February 23, 2016 by Bret Kramer (aka WinstonP)
Marblehead, as we’ve previously mentioned, served in large part as an inspiration for Kingsport, especially the version presented in Kevin Ross’ sourcebook on that misty port for Chaosium’s Lovecraft Country line. Today’s topic something quite particular to Marblehead – the Joe Frogger.
Joe Froggers are a cookie, akin to a ginger-snap, made with molasses, spices, and rum; they were usually of a larger than average size (“small plate”) and baked until crispy to ensure longevity or left a little soft to ensure immediate consumption.
The cookie originates in 18th century Marblehead, at a tavern owned and operated by Joseph “Black Joe” Brown and his wife Lucretia, both natives of the town. Joe, born in 1750 to an African mother and Wampanoag father, had served in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. After the war ended, he returned to Marblehead; in 1795 he purchased a small house on the slopes of Gingerbread Hill, near the Old Burial Hill graveyard. Within a few years he began operating a tavern out of the house, greatly assisted by his wife Lucretia. Usually called Crese or Aunt Crese, Mrs. Brown, the daughter of two freed slaves, was 22 years her husband’s junior and it was she who is said to have been the baker of the cookies that now bear her husband’s name.
The little tavern did a brisk business, attracting laborers, sailors, and fishermen. The cookies that Crese made were dubbed “Joe Froggers”, the name coming from the tavern-keeper’s name as well as the abundance of frogs in the pond (now called “Black Joe’s Pond”) near the tavern. The cookies, irregularly shaped, flavorful, and hearty, were a popular treat for those who took to sea, as they would keep even in the harsh conditions aboard ship.
This section of Marblehead, where Joe’s tavern was but one of many, called Barnegat, was the haunt of sailors and had a reputation for rowdy behavior – drinking (rum and switchel were popular), singing, dancing, gambling, and (sometimes) fighting happened in varying degrees. Joe is said to have been a fiddler of no mean skill, helping to draw in customers not already charmed by his wife’s baked goods. (I note with interest my best source names regulars at Joe’s taverns like “Spanish Joe, Short Jacket, Eagle Beak, Horse Eye, Pie Mouth and Corkleg”; compare this to the list of the Terrible Old Man’s roster of bottled associates – “Jack, Scar-Face, Long Tom, Spanish Joe, Peters, and Mate Ellis”.)
“Black” Joe died in 1834 and was buried in the Old Burial Hill graveyard; a marker was placed there for him during the Bicentennial. Lucretia, after Joe’s death, continued to operate the tavern for a time, while also expanding into cake making and, using flowers gathered from the slopes of nearby Old Burial Hill, perfumery – some account suggest she also told fortunes and made love potions. Lucretia, according to one source, died in 1857 and was buried in the Old Burial Hill graveyard as well. The building remained with the Brown family until after the Civil War – several artifacts from its days as a tavern still remain, including Joe’s musket and fiddle.
If you want to bake up a batch of your own (or want a copy of the recipe to slip to someone who might be willing to bake up a batch for you), Yankee Magazine provides a version for modern bakers; there are are several variants elsewhere, such as this “historical” recipe from Marblehead Magazeine – scroll down to #3). I suspect a few of my readers will be greatly pleased to hear that rum is a traditional (though optional and can be replaced by “rum flavoring”) ingredient. There does seem to be some dispute over whether the cookies were ever made with seawater or if instead salted water was used in Colonial times as it is now (seawater… not the most sterile of substances, folks). I would hazard that it was easier to add salt to water than to haul seawater up from the shore, no matter how close your tavern is to the ocean…
I learned much of what I’ve summarized here from this account of Black Joe and Aunt Crese from an article by Linda Weltner from Marblehead Magazine. For more pictures of the area around the still-extant tavern building (and yet another recipe for the cookies), see here – http://www.katyelliott.com/blog/2011/12/recipe-joe-froggers-cookies-from-marblehead.html