PLEASANT HILL — For the past 10 years, Newton Township resident Virginia Kinney has been working on a project near and dear to her heart: getting the sugar cookie recognized as the official state dessert of Ohio.
“It all started years ago,” Kinney said. “A friend of mine went to New Mexico and during one of her visits with me, she brought me a box of ‘biscochito’ cookies that were labeled ‘The State Cookie of New Mexico.’ That made me think, ‘Huh, what is Ohio’s state cookie?’”
Kinney, 84, had already known about the state’s various symbols, like the state tree and state bird. However, after some research, she discovered Ohio does not have an officially declared state dessert.
In 2009, Kinney reached out to then-Rep. Richard Adams, of Ohio’s 80th House District, to seek assistance from him in getting the sugar cookie officially recognized.
“I wrote a letter to our representative and after awhile, I got a letter back from him and the answer was no,” she said.
In his response, Rep. Adams had stated, “There is practically no interest in what other legislators view as frivolous legislation when more complicated items need addressed.”
Adams added that items such as this may be added into other bills that need passed, and that he would keep Kinney’s suggestion in mind.
Though Kinney was disappointed in the response, she was undeterred. She realized she would need to include a more detailed plea, including historical references and reasoning behind her request for recognition of the sugar cookie.
A seasoned hobby historian herself, Kinney compiled a history of the state’s first settlers and their experiences. She highlighted the early role of the sugar cookie within the lives of many of these settlers and how the dessert came to be a staple of family tradition.
Within the compilation, which Kinney used as a key component in her case for recognition of the cookie, she explains that Ohio was known as the “Gateway to the West,” and that the early pioneers who settled here often had limited amounts of food to eat.
“They cooked their food in metal pots in a fireplace and raised their own food,” Kinney said. “Corn and wheat were taken to local mills to grind it into flour, and the men hunted for meat and went fishing. As more families moved west into Ohio, communities developed.”
As these communities grew, farmers began to have the option to sell extra supplies and to purchase items like sugar and salt, Kinney said.
“As the farms continued to develop larger fields of crops and to raise more animals, the family prosperity increased,” she said. “Mothers and grandmothers began to make cookies, and sugar cookies became quite popular in Ohio in the late 1800s.”
Kinney notes that while there are many different recipes for making sugar cookies, most have the same staple ingredients, which includes flour, butter, milk, and eggs, all of which were easily accessible on the farms. The sugar, vanilla, and soda were purchased in order to make the cookies.
In 2015, Kinney decided to reach out to Adams’ successor, Rep. Steve Huffman. This time, she included the compiled history, along with photos and signatures of local residents who also wished to see the sugar cookie, and Kinney’s efforts, recognized.
Kinney’s “sugar cookie petition” included individuals from local groups and schools, including The Barn Youth Center of Pleasant Hill, the Astrobuds Garden Club, the Troy Junior High ballet club, the Pleasant Hill History Center, a Newton School English class, and the Red Hat Society, among others. In total, Kinney collected over 150 signatures.
Kinney sent a three-ring binder full of signatures, photos, letters, and historical information to Huffman as part of her plea, but she did not receive a response.
This past February, Kinney said she was given the opportunity to approach Huffman’s successor, Rep. Jena Powell, in-person at the Miami County Republican Lincoln Day Dinner.
“I decided I’d just go over and talk to her,” Kinney said. “I told her my story and she was nice and listened.”
Though Powell was receptive to her efforts, Kinney had subsequently decided to “let it go” for a bit, while focusing on other projects.
However, a few months later, Kinney learned that third-grade students at Sycamore Township Catholic School, in Cincinnati, had been studying the origin of the sugar cookie and were also working to designate it as Ohio’s state dessert.
After bringing this to the attention of Powell, Kinney, along with several of the Sycamore Township Catholic School students, was invited to a session of the General Assembly, in Columbus, on June 5, for the opportunity to testify before the Committee on House Bill 235, titled, “Designate the sugar cookie as the official cookie of Ohio.”
It was at this meeting that Kinney was approached by the students’ teacher.
“She asked my name and when I told her, she said, ‘Wow! My students read your history; I would love for them to meet you,’” Kinney said.
Apparently, after reading a nonfiction story about the history of cookies, the students were inspired to help designate a cookie for Ohio, and at some point during their research, came across Kinney’s written history about the sugar cookie and its relevance to Ohio and the state’s earliest settlers, which Kinney had sent to state representatives as part of her plea.
“I have no idea how they found that,” Kinney said.
House Bill 235 was unanimously approved, and afterward, Kinney was presented an official commendation by Powell, on the House Floor in Columbus.
The commendation states, “As a dedicated member of the community, you have displayed an exceptional willingness to sacrifice of your time and talent to research and promote the sugar cookie as Ohio’s state dessert … Your accomplishments are a justifiable source of pride and an excellent reflection not only on you but also on your family and your community.”
The bill is now set to be introduced before the entire Senate on the floor and, if approved, will go to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.
Reach the writer at 937-552-2205.