate, peanut butter, oatmeal—and added, “You know, you cook them on the stove.”
My niece looked confused. My nephew curled his nose and said, “I don’t like chocolate very much.”
I wasted no time in calling their grandmother to tell her that she’s falling down on the job. Growing up, preacher cookies were a cornerstone of our snack food diet. They were fast and low mess. They didn’t require the oven (which mattered during summertime in our un-air conditioned apartment). They were so simple I could make them by myself by age nine. They filled my mouth with the most ecstatic goopy wonder, the perfect balance of creamy and crunchy, chocolate and nutty, as cool as a popsicle and as sweet as a slice of fudge.
She was a loving grandmother. How had she not fixed at least one batch for the children?
“They don’t seem to want to cook when they’re here.”
I didn’t quite hang up on her, but I must have made an audible gasp. She added, “Really, I don’t think they’re interested.”
The baking goods cabinet was open and the cocoa was on the counter before I said, “Love ya’. Gotta go.”
The kids helped me measure and stir. They watched enrapt as I dropped dollops onto a plate. They offered their tongues when I asked if they’d like to lick the goo-encrusted spoon.
My niece was hooked from her first taste. She “mmmmmed” and motioned for my nephew. He claimed that the chocolate gave him a bellyache, but once they cooled, I caught him eating them, a half a cookie at a time. By the middle of the next day, he had finished off four.
I’d never given any thought to preacher cookies’ origin until I discovered that they were becoming a lost art in my family. Then I poked around the Internet. Everybody seems to agree on the genesis of the name. The blog Hillbilly Housewife describes it this way:
“It got it’s name because it could be prepared quickly when a housewife looked out her window and saw the preacher riding up the mountain on his horse. By the time the preacher arrived, the cookies were cooling.”
People don’t agree, however, on the right name for the cookies. Everyone I know in the Appalachians call them preacher cookies, but apparently, somewhere out there, they’re referred to as cow-patties. I suppose it’s apt. They are dark brown little globs that squish under the least pressure.
I recently offered a batch to a friend from Texas. She squealed, “You made poodgies?!”
While she couldn’t explain the name, she clearly relished saying it. She drew it out, “Pooooooodgies,” and spelled it without prompting.
I also discovered that some poor folks call them no-bake cookies. Maybe they’re Puritans or mathematicians. Whatever the case, let’s hope this post inspires a less literal name.
At the other end of the spectrum are people who fiddle with the recipe itself, adding exotic ingredients like dulce de leche and Nutella. I’m all for creative monikers, but when making this dish, I become a bit of a Puritan.
Below is the good, old recipe I use for my preacher cookies, which was handed down from my mother, and I’m dying to hear about yours. What do you put in these oven-free treats? And what’s your favorite name for them?
½ cup butter
4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
2 cups sugar
½ cup milk
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 cups quick cooking oatmeal
¼ cup peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Mix the cocoa powder, butter, sugar, milk, and salt in a double boiler. (Don’t tell Mother, but I just use a regular pot.) Bring to a rolling boil and boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat. Add the peanut butter, vanilla, and oatmeal—not the new, instant kind, Mother emphasizes, just quick oats. Slop it all together. Drop them on a plate. (Wax paper is even better if you have it.) Pop in the fridge for a few hours and enjoy.
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