Say “Christmas cookies” to me and my mind goes to a childhood favorite that warms my heart – and makes my mouth water – still today: Peanut Blossom Cookies. It is just not Christmas to me without them.
Many people call these cookies Peanut Butter Blossoms, but the recipe card in my collection written in my Mom’s handwriting says “Peanut Blossoms” (the name they were known by decades ago) so that’s what I have always called them.
Growing up during the 60’s and early 70’s, I spent many hours with my Nana and Mom as they cooked and baked family favorites. As the years went by, they enlisted help from the eager kid who never left their side while they buzzed around our small Coal Region home kitchen.
I remember sitting at our kitchen table (perched on a yellow vinyl and chrome chair) watching my Mom gather the ingredients for these cookies. She always used Skippy brand peanut butter for this recipe, in her mind no other would do.
My job every year was to unwrap and place the Hershey’s Kisses that got pressed onto the top of the cookie as they came out of the oven. We did not have cooling racks; Mom would spread out strips of wax paper on the corner of the table and slide the cookies onto them to cool.
I would come along and deposit the Hershey’s Kiss on the top of the cookie, pressing them down slightly to make sure they adhered. I vividly remember sitting in wait until the next tray was ready to come from the oven. I would watch the kisses I had just put on the hot cookies start to melt; the shine of warming chocolate slowing ascending toward the tip of each Kiss.
As many times as Mom would issue her warning, “Don’t touch the kisses while they are warm!” I would inevitably reach out a tiny finger and give the last little tip of yet-to-soften chocolate a slight downward press forming a little “dimple” on the top of the Kiss. Mom used to act like it annoyed her, but I later learned she did the same thing a time or two when she made these while baking alone!
The beginnings of a classic
In the 60’s, the recipe for Peanut Blossoms was fairly new. History tells us a cook from Gibsonburg, OH named Freda Smith made the first Peanut Blossom cookies in 1957, basically by accident.
After making cookie dough, Freda went to her pantry and realized she didn’t have any chocolate chips. She did, however, have some Hershey’s Kisses. Freda decided to place a Kiss on top of each cookie as they came out of the oven.
According to the 1957 Pillsbury Bake Off contestant biography, Freda was the wife of Chester Smith, owner of a trucking company in Gibsonburg. She was active in her community as a member of her local American Legion and president of her church’s Altar Society. An avid baker since the age of eight, she had entered the Bake-Off Contest every year since it began and had devised Peanut Blossoms as a special treat for her grandchildren. Mrs. Smith hoped to use the prize money to remodel her home.
Creator of Peanut Blossom Cookies
One more try at the grand prize
Her family loved the results of the “happy accident.” Freda decided to use the recipe as the basis for an entry in the 1957 Pillsbury Bake Off Contest. Freda was one of a 100 contestants chosen for the finals and was flown by Pillsbury to Beverly Hills, Ca., to participate in the contest. (The contest had been held in New York City prior to 1957.).
Held in the The Beverly Hills Hotel, the contest emcee was a young actor who leaned over to kiss Freda during the contest – that actor was future President of the United States, Ronald Reagan.
At the contest, Freda’s Peanut Blossoms did not win as she had hoped; the Grand Prize of $25,000 was earned by Gerda Roderer’s “Accordion Treats” — an Alsatian-type cookie that got its unique shape by being baked in pleated aluminum foil. Freda did get the General Electric range she used in the competition, a mixer, and $100 spending money.
As others faded, one recipe endured
These many decades later, the 1957 grand prize recipe has sort of ridden off into the sunset while Freda’s Peanut Blossom cookies have taken their place in history, finding their way into hearts — and onto cookie trays — here in our beloved Coal Region and far beyond. In 1999 Freda’s Peanut Blossoms were one of ten recipes inducted to the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest Hall of Fame at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
Part of the rise to fame these cookies experienced was due to the Hershey Company sensing a great opportunity for promotion. The company placed the recipe for the cookies on the back of Hershey Kisses bags introducing the cookies to bakers far and wide.
Freda died in 1963 but in 1965, the Pillsbury Company flew her daughter, JoAnne Lytle, and granddaughter, Kay Lytle Walter, to New York to make a commercial of them baking the beloved cookie. (Jo Anne Smith Lytle once told the newspaper The Toledo Blade that her mom had originally named the cookie “Black-eyed Susans,” but Pillsbury later had renamed them.)
My Mom’s way
My Mom always did one thing when making these cookies: used Skippy brand peanut butter and Crisco brand shortening. I have always used Crisco brand but occasionally use Jif or Peter Pan brand peanut butters with satisfactory results (forgive me, Mom!). I have had some unpleasant results when I tried the cookies using some store-brand ingredients. I realized that my Mom never deviated, so therefore, neither do I anymore. I believe the proper chew and texture of the cookie depends a lot on the fat content of the peanut butters which is why I get my best results using certain brands, but that’s just a guess on my part. You are certainly free to use what you personally prefer in these cookies.
Read the whole article and find the recipe on A Coalcraker in the Kitchen