The Lost Art of Preacher Cookies

Preacher cookie, cow patty, poodgie, or no bake cookie. What do you call it?

My niece and nephew had never eaten preacher cookies. They were visiting last week, and I asked if they wanted to make a batch. I got blank stares.

I described the ingredients—chocolate, peanut butter, oatmeal—and added, “You know, you cook them on the stove.”

My niece looked confused. My nephew curled his nose and said, “I don’t like chocolate very much.”

I wasted no time in calling their grandmother to tell her that she’s falling down on the job. Growing up, preacher cookies were a cornerstone of our snack food diet. They were fast and low mess. They didn’t require the oven (which mattered during summertime in our un-air conditioned apartment). They were so simple I could make them by myself by age nine in 3 minutes. They filled my mouth with the most ecstatic goopy wonder, the perfect balance of creamy and crunchy, chocolate and nutty, as cool as a popsicle and as sweet as a slice of fudge.

She was a loving grandmother. How had she not fixed at least one batch for the children?

“They don’t seem to want to cook when they’re here.”

I didn’t quite hang up on her, but I must have made an audible gasp. She added, “Really, I don’t think they’re interested.”

The baking goods cabinet was open and the cocoa was on the counter before I said, “Love ya’. Gotta go.”

The kids helped me measure and stir. They watched enrapt as I dropped dollops onto a plate. They offered their tongues when I asked if they’d like to lick the goo-encrusted spoon.

My niece was hooked from her first taste. She “mmmmmed” and motioned for my nephew. He claimed that the chocolate gave him a bellyache, but once they cooled, I caught him eating them, a half a cookie at a time. By the middle of the next day, he had finished off four.

I’d never given any thought to preacher cookies’ origin until I discovered that they were becoming a lost art in my family. Then I poked around the Internet. Everybody seems to agree on the genesis of the name. The blog Hillbilly Housewife describes it this way:

“It got it’s name because it could be prepared quickly when a housewife looked out her window and saw the preacher riding up the mountain on his horse. By the time the preacher arrived, the cookies were cooling.”

People don’t agree, however, on the right name for the cookies. Everyone I know in the Appalachians call them preacher cookies, but apparently, somewhere out there, they’re referred to as cow-patties. I suppose it’s apt. They are dark brown little globs that squish under the least pressure.

I recently offered a batch to a friend from Texas. She squealed, “You made poodgies?!”

While she couldn’t explain the name, she clearly relished saying it. She drew it out, “Pooooooodgies,” and spelled it without prompting.

I also discovered that some poor folks call them no-bake cookies. Maybe they’re Puritans or mathematicians. Whatever the case, let’s hope this post inspires a less literal name.

At the other end of the spectrum?are people?who fiddle with the recipe?itself, adding exotic ingredients like dulce de leche and Nutella. I’m all for creative monikers, but when making this dish, I?become a bit of a Puritan.

Below is the good, old recipe I use for?my preacher cookies, which was handed down from my mother, and I’m dying to hear about yours. What do you put in?these oven-free treats? And what’s your favorite name for them?

Preacher Cookies

? cup butter

4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa

2 cups sugar

? cup milk

1/8 teaspoon salt

3 cups quick cooking oatmeal

? cup peanut butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix the cocoa powder, butter, sugar, milk, and salt in a double boiler. (Don’t tell Mother, but I just use a regular pot.) Bring to a rolling boil and boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat. Add the peanut butter, vanilla, and oatmeal—not the new, instant kind, Mother emphasizes, just quick oats. Slop it all together. Drop them on a plate. (Wax paper is even better if you have it.) Pop in the fridge for a few hours and enjoy.


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219 Comments

  • Shannon Altman

    I am from Michigan and we had these often growing up and I make them often for my children and grandchildren! We call them no bakes!

  • Anonymous

    We call em no bakes. Don’t use salt. Use 18 oz peanut butter. And 1 stick of real butter. No vanilla. How old is this recipe does anyone really know? All I know is they’re so yummy when they’re still warm with a big glass of cool milk.

  • Jackie Brown

    My Mother called them Peanut Butter Delights she poured in pan and cut in squares. Around here they also called Preacher Cookies, Boiled Cookies, and First Grade Cookies. I make them for my family and of course church functions, My Son now 14 enjoys making them to eat and to take to church functions. My daughter (13) usually makes brownies.

  • Sherri

    We called them Cow Patties and it was the cookie my mom made most often because she hated making batches of cookies in the oven. I just made some of these today. I have’t had them in ages. Thanks for reminding me of them.

  • Jesse

    My mother always called them preacher cookies. When we talk about them people have no idea what they are.

  • Andrea Barber

    My recipe comes from my moms family. They are from Roanoke, VA and the surrounding areas. My dad has always referred to her family as hillbillies. She gets mad but it’s almost true. Especially when I read that the term “preacher cookies” seems to be derived from the Appalachians. And that’s what my family has always called them. But I don’t know another person that calls them that. Or anything except no bakes. Which is boring and we would never call them that. I taught my son to make them yesterday. So good! He has told me for years if there’s one recipe of mine he wants when he moves away at college time it’s my Preacher Cookie Recipe. It’s awesome to know he will keep the recipe in the family. Also a funny tidbit is every couple of years my mother or my aunt will lose their recipe and call the other one to get it again. Been going on my entire life and it’s so funny to me. I’ve had the recipe for many many years and never lost it. I don’t know how they do it but it makes me laugh.

  • Summer Naviglia

    My Mom made these all of the time for our lunch box! Her special added ingredient was coconut! We live just 8 miles from the Mason Dixon Line in PA North of Morgantown, WV, but called them No Bakes!

  • HRS

    I heard the term “preacher cookies” watching the series “The Riches” several years ago. Couldn’t find any information about them at the time, so I just assumed it was a euphemism for something in the show. Reading this post just now, I see that they are my old favorite, the “no bake” cookie! Former Hoosier in Roanoke, trying to learn the lingo.

  • VLM

    I grew up in SW Ohio and had many relatives in Kentucky. We all called them Preacher Cookies. The story they told us was, that because they were easy to prepare in hot weather, they were a summer “go-to” recipe. So, there were always about 20 plates of them at every summertime Church Social or bake-sale.
    Yum. I have a little box of them right now here in Colorado.

  • Anonymous

    I grew up in central Michigan . My family called the same treats, Oatmeal peanut butter candy. They were very good with popcorn and watching a movie

  • JKathryn Coulter

    In Tampa, Florida about 1964, someone kindly shared this recipe with my Mom, and it’s been a favorite of mine ever since. When the recipe has been lost, I have always been able to find a version of it in any local church cookbook under ” no bake or refrigerator cookies”, but my most recent version came right from the back of a Hershey’s Coca tin…. how many years ago, I have no idea! Mom could not remember any other names given for these delicious morsels.
    Now we’re both here in NE TN, and very happy to find our beloved cookies are so popular that they’re made right here in our local grocery stores. The bakeries sell them under the name “Novak”, which I believe is Southern shortened from “no bake”.
    However, much to my disappointment, these wonderful bakers never make their “Novaks” with BOTH peanutbutter AND chocolate!! You can find dozens of peanutbutter or chocolate Novaks, but not never peanutbutter with chocolate Novaks.
    IMO, it’s just not the same cookie. – Julie

  • Florence Williamson

    Loved Cow Patties as a young teen and still do as a Great Grandmother. Best way to make cookies in the summer for the family with out turning on the oven.

  • Roberta M Jeffers

    I remember these cookies from church dinners and us kids would always look for them on the dessert table. One of the church ladies would make them for every dinner and I grew up Presbyterian in California and we called them chocolate oatmeal cookies.

  • Angelia Espinoza

    So glad to finally know why we call them preacher cookies! I plan to make some tomorrow for a cookie swap!

  • Jane Sadler

    Thank you for explaining how these cookies came to be called “Preacher Cookies!” I love the story since I grew up in the mountains of NC! We always called them “Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies.” My husband’s family called them “Peanut Butter Delight.” No matter, they are delicious! I have used the recipe to make a topping for brownies, leaving out the oatmeal, of course. When my sons were young and we were home from school for a snow day, brownies with this chocolate peanut butter “topping” became a traditional snow day recipe to make.

  • Marilew Rudisill

    Nobody else called them “Dog Food” Cookies?? They were often made by my younger (10 yrs!) brother, so we also called them Johnny’s Cookies.
    -East Tennessee version

  • Kendra

    We called them “Missouri Cookies”. I’m from California but my grandma originally came from Pennsylvania – don’t know if that matter with the name. I’ve also heard them called “Missouri Mud Cookies” which, according to family lore, is the equivalent of cow patties. I’ve played with the recipe over the years but always go back to the one here. My sister and I grew up making these as a snack any time we didn’t know what else to make. Now that I’m a mom I’m horrified at the amount of sugar in them but I still make them as a snack and justify it because of the oatmeal and the nut butter :). The only change that has been permanent is using almond butter instead of peanut butter since my son is allergic. It’s not the same but I’ve gotten used to them.

  • Sammye B. Foster

    My mother made these when we were kids. I have made them myself for many years. I’m 72 and my husband still asks for PREACHER COOKIES.

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