School Lunch Peanut Butter Cookies


As featured in “AMERICAN COOKIE: The Snaps, Drops, Jumble, Tea Cakes, Bars & Brownies That We Have Loved for Generations” by Anne Byrn, New York Times bestselling author and former food editor.

Making something as simply delicious as the peanut butter cookie didn’t happen overnight. While peanut butter was invented in the 1890s, and George Washington Carver spent the 1920s extolling the benefits of both peanuts and peanut butter, it took hard times—the war years and the Depression—for peanut butter to gain the spotlight as a source of protein and B vitamins. What was childhood without a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? And what was school lunch without peanut butter cookies?

As farmers faced financial ruin due to price collapses on their commodities in the 1930s, as parents were out of work and their children hungry, the US government stepped in to help through the federally supported lunch program. Not only did the government purchase surplus crops from farmers and feed children a hot meal, but they also employed thousands of women to cook in the lunchrooms and to bake recipes such as peanut butter cookies.

These cookies were perfect for the lunch program because they used lower-cost vegetable shortening instead of butter. They could be baked in bulk. And they could be stored at room temperature. They became a staple at public school lunchrooms as well as private. When the Chicago Tribune profiled the cafeteria manager of the Catholic Marquette Park School in 1961, they found a favorite peanut butter cookie recipe being baked for 1,300 girls by Sister Mary Trinita. Here is that 1961 recipe. And while today peanut allergies prevent many cafeterias from baking peanut butter cookies, you can bake a taste of the past with this recipe.

MAKES: About 4 dozen (2″) cookies; PREP: 10 TO 15 minutes; BAKE: 10 TO 12 minutes


1⁄2 cup creamy peanut butter
1⁄2 cup vegetable shortening
1⁄2 cup light or dark brown sugar, lightly packed (see Baking Tip)
1⁄2 cup granulated sugar, plus about 2 tablespoons for pressing into the top of cookies
1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 1⁄2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1⁄2 teaspoon salt

  • Place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 375°F. Set aside 2 ungreased baking sheets.
  • Place the peanut butter, shortening, brown sugar, and 1⁄2 cup of the granulated sugar in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium-low speed until creamy, about 1 minute. Add the vanilla and egg, and beat on medium-low until the mixture is smooth, about 45 seconds. Turn off the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
  • Whisk together the sifted flour, soda, and salt in a medium-size bowl and turn this into the peanut butter mixture. Beat with the mixer on low speed until the dry ingredients are just incorporated, 45 seconds to 1 minute.
  • Drop the dough in 1″ pieces spaced about 3″ apart on the pans. Press the top of each ball twice with a fork dipped in the remaining granulated sugar, creating a crosshatch pattern. Place one pan at a time in the oven.
  • Bake the cookies until lightly browned, 10 to 12 minutes. Let the cookies rest on the pan for 1 minute, then transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool.

BAKING TIP: Use whatever brown sugar you have on hand. Dark brown sugar creates a dark and flavorful cookie. But most people prefer light.

With AMERICAN CAKE, Anne Byrn took home bakers on a delicious tour throughout history of America’s cakes. Now in her new book “AMERICAN COOKIE: The Snaps, Drops, Jumble, Tea Cakes, Bars & Brownies That We Have Loved for Generations,” Anne is delving into the smaller bites, serving a rich historical background to complement each scrumptious recipe. Byrn reinforces the notion that the small cakes, cookies, and treats we love are more than just baked goods; they are representations of memorable times gone by. AMERICAN COOKIE isn’t just an assorted collection of cherished recipes—it’s a look  at the diverse array of history that has shaped the heart of American desserts. Each of the book’s 100 recipes for bite-size treats tells a big story, and each speaks volumes about the growth and changes in America at the time the recipes first appeared. AMERICAN COOKIE narrates the country’s progress while focusing on the American kitchen, and Anne Byrn whips up a multisensory and incredibly detailed historical experience alongside every recipe. More at

Recipe excerpted from AMERICAN COOKIE. Copyright @ 2018 by Anne Byrn. Published by Rodale Books, an imprint of Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.

The Peanut Patch


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