March 27, 2021


I feel a little guilty that I've been mostly choosing the recipes from the heritage cookbooks that are for baked goods rather than actual meals. I'll try to branch out next week and do a savory meal. It's funny, because I usually stay far away from baking--I'm terrible at it! Interestingly, a lot of the heritage recipes are for baked goods and written by women; the recipes for meat and main dishes are frequently written by men.

I noticed that raisins are very common ingredient in cookies, cakes, and quick breads. I don't love raisins, but I'll eat them and sometimes they taste good in certain recipes. These "cookies" sounded interesting because you boil raisins in water and then use some of the cooking water for the cookies. (I put "cookies" in quotes because these are actually cookie bars--I think they are named Spread Cookies because you "spread" out the dough instead of dropping them on a cookie sheet.)

A note about oleo...

This word reminds me of my grandma (if she was alive, she'd be 106 now--she was born in 1914). My mom taught me when I was young that "oleo" was margarine. I used to think it was a funny old-fashioned word.

I never use margarine. I don't want to call myself a "snob" about it, but I definitely prefer butter. However, in my grandma's and my mom's generations, "oleo" was very common. When I was debating this recipe, I looked up the history of margarine and it was pretty interesting!

In a (large) nutshell: The words "oleo" and "margarine" actually come from one word: "oleomargarine". It was invented in 1869 as a cheap alternative to butter. Originally, it was made of beef fat and skimmed milk; shortly after, the process of hydrogenation (turning vegetable oils into solid fat) came to be. In the early 1930's, there was a shortage of animal fat due to the Great Depression and margarine (hydrogenated oil) became a popular, cheap alternative to butter. This explains why "oleo" or "margarine" is a common ingredient in recipes from the late 1800's through, well, rather recently.

I only bring this up because my only "rule" about cooking/baking the heritage recipes is that I must follow the recipe exactly as written. So, I bought margarine for the first time in probably a decade or more in order to make this recipe. (You could certainly make this with butter; I only used the margarine to follow the recipe as-written.)

As usual, I will write out the recipe exactly as it is shown in the heritage cookbook, and following that, I'll write my notes to clarify.

This recipe for Spread Cookies was submitted to the Rockwood, Michigan Area Historical Society by Darlene Beaudrie in memory of Irene Smith, a kindergarten teacher in South Rockwood in the 1940's. (I tried to find information about her, but I could not--Smith isn't exactly an uncommon last name!)

In the printer-friendly version below, I've rewritten the recipe just for clarity.

Here is a printer friendly version!

Spread Cookies (see notes after recipe)


1/4 c. shortening
3/4 c. sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. soda
1 c. nutmeats, chopped
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 c. raisin water
1 c. (boiled slightly) raisins
1-3/4 c. flour
1/8 tsp. salt


Cream shortening, sugar and eggs. Drain water from raisins and save 1 cup. Add soda to water. Add rest of ingredients. Mix. Spread a thin layer on a greased brownie tin. Bake at 350 F. While warm place on icing of 2 cups powdered sugar, 2 tablespoons oleo, 2 tablespoon shortening mixed well; add 1 teaspoon vanilla and a small amount of milk. Mix well.

My notes:

I think that listing "soda" and "baking soda" was a typo. I used 1 tsp. of baking soda total.

Nutmeats are just nuts (without the shell).

About the raisins/raisin water: I understood it to mean boil the raisins in some water, then set aside 1 cup of boiled raisins. Use 1/2 c. of the water that was used to boil them. I added a scant 1 cup of raisins (knowing they would plump up) to about 1 cup of water on the stove and brought it to a boil. Then I reduced the heat to a simmer for about 3-4 minutes, and separated the raisins and the liquid (keeping only 1/2 cup of the liquid).

I first creamed the shortening, sugar, and eggs, like it says. I prepared the raisins like I described above. I added the baking soda to the raisin water (the water was still very hot--not sure if that mattered!). Then I added the raisin water plus the rest of the ingredients (except for the raisins and nuts) to the bowl with the sugar mixture. I beat it into a thick batter, and then I folded in the raisins and nuts.

The reason these are called "spread cookies" is because they aren't single cookies on a sheet. They are more like cookie bars.

I wasn't sure what size pan to use to bake it. At first, I prepped an 8x8 pan, because that is a typical "brownie-sized" pan. The recipe says to spread it in a thin layer, but after I prepared the batter, there was way too much for a thin layer. So, I used a 9x13 pan and that worked out well.

The recipe doesn't specify how long to bake them, so I started with 10 minutes and then checked them here and there. They ended up baking for 16 minutes, and this is how they looked when I pulled them out:

For the icing: I beat the oleo (margarine), shortening, and vanilla to combine and then I added powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time, beating until smooth each time. I added a little milk when it got too thick--in all, I used about 3 Tbsp. milk. This is the consistency I ended up with:

It says to spread the icing while the cookies/bars are warm (not hot), so I let them sit for about 15 minutes after pulling out of the oven before adding the icing.

These Spread Cookies are SO GOOD. I honestly didn't think I'd like them very much because raisins are a key ingredient, but these remind me very much of carrot cake. The texture is somewhere between a cookie and a cake. The frosting is very sweet, making this really rich (even for me) so just a small piece is satisfying. 

This is a recipe that I'll definitely make again!


  1. Those bars look delicious! (I'm a raisin fan, so that definitely sways my view.) It's really interesting that the meat/mains recipes are submitted mostly by men.

  2. Oleo reminds me of my Grammer who is now 90. That’s very interesting about oleomargarine. These cookie bars look great!

  3. It reminds me a bit of carrot cake, which is my favorite, so I might have to try these!


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