What’s better than diving into a plate of freshly baked cookies? The answer, typically, is “not much.” Several varieties of cookies have made an impact on culinary culture, including (but certainly not limited to) chocolate chip cookies, Oreos, snickerdoodles, pinwheels, gingerbread people, and biscotti. There is one style of cookie, however, that quickly rose to fame in North Carolina nearly a century ago, and has maintained stardom and a level of cult favoritism ever since. Behold — the Moravian cookie! The North Carolina Folklife Institute describes these Bohemian-inspired treats as related to the German Lebkuchen cookie. With a signature crunch and potent, spicy-sweet palate, Moravian cookies are beloved by North Carolinians and people all over the globe.
The Moravians, a denomination of Protestantism, introduced the cookie’s original recipe to North Carolina around 1753, when they immigrated to America for a better life, according to NCpedia. Moravian cookies are known for their peculiar thinness (which creates their famous ultra-crispy, crumbly texture), scalloped edges, and of course, their unique flavor. The classic recipe calls for butter, lard or shortening, brown sugar, dark molasses, flour, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, and salt, per Real Food Traveler. The blend of fragrant, charming spices makes them a popular snack table item or homemade gift during the holidays. So, what exactly makes Moravian cookies so special to so many?
The sweet tradition began in North Carolina’s fifth largest city during the Roaring Twenties. Wilkerson Moravian Bakery in Winston-Salem (known simply as Salem back in the day) has been whipping up batches of its aromatic, spiced, legendary desserts for generations. In 1925, a man by the name of Dewey Guy Wilkerson launched a bakery with his father-in-law and brothers-in-law. Then, in 1930, he built his own business, which is still run by the Wilkerson family today. The savvy entrepreneur paid close attention to which products sold best, and he realized that the thinner he made his specialty cookies, the more his customers adored them. The recipe for Moravian cookies hasn’t changed much over the years, and they have become a symbol of pride and love, especially during the holidays.
Back in 2019, ABC11 reported that House Bill 394, which pledged for Moravian cookies to be established as the official cookie of the Tar Heel State, was filed. As the bill read, “It is fitting to recognize the positive impact the Moravians have had on the State’s culture by adopting the Moravian cookie as the official cookie of the State of North Carolina.” The result? The crisp, ginger-and-clove-infused cookie was adopted as North Carolina’s sweetest emblem, according to Our State. And it was all made possible thanks to a group of fourth graders at Brooks Global Studies Extended-Year Magnet School and their social studies teacher, John Phillips.