Promoting passion in book collecting
How much would you pay to get your favorite cookie recipe? Would you shell out $250? That’s what one woman claimed department store Neiman Marcus charged her for their cookie recipe. The story has been proven a hoax, but it continued to recirculate in various permutations for years.
The Neiman Marcus cookie hoax first appeared in newspapers in the mid-1980’s, but it’s likely that the story had existed long before that. Pat Zajak, a representative of Neiman Marcus, told the Chicago Sun-Times in 1992 that the rumor was already circulating when she began working for the company in 1986. The tale goes something like this: A Dallas woman was enjoying lunch at Neiman Marcus with her daughter and ordered some cookies for dessert. She enjoyed them so much, she asked the waitress for the recipe. The waitress declined, so the woman asked how much it would cost to buy the recipe. The waitress replied, “Two-fifty,” and the woman replied, “Put it on my tab!” The woman was then shocked to find that the recipe had cost $250, not $2.50! As revenge, she shared the recipe with everyone she possibly could.
Zajak pointed out several inconsistencies in the story. First of all, Neiman Marcus wasn’t even serving chocolate chip cookies when the story started circulating; they didn’t start serving those until 1997. Furthermore, none of the Neiman Marcus stores in Dallas even had cafes at the time. But because the rumor persisted, Neiman Marcus actually changed its cookie recipe slightly, removing the oatmeal and adding a bit of espresso powder.
Long before the Neiman Marcus cookie kerfuffle, the cost of a recipe for the Waldorf Hotel’s cake was making headlines. On January 29, 1945, Time magazine ran a column about a Kansas City woman who said she’d written to the Waldorf requesting a recipe for a cake she’d savored there. She offered, of course, to pay for the recipe. The woman said that she received a copy of the recipe—along with a bill for $250.
By 1949, the story had changed a bit. A woman from Little Falls, New York claimed that she’d asked for the recipe for the Waldorf’s delicious fudge cake but was turned down. Then she said she’d pay the chef $100 for the recipe, and he gave it to her! Again on February 12, 1964, the San Mateo Times published a story about a woman who had paid $300 for the Waldorf’s red velvet cake recipe. It’s certain that the Waldorf never charged anyone for its recipes; by the 1970’s, it was giving away the recipe just to dispel the rumors.
On January 8, 1986, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that a woman who worked for the American Bar Association called Mrs. Fields Cookies to enquire about the recipe. The woman she spoke with said the cost was “two-fifty,” so the woman provided her Visa number. She was appalled when her Visa statement arrived with a $250 charge from Mrs. Fields! The story ran with a copy of the purported recipe, which the woman wanted to distribute to as many people as possible.
This rumor was so pernicious, company founder Debbi Fields eventually decided to write a letter of response. She noted that the recipe had never been sold, and she even offered to reimburse the woman if she would identify herself. Unsurprisingly, no one ever came forward to take advantage of the offer. Meanwhile Fields reportedly tried the printed recipe and found it quite dry, likely because it contained oatmeal—unlike the actual Mrs. Fields cookie recipe.
Have you encountered any variations of the Neiman Marcus cookie hoax?
Gould, John. A most unusual story of a single recipe as it was told. Lafayette, CA: Roxburghe-Zamorano Clubs, 1992. First Edition. Unpaginated. 26.5 x 19 cm. A lovely tale incorporating the infamous “Neiman-Marcus Cookie” story and The New Meadow Inn Sugar Cookie Recipe. Reproduced by Lester Lloyd, hand set by Bruce Rogers’, presented as a keepsake by Helen Lee to the Roxburghe and Zamarano Clubs in San Francisco, September 1992. Signed by Helen Lee and Lester Lloyd. Details>>
A Surprising North-American family, handwritten, amended, manuscript from the areas around New Westminster, British Columbia to Clackamas Promenade, Oregon- south/east of Portland. “Eats, Nov. 5, 1913″ plus comical drawing of a chef with chef’s hat on free front end paper. “Mrs. J. G. Vasey 1915″ on paste down endpaper. (Found a Patent for “Shake Spitting Machines” for a John G. Vasey, Portland, Oreg. 1955). Multiple family members added information over the years: Page 42, “Date-Nut Cake” added in in pencil (“Brady 1923″). Page 31 “Overnight Nut Cookies” has added on top of page – (Gave Mary this recipe on 11-8-87 by phone – L.) Page 76 has a Tamale pie recipe plus a similar recipe written on back of Howard Johnson’s coupon from Clackamas Promenade. Fascinating look into a long family history of cooking and sharing recipes. Details>>
Rare New-England Cookbook, over 50 pages of delightful recipes including Shrimp Wiggle, Popcorn Pudding, Scotch Woodcock, with an inlaid handwritten recipe for “doughnuts that take so little fat.” Chapters include – Soups, Fish, Meat, Vegetables, Entrees, Salads, Puddings, Pies, Fancy Desserts, Cakes/Cookies, Etc., Bread and Breakfast Cakes, Poultry and Game, Pickles, and Candy, with blank “Memoranda” page after each chapter. Every recipe is followed by local authors name. Unusual advertisements; “Mrs. William’s – Chiropodist/Mrs. Atkins – Asst. Chiropodist & Manicure,” with no address or telephone number, and “T. F. McCaffery – Bread, Cake and Pastry/Home Baker/140 Weir Street, Taunton Mass. Illustration of “Young Men’s Christian Association Building” on front cover. Details>>
Most likely early 20th century, handwritten recipe book commencing with poem “…But where is the man who can live without dining?” Owen Meredith: Lucille. Chock full of recipes for Bread, Cake, Ice Cream & Sherbet, Cookies, Puddings, Supper, and Salad. Many recipes and instructions for Canning, Pickles, and Meat. Concluding with home remedies for Constipation, Croup, Weak Bladder, and White liniment. Handwriting is unchanging, on lined paper, with acknowledgment to original authors. Watermarked paper. Laid in, negative of antique gun. Details>>
General Mills, Inc. 109 Smart New Ways To Serve BREAD Our Outstanding Energy Food. General Mills, Inc., 1934. 52 pages. Beginning with an endorsement by Raymond Hertwig, Secretary of the Committee on Food of the American Medical Association, stating: “Bleached White Flour Wholesome,” letters of recommendations by two doctors, and a forward by “Betty Crocker,” this recipe book is filled with fascinating ways in which one can use white bread. Other endorsements include: Emily Post, Margaret Sullavan, Claudette Colbert, Oscar of the Waldorf, Sylvia Sidney, Mary Astor, and Bette Davis. Black and white, as well as color photos throughout. Details>>
Waldorf. Luncheon, Friday November 29, 1940. New York, 1940. 33 x 20.5 cm. “The Waldorf Bar – a ‘Who’s Who’ and a ‘Here’s How’ of typically American good cheer, good fellowship, good companionship – and good things for to eat and for to drink!” – Irvin S. Cobb. Featuring: Crab Luis, The Rolling Hot Table, and a look back at what the “ladies who lunched.” Details>>