Brownie's Food (1899) ★★★

I'm really excited about sharing today's recipe, because it comes from a very interesting little cook book. The Machias Cook Book was published in 1899 and was compiled by a Mrs. Willis H. Allen and "presented to" the Ladies' Social Circle (of Machias, I think we can assume). Machias is a little town in Maine which has the distinction of being the location of the first naval battle in the American Revolution.

The Narrative of the Town of Machias includes a section on the Allen family, but I couldn't find any reference to a Willis H. Allen, which is odd. I found some great information about him on Find a Grave, which tells me that by 1880, at 23 years old, he was a grocer. Willis was married to Clara Frances from 1855 until 1893, and her grave stone references Willis as a deacon. On October 24, 1894, Willis married Hattie F. Pennell, who became the Mrs. Willis H. Allen, compiler of the Machias Cook Book. I couldn't find anything on a "Ladies' Social Circle", but I did find mention of a "Ladies' Working Society", which was connected with the local Methodist church and a "Ladies working Circle" at the Universalist church. Interestingly, an E.V. Allen was pastor in 1904 at the Methodist church, but otherwise no mention of Willis or any Deacon Allen.

As for the submitter of today's recipe, I think found some information on her as well. Marie Kelly is particularly interesting because she was living in Whitewater, Wisconsin, a considerable distance from Machias, Maine. Two other Kellys from Whitewater also submitted to the cook book - Olive V. Kelly and Mrs. H. M. Kelly.
Here is what I have deduced from analyzing census data:
In 1870, Hannah M. and possibly husband John were living in Wisconsin (I say possibly, because another source lists a William Kelly as her son David's father. John might be an uncle, or perhaps the second source was mistaken. However, I believe I've also found John's grave, which lists his death as 1876, explaining why he would be absent in later censuses. The grave is fairly far from Whitewater, but the names and dates match.). Hannah was born in New Brunswick, while John came from Maine - there is the connection to Machias. At this time they had six children: Maine, John, Hannah, Olive, David, and Thomas. An 1895 census lists an H M Kelly living in Whitewater, with three females and two males in the household. This could be a match for the Kelly family, as several of the children died, along with Hannah's husband. We also know that five years later, in 1900, the census lists only five people in the household. This included Hannah the elder, Hannah (her daughter), Olive, David, and "Maron." At first I thought that Maron was one of Hannah's children, but I think she was actually her daughter-in-law. The 1910 census shows David and Marion - spelled correctly this time - married to each other and living on their own. I think that Marion is a good match for the Marie Kelly from the cookbook, because it seems like a plausible nickname and we know that Olive and Hannah both contributed as well. However, I could be completely off base here - Marie might be a relative of the family or a completely different person and a highly remarkable coincidence.

It seems that Hannah's maiden name was also Kelly, according to Find a Grave. A very detailed obituary provides some more insight into the family's life and connection to Machias. Hannah's father was David Longfellow Kelly. Longfellow was one of the earliest families to populate Machias, and the Narrative of the Town of Machias contains a very long and confusing account of their genealogy. Furthermore, one of Hannah's grandchildren was named Pennell C. Kelly - an interesting choice for a first name. I wonder if there was some connection between Hannah and Hattie Pennell, the compiler of the cookbook. Using last names as first names was a common practice in this time period, as a way for women to sort of pass on their maiden names and pay homage to their family heritage.

It seems that both Hannah and her daughter-in-law, Marion, were quite socially active in a variety of groups, especially religious ones. It wouldn't be surprising, then, that they would chose to contribute to a community cookbook.

Also, it should be noted that the Kellys were not the only out of town contributors. There are also recipes from Minnesota, Massachussets, California, Washington D.C., Iowa, Vermont, and other towns in Maine.

The reason why this particular recipe is so exciting is that it is possibly the earliest printed recipe for brownies (as the chocolaty confections we know today)! Credit goes to Rachel Moran for discovering the recipe. See the timeline below to get an idea of the evolution of brownies. If you're looking for more in-depth research, I highly suggest New England Recipes: History of Brownies or The Story Behind the Dish.

1893 - Palmer House Brownie invented, but original recipe does not appear to have been written down (includes extra chocolate, walnuts and apricot glaze)
1896 - "Brownies" published in the Boston Cooking School Cook Book (no chocolate, uses molasses, 1 egg, and nuts, directions to bake like small fancy cakes)
1897 - "Brownies, in 1-lb papers" for sale in Sears-Roebuck Catalogue, under "Fancy Crackers, Discuits, Etc." [sic]
1898 - "Chocolate Brownies" for sale in an ad for confections in the Kansas City Journal
1899 - "Brownie's Food" published in the Machias Cook Book (2-part recipe, no eggs, no nuts, bake in layers, frosting)
1901 - "Chocolate Brownies" for sale as Easter candy in an ad in The Minneapolis Journal
1903 - "Chocolate Brownies" for sale as Christmas candy in an ad in The Washington Times
1904 - "Brownies" recipe published in Home Cookery (eggs, nuts, vanilla, directions to "cut into bars")
         - "Bangor Brownies" recipe published in Service Club Cook Book (eggs, walnuts, directions to "spread on baking tins")
1905 - "Brownies" recipe published in Home Cook Book, Practical Recipes by Expert Cooks (uses eggs, lemon zest, directions to "roll out and cut in brownie or other shapes")
         - "Bangor Brownies" recipe published in the Boston Daily Globe (eggs, walnuts, directions to "spread thin in buttered pans" and "cut before cold")
1907 - "Bangor Brownies" recipe published in Lowney's Cook Book (eggs, nuts, directions to "cut in strips")
         - "Lowney's Brownies" recipe published in Lowney's Cook Book (eggs, nuts, directions to "cut into squares")
1910 - "Brownies" recipe published  in the Boston Cooking School Cook Book (eggs, walnuts, vanilla, directions to "cut into strips")

As you can see, the 1899 recipe is quite different from all the rest, as it calls for layers, frosting, does not include nuts or eggs, and altogether seems to be more of a cake recipe than a bar.

Original Recipe:

The Verdict:

I dunno...I was kind of disappointed by these, I guess. I tasted the batter and it was really yummy, but after baking it was like all that yummy chocolateness just evaporated. Plus it baked up really badly...yeah, I can only portray this visually:

I also totally and completely under baked these. But it didn't really matter anyway, since the batter exploded. It was also extremely sweet, which I would consider unusual for historical desserts. The brownies themselves were fairly sweet and then on top of that the icing was essentially pure sugar. It was just too much.

I'm not sure if this is just a fail recipe or if I did something wrong. But the taste was so "meh", I'm not sure I care to try again. I guess I'll give three stars, because if fully cooked and if icing is used extremely frugally, it is okay enough that I don't feel I'd be uncomfortable if forced to eat it.

But is this a brownie recipe? I think I'd be comfortable saying yes. It had the same kind of dense, chewy texture of a brownie, even though it didn't turn out right. The layering and frosting is a bit odd, but the texture seemed right to me. And most importantly, it actually contained chocolate!

Modernized Recipe:

(Adapted from Machias Cook Book)

1 1/2 cup BROWN SUGAR
1/2 cup MILK

1/2 cup BUTTER
1/2 cup MILK
2 cups FLOUR
1 teaspoon BAKING SODA
1 teaspoon VANILLA

1/2 cup CREAM

1. In a medium saucepan, melt the brown sugar, milk, and grated chocolate. Bring to a boil to dissolve the sugar and chocolate. Let cool.
2. In a mixing bowl, beat together the butter and sugar. Add the milk, flour, and baking soda. Mix in the cooled chocolate mixture.
3. Bake in layers at 350F until a toothpick comes out clean (maybe 30-40 minutes?). Beat together the cream and powdered sugar to make the frosting.

Anje graduated with a Honours Bachelors degree in History with a minor in Museum Studies. She currently lives and works in Japan's least populous prefecture as an assistant English teacher.


  1. Thanks for your research into solving the mystery of the brownie. I heard brownies were invented accidently by some sorority girls who screwed up a blondie recipe. It's weird that this recipe doesn't include eggs - seems more like a big giant chocolate biscuit than a brownie. I do like the use of brown sugar instead of granulated white sugar. Toss in an egg to this recipe and you get a chocolate blondie.

  2. Hi - I am related to Hannah Kelly - David Longfellow Kelly is my great grandfather. My great grandmother is Rebecca S. Kelly who married Rev John Kelly. I ordered the cookbook from Amazon. Thank you for the amazing genealogy!