Sent: Friday, June 23, 2017 4:28 PM
Subject: beetle cookies - Santa Monica/Malibu school district
Good afternoon -
I'm hoping you can help me.
Back in the late 60's-early 70's, John Adams Junior High in Santa Monica would offer a cookie
for sale on Fridays only called a beetle cookie. It was large, maybe 6' in diameter, with a
domed shape and a cake like consistency with a few small chocolate chips in the batter.
Currently, I'm making Snickerdoodles, and the scent of them is reminiscent of the beetle cookie
from my early school days. Many years ago, someone told me that the LA Times had published the
recipe, but I was never successful at locating it.
Any chance you could help?
Thank you for your efforts,
The only mention that I can find at all of those “beetle” cookies is on this Facebook page for John Adams Junior High School Alumni:
There is a post there about them. If you are ever going to find the recipe, posting your request
on that Facebook page is probably your best bet. There is no access available to L.A. Times archives
from that long ago, at least not that is free on the web.
There are lots of recipes for “beetle cookies” on the web, but they all refer to sugar cookies cut out in the
shape of a Volkswagen “beetle” and frosted with colored frosting to look like one.
Volkswagen Beetle Cookies
VW Bug Cookie Cutter
I’ll post this for reader input.
Sent: Friday, June 30, 2017 3:50 PM
Subject: Kroger Gingerbread Cookies
Kim again promise this is my last request. All these things I have sent you asking about I have
looked hard on the internet and your site. When I was a little kid and went to the Kroger Grocery
Store in Charleston, WV (early 1970’s) with my mom –if I was good she would get me a gingerbread
cookie from their bakery. I have never seen or tasted another cookie like it. They were large,
thin, crisp and had major red sprinkles all over them. Ive researched a lot of gingerbread cookie
recipes they are all similar with different spices and differing textures but can find nothing
like this. I hope you can help. Sorry to bother you all at once..but I have a memory problem and
I will forget. Also I had forgotten about you until I found your site again by happenchance and
since saved it..appreciate your help. It was a more mellow gingerbread cookie if that helps.
I’m afraid that I have to disappoint you on this one. I cannot find even a mention of these cookies.
I’ll post this for reader input.
I recently read a "Gourmet Detective" novel by Peter King called "Spiced to Death."
In this, the second one in the series, the Gourmet Detective is asked to help authenticate a
recently found sample of a historical spice from the Far East that had been thought to be
extinct for five hundred years. This spice, called "Ko Feng" or "The Celestial Spice",
is said to almost magically make any dish delicious when it is added to it. It also has
legendary powers as an herbal medicine. The spice consists of the stamens collected from
individual flowers of the plant, and it takes thirty thousand stamens to make one ounce of
the spice. Now, out of the blue, forty kilograms of the spice were being offered for sale,
valued in the millions. Theft and murder are involved and "The Gourmet Detective" is on the
Peter King is a Cordon Bleu-trained-chef and a metallurgist who also worked with NASA on the
Apollo spacecraft. In creating his "Gourmet Detective" novels he often used historically unusual
and sometimes mythical ingredients as plot devices, such as "ortolans" in the first one, and
"blue truffles" in another of the novels. So, I was interested in finding out whether there
was ever such a spice as "ko feng" or if it was based on an actual spice that had gone extinct.
I could find no mention outside the book of any spice called "ko feng" having ever existed,
so the puzzle for me was to discover if there is any historical basis for this magical spice.
Did any spice like that ever exist?
There are some expensive spices, to be sure. Top quality saffron sells for hundreds of
dollars an ounce, and is made from the dried stigma of a species of crocus. It takes a
quarter million dried stigmas to make a pound of saffron. There are some localized spices that
are unfamiliar to much of the world, such as "Grains of Selim" (aka "Ethiopian Pepper), and
"Grains of Paradise" (aka "ossame" or "Guinea Pepper"). "Star anise" is sometimes referred
to as "the celestial spice", because of its star-like shape, but it is not rare and it is
certainly not extinct. Truffles have the reputation of being able to enhance any dish
to which they are added and to have medically rejuvenative powers. Although it's not easy,
the truffle fungus can be cultivated if the trees with which they have a symbiotic relationship
are cultivated, and truffles are not extinct, just expensive. Sumac and asafoetida are
Middle Eastern spices that many of us in the U.S. are only vaguely familiar with, but today
these are not difficult to find. You can get them from Amazon.
None of those seems to quite fit the description of "Ko Feng," but there is an ancient
spice that became extinct in about the first century A.D. that may be the origin of the
idea for "Ko Feng." It's called "silphium" or "silphion" or "laserwort" or simply
"laser." "Silphium" is briefly mentioned in "Spiced to Death," and I wanted to know
more about it.
Silphium resin was used as a spice and as a medicine in ancient times by the Egyptians,
the Minoans, the Greeks, and the Romans. It was the most important trade item for the
ancient Greek city of Cyrene, which was near present-day Shahhat, Libya. In fact, it was
so important to them that the Cyrenians put a picture of it on their coins. There are
also glyphs for the spice in Egypt and on Crete. It is thought to be a possible origin
of the heart shape that we use today, because of the heart shape's similarity to the shape
of silphium seed pods.
One of silphium's primary uses as an herbal medicine appears to have been as a contraceptive,
which helps to explain its popularity. As a spice, it was said to accentuate the taste of
anything it was added to, and the meat of cattle grazed on silphium was considered a delicacy.
The Romans called it a gift from the God Apollo. According to Jack Turner in "Spice: The History
of a Temptation": This North African aromatic, ultimately harvested to extinction, turned
Roman gourmets weak at the knees.
The problem with silphium was that it became too popular. It only grew in a small area
on the coast near Cyrene, and it did not lend itself to cultivation. It had to be gathered
wild, and when the Cyrenians began feeding it to their cattle, it was soon decimated to
the point of extinction.
According to most sources, the exact identity of silphium is unclear today. Some believe it
to have been a now-extinct plant of the genus Ferula, which contains plants called "giant
fennel." These "giant fennels" are not true fennels, but are a different family altogether.
On the other hand, some people believe that silphium was a still-existing plant from that same
family called "Ferula tingitana." At any rate, after silphium became extinct, or became so
rare that the trade in it dwindled to nothing, a plant from Iran called "asafoetida,"
which had a similar, but weaker, flavor and a strong odor, came to be used as a (poor)
substitute. Some Romans, including the geographer Strabo, used the same word to describe
both, but Asafoetida, whose seed pods do not appear to resemble hearts, is cultivated in
India, Afghanistan, and Iran. Your supermarket or health food store might have it, and you
can get it from Amazon.
It seems to me that if silphium were an existing plant such as "Ferula tingitana" or
"asafoetida", then we'd know it. It would have become as popular as pepper. Asafoetida is
a member of the genus "Ferula" and has many of the same uses in cooking and herbal
medicine that silphium did, but, for the most part, the ancients apparently considered
asafoetida to be a second-class substitute for silphium.
It appears that Peter King's "Ko Feng" is a fictional spice combining characteristics
of saffron, truffles, and silphium.
There is an interesting article here about silphium: Salon