January 16th was National Fig Newton Day. Let’s celebrate with some figgy facts.
In 1891, Charles Roser, a baker who happened to love figs, invented a machine that squirted fig paste into dough before baking. Since the current nutrition guidelines of the times encouraged fruit and biscuits on a daily basis, this was the best thing since sliced bread, even though sliced bread wasn’t invented yet. The Kennedy Biscuit Company bought Roser’s recipe and started mass producing the fruit-filled cake-like cookie and named it after the town of Newton, MA. Later the Kennedy Biscuit merged with the New York Biscuit Company to become NABISCO.
You might think that after being around for 130 years, the Fig Newton would automatically win the State Cookie of Massachusetts contest, but that’s not how this cookie crumbled. There was serious competition to this title because the chocolate chip cookie was also invented in Massachusetts in 1938 by Ruth Wakefield at her restaurant the Toll House Inn in Whitman. I think we can all agree, that when the chips are down, most of us would rather eat chocolate than figs.
But that’s not how Governor William Weld saw it. His favorite sweet treat since he was a kid was the Fig Newton. In 1997, he proposed naming it the official State cookie. A lot of people thought his idea was crumby. A third-grade class from Somerset, MA lobbied for the chocolate chip cookie win. They were helped by Representative Kathleen Teahan, who was from Whitman, Massachusetts and had once worked at the Toll House Inn.
Even though Governor Weld held out for his favorite, he couldn’t resist the argument of one third-grader who said, “When was the last time your mother baked you a warm batch of Fig Newtons?”
Governor Weld gave in, but he didn’t give up. He requested that the Fig Newton be named the state’s official fruit cookie.
Learn more fun food facts in There’s No Ham in Hamburgers: Facts and Folklore About Our Favorite Foods available April 6, 2021.