Mysterious history of the Fortune Cookie

By Caryl Clem

The element of surprise and suspense in a dessert amplifies celebrating sharing food.  In Chinese and Japanese restaurants the end of a meal reveals clues to your immediate future.  A slip of paper hiding in the middle of a fortune cookie will offer lucky numbers, a wise saying or fateful prediction. Passing out the traditional free fortune cookie appears to be a time honored legend.  The first forerunner of messages printed on food was the NECCO Conversation Hearts in 1866.

Digging into these cookies past, I realized I knew nothing factual about this treat.  The biggest supplier of this product is a Chinese food company, Wonton Food based in New York, yet the origin of the cookie is Japanese. A Japanese confectionery store owner, Suyeichi Okamura, supplied a famous Japanese restaurant owner of the Tea Garden at Golden Gate Park with this Japanese regional favorite. Several hand skillet molds donated to the Smithsonian, were developed by Mokoto Hagiwara to shape this delicacy. In 1908, the larger than today’s version of a fortune cookie was making its first debut with a slip of paper lodged in a fold outside of the cookie. .

The Tea Garden was shut down when Japanese business owners were sent to internment camps in California during World War II. Chinese business owners took advantage of the opportunity to produce this dessert and devised a smaller cookie with the fortune hidden inside.   The cookie became associated with a new nationality, Chinese.  Ironically, in most Chinese restaurants the fortune cookie tradition is honored with the exception of China.  Romance seekers in the Chinese culture use the fortune cookie as a means to propose, especially on the most romantic holiday of the year the Double Seventh Festival, August 7th, 2021.

Ready to dive into food and your future, National Fortune Cookie Day is July 20, 2021.  If you are ready to cook then Amazon offers Fortune Cookie kits, or try EASY FORTUNE COOKIES

Amber Bakery and Dressels

When getting cakes for birthday parties as a child for the kids, they were decorated beautifully. And it was always Ambers for the kids birthday party or school functions; a yellow cake with white frosting. Though I think I liked their cookies the best! The Ambers family lived across the street, owning a duplex and living on the second floor. I baby sat for the family that lived on the first floor. Ambers owned two shops; the South Shore location was at 2326 East 71st street and 9157 South Commercial Ave; the last address was the one we visited. Ambers did sponsor many school functions and celebrated the opening of Buckingham school in 1962.

I was never a strong cake lover because my favorite dessert, even to this day, is ice cream. Just recently, I read that ice cream is good for breakfast…can’t picture that yet. However, Dressels, really changed all that and a wonderful article in Lost Recipes actually has a home recipe for their chocolate whip cream cake. Mom would have this cake at parties when the adults were present. And Dressels was one of the first where their chocolate cream cake could be purchased and frozen called frig-freez cake. It was delicious and I passed.. on ice cream.. when we had Dressels.

Dressels were originally made in Chicago at a plant on the south side. William Dressel left home with his brother, Joseph, in Wisconsin,  to start a business in Chicago in 1913. Herman, their other brother, joined them 10 years later. There first bakery was at 33rd and Wallace developing the first whipped cream cake. In the 1940’s, Dressels was selling over 10,000 cakes per week and by 1963, Dressels was celebrating their 50th Anniversary. Dressels was also a leader in frozen foods with  annual sales of 3.5 million. Later in 1963, the firm was sold and expanded by American Bakeries Inc.

The Dressel’s cake is still being made at Wolf’s Bakery in Evergreen Park, which has been serving baked goods since 1939. In fact, Wolf’s Bakery at 3241 W. 95th St. has been selling its version of the cake since 2009. Many customers have commented that the cake tastes exactly the same.

Even though the hours are early morning as I write with my coffee, I am getting hungry. Not for breakfast food or ice cream either!!

Chicago Cookies

Every time I think of the butter cookie in the blue box, I hear the Salerno Butter Cookie song in my head constantly. It was famous in the 1960’s and continued on through the years though butter cookies were not my favorite. Though I did like putting them on my fingers like a ring.I have always been a chocolate fan especially a rich, chocolate chip cookie. But Salerno has been a favorite since 1933. The original factory was located at 4500 West Division in Chicago and Alyce Salerno was the last of the original Salerno cookie owner who died in 1985. Her father originally began the company. Since, the company and recipe has been repeatedly  sold  you can still get the cookies online and in many grocery stores.

Maurice Lenell: My Mom always served the pinwheel swirl cookie and jelly star cookies with coffee and for guests. Not sure why they were the rage since, again, it was always a chocolate chip cookie…even today. Maurice Lenell grew up working at a small Swedish bakery on the northwest side of Chicago. In 1937, when he struck out on his own, Maurice used his hands-on baking knowledge and many of the family recipes to produce his own cookie jar favorites. Maurice Lenell signature cookies soon became a Chicago institution.  In 2008. Maurice Lenell cookies finally closed its doors. The Cookie Store and ore opened in 2010 to serve as the unofficial outlet for the brand but it has been closed since 2015.

Lorna Doone is a golden, square-shaped shortbread cookie produced by Nabisco. It was possibly named after the main character in R. D. Blackmore’s 1869 novel, Lorna Doone. The original cookie recipe came from the Malloys. The couple came from County Cork, Ireland. Emily and John Malloy ran a bakery in Chicago. The couple came from County Cork, Ireland. Emily had created the recipe, but when they closed down the bakery, John sold the recipe to Nabisco.