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Not Joe Mamma's Cookies: Legend of the Joe Frogger

Joe Frogger
We love the Seattle Public Library. Not only is it a feat of architecture (designed by Rem Koolhaas) and a fantastic place for people-watching, but we find some of the best literary gems there (including arguably the best cookbook ever-- Cooking in WetLeather, a biker cookbook with the tag "Ride Safe, Eat Dangerously"--but we digress.)

Proper Joe FroggerLove Cookie
Our most recent discovery though was the first edition print of Betty Crocker's Cooky Book, which, packed as it is with recipes and little historical tidbits, led us to the legend of the Joe Frogger.

What is a Joe Frogger? According to Betty, they are "famous molasses cookies made long ago by old Uncle Joe of Marblehead, Mass. The cookies are as plump and dark as the little frogs that lived in the pond near Joe's cottage." Not too sweet, and with a crisp texture, they are a solid cookie indeed (picture of a "proper" Joe Frogger above left--we've taken liberties with the shapes of the others in this writeup).

But a little bit of further digging revealed a life as rich in history as the cookie is plentiful in molasses. Joe Brown, aka "Black Joe", was born in Massachusetts 1750 to a black mother and Native American father--a time when most wealthy Marblehead families still owned several slaves. Unfortunately, we weren't able to find much about his youth, but it is speculated that by the time he reached manhood he "must have been gainfully employed for his name does not appear as one of the black "drifters" forced out of Marblehead in 1788, when...Town Meeting ordered all former slaves to find work or leave". 
Joe clearly had it going on though--he married a woman 22 years his junior, Lucretia Brown, and he even bought property in the area, a house on Gingerbread Hill (!). It was a lengendary spot, converted to a rooming house which was one of the few places in town where whites and blacks mixed freely. And oh, did it have a colorful reputation (from Marblehead Magazine)--
according to Marblehead Historian Joseph Robinson, "a more uncouth assemblage of ruffians could not be found anywhere." It would not be surprising if the term "Down bucket!" originated here, that fearful Marblehead expression warning those below that the contents of the chamber pot where about to be flung out a bedroom window.
Just thinking about these antics makes us hungry--and that's where the famous molasses cookies come into the picture--they were the tavern's signature food item.
Joe Froggers
But the Joe Froggers themselves were only named after Black Joe--they were not actually his invention. The cookie was apparently dreamed up by his wife Lucretia (aka "Aunty Crese"). The cookies, which keep for long periods, were named for her husband and the amphibians who lived in the pond by the house; because they keep for a long time, the cookies were an ideal choice for travel and were frequently taken on fishing trips and even longer sea voyages. There was also a lesser-known variation, the "Sir Switchels" which were popular too, described as a "thirst-quenching blend of water and molasses, which a touch of vinegar to cut the sweetness."

Cuppie has identity crisisCuppie is a cookie?
Unfortunately it's better to be the one the cookie's named after rather than the namer--while Black Joe has an impressive gravestone and is a part of Marblehead lore, Lucretia's resting place is not known (though apparently she does get a mention in the novel The Hearth and Eagle by Anya Seton. )



But perhaps the Marblehead Magazine sums it up best: 


Still, as long as frogs continue to hatch in Marblehead ponds and the aroma of gingerbread fills Marblehead kitchens, the lives of Black Joe and Aunty 'Crese will be as sweetly remembered as the taste of their warm Joe Frogger.

We used Betty Crocker's version (which is vegan!); it can be found below, or in the Betty Crocker's Cooky Book. 


Joe Froggers

  • 1/2 Cup Shortening
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup dark molasses
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 4 cups Gold Medal Flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ginger
  • 1/2 tsp cloves
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmet
  • 1/4 tsp. allspice

Directions: Mix well shortening and sugar. Stir in molasses and water. Measure flour by sifting. Stir dry ingredients together; blend into shortening mixture. Chill dough several hours or overnight.
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Roll dough 1/4 inch thick on floured board. Cut in 3-inch circles. Sprinkle with sugar. Place no a well-greased baking sheet. Bake 10 to 12 minutes. Leave on baking sheet a few minutes before removing to prevent breaking. Store in covered cookie jar. Makes 3 to 4 doz. cookies. Note: if you use self-rising flour, omit salt and soda.
Two additional notes: A few questions have come up as a result of this article. The first one is, are Joe Froggers delicious? Well. They're an old school cookie, very spicy and molasses-y, and not too sweet. We'll admit it openly though--we liked ours better with a dab of frosting on top.

The second question is "Why does Cuppie look so sad?". Well, you see, he's having a moment of identity crisis--"am I a cookie...or a cupcake?". It's a poignant moment indeed, speaking to all of those who have ever felt like the proverbial square peg.




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Reader Comments (29)

Anya Seton had a knack for finding interesting women to write about!

August 16 | Unregistered CommenterWendyB

jessie, you inspire me. i can't wait to pick your brain! :-D

I love your researchs about sweets! And this sweet sounds delicious :) Thanks for sharing
Love the CakeSpy cookie.

August 16 | Unregistered CommenterIsa

Excellent read!

August 16 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

neat story! thanks for sharing. also super cute job on the cookie cupcake.

August 16 | Unregistered Commenterjennifer

This is an interesting story - thanks for taking the time to research the history of Joe Froggers. I like the cookie in the shape of the Cakespy logo far better than the traditional one ;)

August 17 | Unregistered CommenterCakelaw

Aww, I love the Cuppy Cookie!

add this to the growing list of cookies that i didn't know existed and want to eat immediately. however, i do like my molasses cookies rolled around in cinnamon-sugar before baking--it makes all the difference. :)

August 17 | Unregistered CommenterGrace

Good info and AWESOME cuppie cookie...I would feel WAY too guilty eating it! Look at how afraid he is!! Nice job!!!

August 17 | Unregistered CommenterC.L.

Wendy: Have you read her books? I haven't but I guess I should start!

MKE Cupcake Queen: You're too sweet! xo! Can't wait to meet you!!!

Isa: Thanks! That cookie was yummy too.

Christina: Thanks!

Jennifer: thank you, glad you liked the cookie!

Cakelaw: Me too. I did eat it by the way. :-)

Melisser: Thanks! He's having an identity crisis--"Am I a cookie or a cupcake!?"

Grace: We added frosting to some of them before eating and it was wonderful.

CL: I didn't feel any remorse eating him. :-)

August 17 | Unregistered CommenterCakespy

Cuppie's become a biscuit? Is this some kind of cross-baking genre mutation?
Biscuits look great

Excellent read on Joe Froggers and many thanks for sharing this with us! Just love those cupcake cookies :)

Rosie x

August 18 | Unregistered CommenterRosie

Thanks for the info I enjoyed reading it. The cookies are super cute :-)

August 18 | Unregistered CommenterSnooky doodle

It's been such a long time since I've looked at this blog! I've missed it so! Love the cookies!

August 18 | Unregistered CommenterRage And Love

that cupcake cookie is too cute!

August 18 | Unregistered CommenterMegan.

Cuppy cooky is so cute!

I've read a couple of Anya Seton's novels (Katherine and Green Darkness). They're really well-written and thoroughly researched.

That said, her audience was a different era, so the books are once removed from a bodice ripper despite their historical background.

Wendyb is correct...Ms Seton definitely could find interesting women to write about!

August 18 | Unregistered CommenterOwl Chick

Thanks for the story!

That's one cookie I've seen in many books but have never tried.

August 18 | Unregistered CommenterAnna

Just a quick little note, this recipe is only vega if you use vegetable shortening. Some people still think of lard as shortening.

August 18 | Unregistered CommenterDana McCauley

Wow! What tireless research on behalf of cookianistas everywhere. Thanks!

August 18 | Unregistered CommenterAnne-Marie

Born and raised Marbleheader here! Great info about the Joe Frogger. Come visit and have an authentic Frogger on the beautiful harbor :)

August 19 | Unregistered CommenterSamantha

Ohhh the cupcake cookie!! SO cute!

August 19 | Unregistered Commentereatme_delicious

I think I've heard of these cookies before, but not as much detail! I'm not a molasses fan, but I almost want to make these because of their history!

August 19 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah

Caked crusader: I think it's a little bit of an identity crisis! :-)

Rosie: You're welcome, glad you enjoyed!

Snooky: You're welcome and thanks!

Rage and Love: We've missed you too! xoxo.

Megan: Thanks!

Owl Chick: I've got to check out some of those books. I love "once removed from a bodice ripper". :-)

Anna: You should try them! I think they're worth giving a try, not hard to make at all!

Dana: Good point! Yes, it would only be vegan with vegetable shortening.

Anne-Marie: No problem. We live to give. :-)

Samantha: ooh, fantastic! Are they in like every bakery there? I am so curious!

Eat Me Delicious: Thanks!

Deborah: They're a molasses-y cookie. Maybe you'd like them better with a nice dollop of vanilla buttercream, that's how we liked them best. :-)

August 19 | Unregistered CommenterCakespy

This is a great article! I was never a fan of molasses-based gingerbread cookies till I discovered the magic that happens when you stick two together with a generous spoonful of lemon buttercream. Much too good.
Thanks for the recipe, and the research!

August 19 | Unregistered CommenterSandy Smith


August 21 | Unregistered CommenterVeggieGirl
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