Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Molasses Cookies

I’ve always been a bookish sort of girl… what some might refer to as a “geek” or a “nerd.” Growing up, if given the choice between a trip to the mall or the library, I’d have always chosen the library. No contest. The shelves of the library held unlimited promise—adventure, suspense, romance, mystery—whatever kind of mood I was in, there was a book to match it. It was a blissful feeling, knowing that I could experience the world without ever leaving my small hometown. By the time I was 16, I’d read my way through the young adult section of my local library, and I’d made quite a dent in the adult fiction section as well. I read for pleasure, and also to learn. My favorite genre was historical fiction; I liked being transported to another time and place, experiencing a life that was very foreign from my own. This is why, like so many young readers, I fell in love with the Little House book series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Laura Elizabeth Ingalls Wilder

The Little House books are autobiographical. They’re based on the adventures of Laura Ingalls Wilder, whose childhood was spent on the American frontier as part of a pioneer family. The Ingalls family rode from state to state in a covered wagon, settling first in the Wisconsin woods, then the prairies of Kansas, then the Minnesota plain, and finally the Dakota Territory. They suffered hardships most of us can only imagine—severe droughts, food shortages, illness, a grasshopper plague, freezing blizzards—yet the strength and love of their family helped them persevere.

Some of you might know Laura Ingalls Wilder from the TV show “Little House on the Prairie,” where they used her books as the inspiration for a family TV series. I never watched the show much, but the books were a big part of my childhood. I read the series many times, starting with “Little House in the Big Woods,” where four year-old Laura and her family lived in a log cabin in Wisconsin, and ending with her marriage to Almanzo Wilder in “The First Four Years.”

The Little House book series by Laura Ingalls Wilder

One of the things I remember most about the books is Laura’s vivid, sensory descriptions of the foods they ate. Food was a major focus of pioneer life; living off the land and feeding a frontier family through farming and hunting was a tremendously difficult challenge. Laura’s colorful descriptions of the foods she ate growing up seemed to live on the page.

Laura, her husband Almanzo, and their daughter Rose eventually settled in Mansfield, Missouri in 1894. Laura fell in love with a neglected 40-acre piece of land about a mile outside of Mansfield. The farm, according to the cookbook, is “a crazy quilt of gullies, knobs, slopes, and slants.” Almanzo paid $100 for the land, and Laura named it Rocky Ridge Farm. The farm house still stands, unchanged, as a memorial to Laura and her books. It was here that Laura first wrote the Little House books longhand, the old-fashioned way, with pen and paper.

Rocky Ridge Farm in Mansfield, Missouri. Photo courtesy of the National Register of Historic Places.

Laura was born on February 7, 1867. To celebrate the occasion of her birthday, I tracked down a copy of the now out-of-print book, “The Laura Ingalls Wilder Country Cookbook.” Unlike other Little House cookbooks that have been published, these recipes come from Laura herself. They were found in her personal cookbook, which is actually a scrapbook of recipes and clippings assembled by Laura during the 1930’s and 40’s. This particular recipe, Molasses Cookies, is described as a “hearty, old-fashioned cookie jar cookie.” It’s a delightful recipe that produces soft, delicately spiced, beautifully flavored cookies. I was pleasantly surprised at how delicious they turned out… they’re not quite like any cookie I’ve ever tasted. The hint of orange is unexpected and lovely.

For generations, readers have been captivated by Laura’s firsthand accounts of pioneer living. The Little House books are cherished as a rare glimpse into America’s frontier past. The stories are heartwarming and unforgettable. If you have young children or grandchildren who enjoy reading, introduce them to this book series– they’re sure to fall in love with Laura and her adventures. I treasure the books, just like I treasure this Molasses Cookies recipe… it is part of our family’s kitchen heritage now, as I hope it will be a part of yours.

Laura Ingalls Wilder's Molasses Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsweetened grated or flaked coconut (fresh or dried)
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1 1/2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp orange extract or grated orange zest (or sub 1 tsp vanilla)

You will also need

  • 2 standard cookie sheets
Prep Time: 15 Minutes
Cook Time: 15 - 18 Minutes
Total Time: 30 - 33 Minutes
Servings: about 24 cookies
Kosher Key: Dairy
  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees F and grease two cookie sheets with unsalted butter. If you're using fresh grated coconut, grate it into a bowl and reserve. If using dried coconut, pour the coconut into a small bowl and cover with cold water. Let the coconut soak to rehydrate while you're working with the other ingredients.
  • In a medium mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together. You can cream them by hand (the way Laura would have) or with an electric mixer.
  • Beat in the egg.
  • Beat in the molasses.
  • Drain the water from the coconut and squeeze dry (if you used fresh coconut, skip this step).
  • In a large mixing bowl, stir together the dry ingredients. Add the wet ingredients to the dry along with the orange extract/zest and the coconut. Stir together till a batter forms. Note: If you're not a fan of orange flavoring, sub 1 tsp of vanilla for the orange.
  • Drop the batter by heaping tablespoonfuls onto the greased cookie sheet. The cookies spread quite a bit, so make sure you leave enough space between them. I was able to fit 12 cookies per sheet.
  • Place the cookie sheets in the oven, one on the top rack and one below. Let them bake for 8 minutes. Switch the sheets, lower to upper and upper to lower, and let them bake for 7-10 minutes longer. Cookies are done when an impression made by lightly touching the center of the cookie does not remain. Begin checking at 7 minutes, and test them frequently until they are done-- don't overbake, or the cookies will dry out.
  • Remove the cookies from the sheets and cool them on a wire rack. Serve. Store them in a sealed container like a plastic zipper bag or sealed Tupperware; this will help them stay fresh.

Comments (49)Post a Comment

  1. I am loving looking around your site! I love how you give context for your recipes, and your photos are wonderful. I will definitely be trying out some things here!
    Bookmarking now. :)

  2. These were my favorite books as a child! I do remember how she talked about food in great detail…especially black strap molasses. I am excited to try this recipe – thanks!

  3. LOVE this post!!! I was such a Little House fanatic as a child that my parents actually drove out our way on a trip out west so that I could visit the Wilder home in Missouri. I literally kissed the ground (I was bookish as well)! I feel many warm happy memories when I think about Laura Ingalls Wilder and am happy to know that today is her birthday. Thank you for sharing. And I definitely will try these cookies!

  4. Thanks so much for this post. My nine year old daughter just performed a biography at school for Laura Ingalls Wilder, and she’s enchanted with the books. We’ll be making these tonight for her birthday!

  5. I can relate! Loved the books, loved the TV series, love oatmeal, molasses, coconut and cookies. Nice that this is a LIW original. Thank you for all your lovely blogs – some of the best around. I have recommended your blog to many.

  6. I grew up on Little House. It is a comfort, a happiness for me. Thanks for making me realize that I can share that feeling with my boys through her recipes!

  7. We LOVE the Little House series in our home. I too read them as a young girl and two years ago read them to my two boys. We visited the homestead in South Dakota last summer and had a great time. We are actually in the middle of a book called Old Town in the Green Groves by Cynthia Rylant. It is excerpts of the Ingalls family’s move to Burr Oak, Iowa. Laura never had a chance to publish this herself.

    You’re right about her descriptions! I love your cookies.

  8. I love this post! It brought me back to my childhood and my days of reading about Laura and her family. Like you, I was totally smitten by these books and read them over and over. I had no idea that there was a cookbook out there written by her. I would love to get my hands on it. Wonderful. The cookies look wonderful too. I can’t wait to try them.

  9. I was not even aware that there was any cookbook published-you really did some research and leg work to track this down. All of this does make for an exceptional post. Interesting read and the cookies do look delicious! It is great to come across a vintage recipe and find out more about the history of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

  10. I read these books so many times growing up I practically have them memorized. So special to me! Also remember always getting hungry when reading the descriptions of the food; Ma giving the girls “cracklings” after butchering the hog, the maple syrup candy that they would make by pouring the hot syrup into plates of snow, making the little pats of butter with the wooden strawberry molds, the Wilder boys making flapjacks, grinding wheat to make bread during the long winter, and on and on. Love, love, love.

  11. Love love love the Little House series..my Mom actually forbad me from getting the books on our trips to the library..said I had to read other books…still snuck them in once in a while as I loved them so much. Worth re-reading always.

  12. Oh Tori I love this post. I adore the Little House books. I always loved the show as well. Such history to it. I always tend to like the ones that are telling a real story. I can put so much more emotion into reading it and imagining their life and the stories unfolding in print. You may be too young but there were coloring books called the Gingham Girls that always reminded me of Little House with a dash of Holly Hobby. I have not seen them since I was young. I am going to whip up these cookies this weekend. You know I have a weakness for coconut.

  13. I’m a big fan of books too and can relate to what you said about preferring libraries to shopping. And I love the Little House books and TV series. What I love about this post is the combination of great books and a great recipe.

  14. Just found your blog and love it! Thank you for the wonderful recipes and the step-by-step instructions. I am such unwilling cook I’d die of shame without bloggers like you. I just printed the Baba Ghanoush recipe and off to the kitchen I go. But I wanted to ask you, if you have a recipe for this Yemeni cookie. For a long time I want to track down this simple and hearty cornmeal cookie served with tea at Yemeni houses. It is a round thick cookie, made mostly with cornmeal, the cookie is totally yellow, some yeast, and flavored with black seeds (nigella sativa). I tasted them once hurriedly in a coffee shop in NYC and I never forgotten then. I’ve search the web but there is barely anything from Yemen. BTW I too had all the Laura Ingalls’ books =)

  15. My girls and I loved the Little House books. There was a time when long sundresses and sunbonnets were in style for young girls and I have some charming photos of my daughters dressed in Little House fashion. When we lived in Israel, the one television channel (at that time) ran the tv series, renamed “Little House on the Arava.” Your post brought back many great memories and I am looking forward to making the molasses cookies. I have all the ingredients on hand, so that just might happen today. Otherwise, they might turn up in this year’s mishloach manot.

  16. What a treat to read your blog today. I loved The Little House books too and read them all many times. I especially remember being amazed at how much food Almanzo ate in Farmer Boy. Thanks for the memories and the cookie recipe.

  17. Hours after looking at this recipe I suddenly questioned where Laura Ingalls Wilder would get coconut from (until I recalled that her recipe collection was put together in the 1930s & 40s). :)

    1. Hi Erika and Cheylenna! This recipe comes from Laura’s personal cookbook, which she kept until she passed away. It was her own personal recipe. Laura’s “Little House” books were written from the perspective of a young pioneer girl. Obviously when she was riding in a covered wagon and helping her family settle on the prairie, things like oranges were rare and scarce. As she grew older and the community she lived in (Mansfield, Missouri) became more connected and modern, oranges weren’t as difficult to come by. Remember, she died in 1957– at that point, it wasn’t too difficult to find oranges (seasonally) in most grocery stores in the United States. If you are a fan of Laura’s books, I highly recommend you check out “The Laura Ingalls Wilder Country Cookbook,” it contains many other recipes straight from Laura’s own personal cookbook/scrapbook. It’s out of print, I believe, but can still be purchased from used and vintage bookstores online.

  18. I had 3 sons and read them the little house books. They loved them. So you don’t have to be a girl to like them. My mother would tell them about her life as a little girl and many of the things were the same.

  19. Interestingly I was just reading about the medical condition that really made Mary blind and then I fell in love with the books all over again. Laura Ingalls Wilder lives at least in our hearts!

    1. This recipe was found in Laura’s scrapbook, which was assembled in the 30′s and 40′s. Coconut would have been widely available at that point in Laura’s life, and apparently she did have access to it, since it was in her personal recipe scrapbook. Enjoy!

  20. Thanks for sharing. I looked those books when I was a kid! There was something very special about the way Laura wrote which I have never read before or since then.

  21. I remember checking out one of the Little House books from my elementary school library, and at the back of the book was a section with some frontier recipes. I really wanted to make one of them but it called for lard & maybe one or two other ingredients we didn’t have or weren’t sure what equivalents would be. Somewhere I think I have a photocopy of the recipe pages… might be time to dig them out!

  22. I’ve read The Little Hose series since I was achild and I love the way she wrote how to cook. Here’s I dream for. I love it.

  23. I made these today and thought I’d comment on the flavor and recipe since the rest of the comments are justly targeted at LEW herself. Directions were good and the recipe fairly straightforward. I used orange zest but couldn’t really taste it. Overall the cookies are barely sweet, which I happen to like. My husband suggested adding an orange glaze to up the sweetness and orange flavor. Not true to the old fashioned recipe but potentially delicious. Thanks for sharing!

  24. Hi Tori,
    I am a new food blogger and was looking for something interesting to go with my molasses oatmeal cookies in the way of a story. I love this and would like to refer to your site and this story. May I? Thank you. Anita

    1. Hi Anita– of course you can link to the post! I just ask that you don’t reproduce it or copy/paste the text, rather reference it and link to it. Thank you for thinking of The History Kitchen!

  25. In Israel where I live unsweetened coconut is the norm but it is available only in a finely ground form, not in what looks like flakes or gratings in your photos. Should I alter the amount of coconut to less than 1 cup since the finely ground coconut may weigh more than gratings? Alternatively, what is the weight of your 1 cup of grated coconut before soaking?
    Thank you.

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