Joe Froggers

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Joe Froggers are a type of cookie with molasses, rum, and spices that has been popular in New England since the late 18th century.  The cookie is named for Joseph Brown, AKA Uncle Joe, the proprietor of “Black Joe’s Tavern,” in Marblehead, Massachusetts, which he bought in 1795.  The house was both his residence and the site of the tavern. Black Joe’s Tavern was known as a racially integrated gathering place for hard-drinking fishermen.  Brown was a former freed slave, born to an African-American mother and a Wampanoag father.  It is believed he may have been freed as a reward for his military service in the American Revolutionary War.  Since the tavern was situated on the edge of a frog pond, the cookies soon became known as “Joe Froggers.”

Black Joe’s Tavern

The cookies were popular with the local fishermen and sailors because they kept well on long sea voyages.  The original recipe for the cookies was invented by Brown’s wife, Lucretia Thomas Brown, known as “Aunt ‘Crease,” who worked in the tavern with her husband.  After Joe died, his daughter gave the recipe to the wife of one of the fisherman and soon all the women in town began making the cookies and sold them for a penny apiece.

In 1976 the town of Marblehead erected a memorial to Joseph Brown to mark the American Bicentennial.  Black Joe’s Pond is named for him, and a nearby wooded area was named the Joseph Brown Conservation Area in 1973.  The tavern, built in 1691, is still standing.  As a tribute to the history of the Joe Frogger cookies, they are sold in the National Museum of African-American History and Culture, and also sold at the Old Sturbridge Village Bakeshop.

Lucretia Thomas Brown’s original recipe for Joe Froggers has been lost, but there are many similar versions in cookbooks and online.  The recipe I found was from an old Parade magazine article by former food editor Beth Merriman.  The clipping is very yellowed and fragile so I am not sure of the year it was published.  It uses molasses and all the spices usually found in molasses cookies, but instead of rum uses rum extract.

I had to use my little ceramic frog to go with the cookies, and I have decided from now on to call it “Uncle Joe.”

The cookies are great with a glass of ice cold milk.

5.0 from 1 reviews
Joe Froggers
  • 4-1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ¾ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
  • ¾ cup solid shortening (Crisco)
  • ¾ cup granulated white sugar
  • 1 cup light molasses
  • 1 Tablespoon rum extract
  • ⅓ cup water
  1. Sift together all dry ingredients (flour through allspice); set aside.
  2. In large bowl of electric mixer, cream the shortening and sugar until well-blended. Mix in the molasses and rum extract and beat well.
  3. Add the flour mixture alternately with the water, beating well after each addition. Dough will be soft. Wrap dough in wax paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. (must be overnight or even a couple days. The dough will still be soft but workable enough to roll out.)
  4. Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Roll dough, half at a time, on a floured surface to about ¼-inch thickness. Cut with a floured 4-inch round cookie cutter and place on non-stick cookie sheets or one that is lightly greased. Bake for 7-to-8 minutes or until just done but not browned on the edges. Let cookies sit on the baking sheet for a couple minutes before removing to wire racks to cool. Store cooled cookies in an airtight container.




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6 Responses to Joe Froggers

  1. March 8, 2024 at 11:56 am #

    Can you substitute real rum for rum extract? Should the quantities be changed

    • March 8, 2024 at 11:18 pm #

      Polly, from what I read, real rum was used in the original recipe, so I see no reason why you couldn’t substitute it for the extract. The dough is very soft so I don’t know if you should use any more than the tablespoon. I wanted to try using real rum, but I wanted to test the recipe as it was written first.

  2. March 8, 2024 at 2:23 pm #

    Interesting history of this famous cookie, & it sounds delicious with all the spices my family likes. It would be fun to see the original recipe of Lucretia’s & how much rum she actually put into the dough!? Having a tavern obviously made that ingredient readily available! Thanks for sharing.

    • March 8, 2024 at 11:19 pm #

      Kim, I would love to know how much rum was in the original recipe too!

  3. March 11, 2024 at 7:05 pm #

    My favorite cookbooks have great stories to go with the recipes and this cookie has the most storied history I’ve ever heard! Thanks so much for sharing this, I definitely need to bake these!

    • March 11, 2024 at 11:07 pm #

      Thanks, Lynne! I love recipes with stories and history too. It makes them more fun to make and then somehow can even make them taste better!

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