Thursday, January 14, 2021

5. The Great Cookie War

The Great Cookie War. Caroline Stellings. 2021. [April] 160 pages. [Source: Review copy]


First sentence: At night when darkness fell, and the winter winds swept across the open meadow, the wild things would come to the edge of the clearing. Mama left scraps for them; she said they were searching, always searching. At such an hour, our fieldstone house felt safe, and warm—a refuge, an island of light and love in a cold sea of darkness. And yet, at such an hour, so many things crept into my mind, uninvited thoughts, thoughts I didn’t want to have.

Premise/plot: The Great Cookie War is set in a Canadian Mennonite community in the early 1980s. Beth Betzner, our twelve year old heroine, LONGS to be an artist. But her creative hobby isn't always--often is not--appreciated by her immediate family. There are many skills that help with one's duty within the community--but drawing, sketching, painting aren't seen as super valuable. Even if her family supported her art habit, the family couldn't pay for her art supplies and lessons. But an opportunity presents itself to Beth--and the rest of the family--when a New York lawyer comes to town one winter. 

A cookie war is coming. Yes, a COOKIE war. Two big-name companies are getting ready to battle it out in the court system. Does one company's patent on both a crispy/chewy cookie prevent the other company from making its cookie?. The big city lawyer says NO. Chewy/crispy cookies have existed for centuries and can't be patented. The proof may be in this OLD family recipe book in the possession of the Betzner family. 

The problem? The family does NOT want to loan out the book to either side. The family does NOT want to appear in court for either side. Money is not the issue. Far from it. But Beth is tempted....especially when out and out offered the chance to fulfill her dream. 

Who will win the great cookie war?

My thoughts: I really LOVED this one. There are plenty of Mennonite (and/or Amish) books published for adults--usually romances. There are hardly any children's books starring Mennonites (and/or Amish) characters. This one is a COMING OF AGE book with some ADVENTURE thrown in. Will Beth, our heroine, be courageous when put to the test? 

I also LOVED that it is based on a true story. 

In a Globe and Mail article from 1985, June Callwood called it “The Great Cookie War.” For cookbook author Edna Staebler and her Old Order Mennonite friends in Waterloo, the whole thing was foolishness! The recipe for rigglevake cookies had, after all, been scribbled in Bevvy Martin’s little black book for decades. Why all the fuss now? When it was published in Edna’s bestselling and world-famous Food That Really Schmecks, no one could have known the brouhaha that one little recipe could create. But it did.

The situation began eleven years after Schmecks had been published. Procter and Gamble (P&G) had put eighteen million dollars into bringing a new cookie to market, one that would be crispy on the outside, but chewy in the middle. They patented their secret recipe in 1979. When rival Nabisco began baking similar cookies, P&G sued for infringement of copyright. And both sides were desperate to get their hands on that little black recipe book. Why? Because it was from that book that Edna Staebler copied the recipe for rigglevake cookies, and rigglevake cookies are crispy and chewy at the same time. And since the recipe was published in Schmecks, Nabisco argued that P&G had no case.
Through it all, Edna Staebler fiercely protected her Mennonite friends and eschewed offers from radio and television stations—she even declined the chance to appear on the Jay Leno show. Caroline Stellings kept up a personal correspondence with the cookbook author, and was so impressed by her charismatic personality, that she always knew that one day, she would write a book about Edna Staebler and her involvement in “The Great Cookie War.”

© 2021 Becky Laney of Young Readers

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