Whether from enterprising Brownies behind a card table or on a sheet tacked to an office bulletin board, few can resist the call of Girl Scout cookies. Cookie sales represent equal parts tradition, flavor, entrepreneurship, and the winning qualities of the scouts themselves. As a troop leader, I oversaw numerous table sales, and it was not uncommon for customers, upon seeing us, to brake their cars abruptly, whip out their checkbooks, and ask to buy every last box of Samoas or Thin Mints in our possession.
Throughout much of the U.S., public cookie sales start this week, as do deliveries to people who pre-ordered cookies from co-workers or neighbors.
Cookie sales are an involved process. They’re also big business. Each troop has a Cookie Sale Mom and a mom who oversees the Cupboard, or stash, which is added to and taken from throughout the duration of the public sales. Troop units have people further overseeing delivery and sales. Here are the cartons of cookies coming into our local Scout Hall to be divided for pick-up. (At 12 boxes a carton, that’s a lot of cookies.)
The first Girl Scout cookies were sold in 1917 by the Mistletoe Troop in Muskogee, Oklahoma. In 1922, a cookie recipe was published in the Girl Scouts’ The American Girl magazine. Its author estimated the cost of ingredients for 6-7 dozen cookies to be 26-36 cents. It was suggested that troops sell the cookies for 25-30 cents per dozen. Here is a recipe for the early Girl Scout cookie.
Girl Scouts in the 20s and 30s continued to bake and sell sugar cookies packaged in wax-paper bags. In the mid-30s, Councils in Philadelphia and New York began to use commercial bakers. They smartly stamped the trefoil logo onto the cookies, which grew in popularity around the country until World War II ended their production due to shortages in sugar, butter and flour. (The clever Girl Scouts turned to calendar sales.)
Pre-war customers in could display a Girl Scout cookie window decal:
With 50s suburban growth came tables at shopping centers, which augmented door-to-door sales. There were now three types of cookies: Sandwich creme (in chocolate and vanilla), shortbread (called Trefoil), and Chocolate Mint (which became Thin Mint). Peanut butter cookies were added in the 60s. (I knew them as Savannas. They are now called Do-Si-Dos.) Other cookies have come and gone over the years. Different regions use different bakers and even different names for the cookies. In recent years, Tagalongs (chocoate casing over peanut butter and wafer) and Samoas (a gooey, sweet chocolate-coconut-caramel cookie) have done well.
Thin mints still reign in popularity. Here’s the breakdown of cookie sales by type:
25% Thin Mints
19% Samoas (sometimes called Caramel deLites)
13% Tagalongs (also called Peanut Butter Patties)
11% Do-Si-Do (aka Peanut Butter Sandwich)
9% Trefoils (aka Shortbread)
23% All other
You can see a listing of all the types of Girl Scout Cookies, some of which I’d never heard of, at this girl scout cookie site.
So where does that cookie money go? According to the Girl Scouts, approximately 70% of the proceeds stays in the local council. A small portion of that goes to the individual troop (usually 7-12% per box). The balance goes to the baker to pay for the cookies. In addition to contributing to the coffers, scouts also learn a lot through cookie sales, whether by making change for a customer, talking to customers, taking inventory, attempting to earn incentives (like grown salespeople!), or deciding how to allocate troop profits.
This site tells you where you can find girl scout cookies in your area.
Even with my daughter’s well-honed sales pitch to “Buy extra boxes – the cookies freeze well”, they do tend to run out. Luckily, various bakers have come to the rescue, with their own recipes for homemade versions of popular Girl Scout cookies, should you find yourself craving a Samoa in November.
Fortunately for Girl Scout cookie fans, Baking Bites also offers its take on the Samoa. In addition to the yummy-sounding Samoa recipe, they offer a Thin Mint recipe and a Do-Si-Do/Peanut Butter Sandwich recipe, which sound delicious to this Do-Si-Do enthusiast.
All this begs the question, What’s your favorite Girl Scout cookie?
Images: Susan Sachs Lipman, Scouts on Stamps Society International