Joe Frogger Cookies from Marblehead

I’ve been fascinated by the legend of the Joe Frogger cookie and decided to give the recipe a try. A Joe Frogger is a large rum/molasses/ginger cookie that dates back to colonial times in Marblehead. The cookies were baked by Aunt Crese who ran a tavern with Black Joe on Gingerbread Hill.

Many articles I discovered linked the cookie’s history to Joe but according to a Marblehead magazine article, “The cookie was named after him even though she created the recipe and spent the better part of her life mixing the batter”.

Named for Revolutionary War patriot, Joseph Brown, these large cookies were said to be the size of the frogs in “Black Joe’s” Pond. Marblehead’s early fishermen used to take the cookies with them on long voyages to the Grand Banks as a standard part of the ship’s provisions. The ingredients of rum and seawater acted as preservatives. They are now a cherished Marblehead tradition with “original recipes” circulating rapidly for historic authentication by native Marbleheaders. The cookies were first made in the 1800’s by Lucretia Brown (Aunt Crese), Joseph’s wife. While today the cookies are mostly round, in the beginning they were described as “lily pad” shaped. (Marblehead magazine).

I used a coffee can to cut out the cookies and placed six on a cookie sheet using a Silpat rather then greasing the pan. As they cooked the house filled with spicy aroma. The first batch of cookies came out of the oven tasting of warm molasses. Perfect with a big glass a milk.

This morning, I wrapped a cookie in a piece of wax paper and went for a walk to Black Joe’s pond. The red tavern is still standing and can be seen off in the distance. The cookie had hardened overnight and tasted even more substantial and spicy, delicious.

Joe Frogger Cookies
Recipe adapted from

3 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 cup of molasses
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons dark rum
1/3 cup hot water (In colonial times they used seawater)

Mix flour, salt, ginger, baking soda, cloves, nutmeg and allspice in a bowl. In a large bowl, beat together the molasses, shortening and brown sugar. In a separate bowl combine rum and hot water.

Add the dry ingredients and the water/rum mixture alternatively to the sugar/molasses mixture. If the dough is dry, add a tablespoon or more of additional hot water.

Roll out dough between two sheets of waxed paper till 1/4″ thick. Refrigerate at least two hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease two baking sheets.

Cut the dough into 3-inch round cookies. The original were much larger. For the traditional size use a coffee as your guide. Place on greased cookie sheets and bake for 10-12 minutes. For the traditional size cook a few minutes longer. The cookies are baked when they are dark around the edges and firm in the centers. Set the cookie sheets to cool for five minutes. Remove to a rack to cool completely.

Dough after it’s been mixed and ready to be rolled out.

Rolling out dough between layers of wax paper.

Cutting out cookies using a coffee can.

Cookies just out of the oven.

The trail to Black Joe’s pond.

A bite out my Joe Frogger cookie at Black Joe’s Pond.

Eating my cookie and contemplating life back in the 1800’s.

Off in the distance is Black Joe’s Tavern in red.

Black Joe’s Tavern as it stands today.

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  1. Katie Any chance you make these and sell them? My brother lives in San Jose and I would love to send him a couple of dozen Thx you Kendra


  2. I make these cookies every year and have become a family tradition. For a hint :use flour to roll out the dough after its been chilled overnite in the fridge. Flour your hands and just grab a handful and roll to your hearts content. They make THE BEST gingerbread men and women, and a moose or unicorn if you have that cookie cutter! :) I personally like the moose the right colour and everything.


  3. M’head is my hometown but live in Salem now. Haven’t had a Joe Frogger in many many years (do they still sell them at the Driftwood?) but lately have been making a recipe for molasses-spice cookies that are almost identical (except no rum) but a bit of black pepper is added. I used a small/medium sized scoop which gives a ball of dough and then roll each in sugar and put on SilPat in a ball. They flatten out perfectly to big yummy cookies, very much like yours. Husband is a lobsterman (sells at the landing on the weekends) and these are his current favourite cookie!

    Love your blog and your house!


  4. Haven’t even read the recipe yet and I’m hooked with that stunningly creative image of a cookie in gloved hand with Black Joe’s Tavern behind…and those scrumptious 3 ingredients of rum, molasses and ginger. My New Year’s Resolution was to diet, but I may need to delay! :o)


  5. Wow, you made eating a cookie in the cold look enticing. I am making cookies for my son’s Christmas party at school, and I just may have to try these out! Thanks!


  6. I really enjoyed your post today! As a history major, it was a fun read. Thanks for such a lovely blog. I’ve been a frequent reader for over a year now. I live in AZ but my heart is in New England!


  7. Loved this post! I’m a history lover and also enjoy me a good cookie or two. My husband works at a molasses factory…I’ll ask him if he’s ever heard of these cookies. Definitely going to try them! Thanks for the history lesson as well:)


  8. we always made joe froggers, though we ended up calling them “brown dough cookies.” we rolled them out and cut them with festive cookie cutters for holidays, like you would a sugar cookie. but THE BEST thing do to with joe froggers is to roll them out a little thinner than usual, cut them with a small cutter, and make marmalade sandwiches. you must try it next time you make them. the orange is the perfect compliment to the molasses spice, and they are super moist.


  9. great post Katie. Your blogs instantly transport me from Arizona right into New England. I can feel the cold, smell the air and I thank you for that!


  10. those look delish! i will be whipping up a batch this week for sure. and i haven’ forgotten about the house pics for you. i’ll send some this week.


  11. Just want to say how much I enjoy your blog. I live in Southern CA and have spent relatively little time in the Northeastern US. Reading your blog gives me a real sense of the place, and reminds me that every place is not LA. (a good thing)


  12. What a fascinating cookie! I love the history of the recipe and how its been handed down for so long. It looks pretty delicious too!~