The Lost Art of Preacher Cookies

Preacher cookie, cow patty, poodgie, or no bake cookie. What do you call it?

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, 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?

Preacher Cookies

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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197 Comments

  • Peggy Jo

    Oh yes, I am from Pittsburgh, PA and we made these as kids! In our area they were called cow patties but I also found the same recipe up in New England and they were called Dinosaur Cookies! I always liked that they were made from cocoa powder. Oooo! I think I am going to make a batch right now!

  • Deborah Carter

    I use to teach Culinary Art in a public high school. Sports teams use to have pre-game meals in our department. Mothers would bring these cookies in for dessert. Some had pecans added but one of my favorites left out the cocoa and used brown sugar instead of white. They are really delicious especially for those who cannot have chocolate.
    Also, when we had dipping chocolate left from dipping peanut butter balls, we would mix in peanut butter and oatmeal and make a quick version. They were not fudgy like the original recipe but we used the leftover chocolate instead of throwing it out.

  • Leilani Braden

    I haven’t had these in years (pretty much forgot about them) Now I am going to have to make them.

  • Anonymous

    My Maternal Grandmother made these as long as I can remember(I’m 61& she’s now deceased)! I’ve used her recipe & have always referred to them as Preacher Cookies! Most of my friends have no idea what they are until they see them & say “oh, No Bake Cookies”! I’m from Covington, VA!!

  • Lila

    I learned to make them the 1st time in home ec in high school.. I guess they were unimaginative, they just called them choc. pb no make cookies. But Yummy either way.

  • Katie Stephenson

    My MaMa made them for me and my brother, Brad, but when she spooned them out she made them smaller but higher and we called them haystacks. My brother just sent me an email and reminded me of this. We will make some soon.

  • Dawn

    Made these without the peanut butter with my mother for most of my childhood. It was the only cookie I ate because of my egg allergy. Would not have been Christmas without them. I still make them. Called them unbaked cookies on the Canadian prairies.

  • Michelle

    I’ve always called them chocolate oatmeal cookies and they are a favorite in my family. Thanks for sharing this story, I never knew them by another name. This is the same exact recipe I use and they set up perfect every time. Now, I will have to make some tomorrow. 😀

  • Katie

    We called them “No Bake Quickies”
    Same ingredients with out the peanut butter. The best part is “testing” the consistency to see when it is ready. I could just eat it as a chocolate sauce, forget the oatmeal! lol

  • Rachel sheely

    I have made the, for years. I am from Ohio and we call them ” no bake”
    S onetime so I make them with Hershey’s milk chocolates instead .a little creamier. Yum yum.

  • Marsha W

    I grew up with them being called Alaskan Cookies, but where I live now they are called No Bake Cookies. 🙂

  • Chris

    In Bowie, Md, we call them Raggedy Robins! I make the about 3-4 times a year. Def a family favorite. I believe my 4 older sisters and half of Bowie learned the recipe in home every class in the 60’s and 70’s.

  • Betsy

    I grew up in SC calling these Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies, but when my girls were little we called them groundhog cookies one February 2nd when we made a treat to “celebrate” Groundhog Day, and we’ve called them that ever since.

  • Jill

    We call them “Peanut Butter Delights” but I’ve always thought “chocolate” should be in the title somewhere… =)

  • Maddy

    One of the first recipes we learned circa 1971 in Home-Ec class in Maryland. Called Raggedy Robbins.

  • Dena DiFilippo

    In the picture they look shiny when cooled and my grandmothers always did. I grew up eating these. And when I make them I can never get them to look shiny! I love this newsletter, it brings back memories of growing up in a “holler” in Bell County Kentucky!

  • Connie Burt

    I’ve made them my whole life – just like your recipe – and now my kids make them. I like your story about the “preacher cookie” label but I must confess I am one of those pitifully unimaginative folks with a limited vocabulary. We always called them “no-bake”. 😉

  • Mark Lynn Ferguson

    Connie, I’ve seriously considered editing that bit out. I wrote in years ago, playfully, but I’m discovering that there are a lot “no bake” people in the world.

  • Ann smith

    We call them chocolate oaties or no bake and some people call them boiled cookies. I sometimes leave out the cocoa and add only peanut butter instead. They melt in your mouth. Or add a little coconut to the chocolate cookies or add to the peanut butter ones. Either way they are super good

  • Connie

    Can you believe these were served on our elementary school lunch trays in the 60’s? They were called “Chewy Charlies”.

  • Rebecca C

    As a kid we just called them No Bake Cookies and even made them in school as a class project

  • Anonymous

    I made these every Sunday afternoon from about 10 years old on through high school. I’m sixty- something now and still make them occasionally. They’re soooo good and easy to make .
    My family always called them chocolate no-bake cookie, had never heard them called preacher cookies. That makes sense.
    That is the same recipe I used but recently I’ve found another and I think it’s even better if that’s possible.
    3 cups quick oats
    1 cup choc. chips ( I use milk choc)
    1/4 cup coconut, optional
    1/2 cup chopped pecans
    2 cups sugar
    3/4 cup margarine
    1/2 cup eps pirated milk
    Mix first 4 ingredients in large bowl. Bring remaining ingredients to a boil and boil 1 1/2 min. Pour over mixture in bow and stir until chocolate melts . Drop by teaspoons on waxed paper.

  • Anonymous

    When I was a kid in the 80’s my Uncle (who was more like a brother being only 5 yrs. Older) would come over and we would make these then watch Magnum PI on TV. We know them as oatmeal peanutbutter candy. We lived in Mid-Michigan.

  • Lois Wolf

    I have been eating them sinse 1966, made afew batches myself .

  • Anonymous

    My family called em Preacher Cookies also. I lived in Cali and NY and that was what ours called them

  • clarissa colemire

    my momma would make these when we needed to take something in for a school party. she called them haystacks.(northern ky.). now everyone around here calls them nobakes, (eastern ky.) I still make them but sometimes change around the vanilla to orange,yum. or banana, coconut,and rum.AWSOME

  • CHRISTOPHER SANDERS

    These have and always WILL be “Chocolate No Bakes”. A simple name for a simple cookie. My grandma has been making these for 60 years and learned it from her mother. The recipe was written in her mothers recipe book more than 60 years ago as “Chocolate No Bakes”. This nonsense about Preacher Cookies, Poodgies, cow patties, etc.. needs to stop. We are not Puritans nor are we mathematicians.

  • Kerri Eutsler

    We called the raggedy robins also. We’re from DC, learned to make these in Home Ec, Francis Scott Key MS in about 1973.

  • Rhonda

    I’m from Maryland where they are called Raggedy Robins. I moved to NC and they call them duke wads here. I love them no matter what they are called 😉

  • Becky

    I’m from Northern VA and they were called Preachers cookies. Moved to the midwest and they are called no bake cookies. We always put them in a 9 x 13 pan and cut them into bars. Much quicker than dropping into cookies.

  • Chipi

    I didn’t have any until after I was married, but I quickly made up for lost time! Love them!!

  • Katie

    You mean Welfare Cookies? So named because they could be made with government issued peanut butter, oatmeal and dehydrated milk.

  • Sammy

    I grew up eating and making these. I live in Eastern NC and everyone around here calls them either preacher cookies, or preacher man cookies. And to Mr. Sanders, I hate to tell you this but just because the recipe was written in your grandmothers recipe book 60 years ago doesn’t mean that the name you know them by is the only name they can ever be known by. There are recipes that date back all the way to the late 1800’s that call them everything from “haystacks” to “preacher cookies” and even “hay bales” in one recipe. I think you took too much offense to something that wasn’t even meant to be offensive to begin with. Then again that is just my opinion on the matter.

  • Anonymous

    Preacher cookies are one of the few things my mom made from scratch. Loved them as a child and still do!

  • Anonymous

    I was an Operating Room Nurse, one of my friends// worker called these Turds, for somewhat obvious reasons

  • Lin McCraw

    Living in WV, we always called them “Preacher Cookies”. They were a rite of passage. LOL Anyone can add and/or subtract ingredients but if you want an honest-to-goodness “Preacher Cookie”, I’d stick to the recipe. My grandma and great-grandma used the same recipe as you gave us. It was written on an old piece of yellowed paper in my great-grandma’s Bible. Actually, I heard the Preacher story many times in my 65 yr. old life and do believe it is true.

  • Tamela Baker

    We called them “No-Bake Cookies” (I have mid-west heritage) when I was growing up and I made them for my kids too. My boys each asked for the recipe when they went off to college because with a hot plate and a pan, they could make them in their dorm rooms. Maybe they should be called “Dorm Cookies”!

  • Linda H Helm

    Mom made these when I was a kid and I made them for my son and now my grandsons. We’re from Southwestern Virginia, and everyone calls them Preacher Cookies. They are a favorite at bakesales. My Mom usually added coconut to these cookies.

  • Mary Dutton

    I am from Southwest ,Virginia.Always made my (Preacher Cookies) with Cocoa Sometimes they turned out good and sometimes so hard you had throw out. My brother always made the best .He told me how to make them and now they turn out good every time .Same with my Fudge Instead of Cocoa I now use Real Chocolate Morsels

  • marian schade

    My mother made preacher cookies. We loved them to help make and eat these wonderful cookies.
    I’ve made them for my family for years and added coconut at time for a different taste. A great treat either way…

  • Abby P

    We call em novaks.. no clue why.. so funny though at almost the different names

  • Fracnces

    From very southwestern VA, Appalachian country, and I’ve always known these as Chewy Charlies. My husband’s grandmother makes the best ones I have ever tasted!!

  • Anonymous

    I’m from Ohio and call them no bake cookies. Wal-Mart sells them in the bakery and they’re called no bake cookies on the package.

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