In today’s electronic world, a cookie jar (as I understand it) is a storage place for computer cookies, which are small files placed on a user’s computer by a website they have visited. One of the purposes of these cookies is to make surfing the internet a smoother experience because the computer remembers the sites you like to visit.
Cookies also monitor our online shopping and buying habits. I suspect a cookie is responsible whenever I have been window shopping on the Amazon or L.L. Bean websites, then open my Facebook timeline and find the same items pictured that I was thinking about buying.
However, these are not the kinds of cookies or cookie jars I want to write about today. I have a tastier version in mind.
When I was growing up, my family had a pottery cookie jar that sat on the kitchen counter. It was burnt orange in color with a handle on either side, and it had magnolias on the front. And for some reason, our cookie jar made a lot of noise whenever the lid was taken off or put back on.
Photo taken by Paul Bolinger, Denton, Texas
Our mother baked cookies sporadically, so my brother and I were in the habit of checking the cookie jar most days after school. We were absolutely delighted whenever we opened the lid and found the jar completely full of homemade peanut butter or chocolate chip cookies. I wish I had a picture of us with the cookie jar from those days!
Because the cookie jar made such a loud and distinct noise whenever the lid was opened, it became a running joke in my family whenever we heard the sound. Usually someone would call out, “Who’s in the cookie jar?” and then the guilty party would show up with a yummy cookie in hand and a smile on their face.
I asked my mom recently if she still had the cookie jar and if she remembered where she got it. She does still have it and she thinks someone gave it to her but she doesn’t know who or when. It was in our kitchen as far back as I can remember so the cookie jar must be at least 50 years old.
Modern cookies jars are a fairly recent invention. The early predecessors to cookie jars were the “biscuit jars” in 18th century England. A biscuit was a scone or a small tea cake pastry served at tea time and stored in a biscuit jar to keep it fresh.
When the English first migrated across the Atlantic, they brought their biscuits and biscuit jars with them. General stores and bakeries kept the biscuit jars on their counters filled with all kinds of baked goods. Each day, women would make a trip to the bakery or store for whatever fresh baked goods were needed to feed their families.
A Depression Glass biscuit jar passed down to me
During the Great Depression from 1929 – 1939, people had a lot less money and couldn’t afford to make daily trips to the bakery any longer. There was a huge increase in home baking and people would store their baked goods in coffee cans or in empty cardboard oatmeal boxes. It soon became apparent that there was a need for a more suitable storage container for cookies and other baked goods.
Early cookie jars were made of glass with metal lids. The first known ceramic cookie jar was produced in 1929 by the Brush Pottery Company in Zanesville, Ohio. The jar was green and had the word “Cookies” embossed across the front.
In the early days, most cookie jars were fairly plain and often had a bean pot shape. But it didn’t take long before cookie jars were available in all different designs and colors. The years from 1940 to 1970 are considered the golden age of American cookie jars when almost every home had one sitting on their kitchen counter.
Cookie jars came in every shape, size and color and were produced as figures of people, household items, vegetables, fruits, animals, birds, fish, toys and cartoon characters. There were also decorative cookie jars like the one we had, with flowers and other designs on the outside of the jar.
Leading cookie jar manufacturers during this time were McCoy Pottery of Roseville, Ohio and American Bisque of Williamstown, West Virginia. There were many other well respected cookie jar manufacturers as well, including Hull Pottery, whose owners could possibly be distant relatives of my husband’s family.
My grandfather’s cookie jar made by McCoy Pottery
When my children were growing up, we had a green and white Longaberger Pottery cookie jar. Of course, it was a very popular kitchen destination during those years. I still have it but it hasn’t had cookies in it for quite a while. It simply isn’t as fun to fill the cookie jar when there aren’t any children around to check it for cookies. Perhaps someday when I have grandchildren, I will be motivated to fill our cookie jar again.
Like button boxes, cookie jars are often one of those sentimental items in families around which our memories are made. Do you have a cookie jar in your family and a story about it? Feel free to leave a comment. I’d love to hear your stories and to see pictures of your cookie jars!
Author’s note: When my three were growing up, we used to play a memory game called “In Mama’s Cookie Jar.” The first person would begin by saying, “In mama’s cookie jar there is a diamond ring” (fill in the blank). The second person would say, “In mama’s cookie jar there is a diamond ring and a ninja turtle…and the game would continue until the cookie jar was full of many things. The person who could remember them all in order was the winner. It was fun because we could play with two people or with lots of people, and some very funny things would end up in that cookie jar!