Poor Man’s Cookies

These poor man’s cookies are an old family recipe – spiced bar cookies with plump raisins and chopped walnuts.

Poor Man's Cookies - An old family recipe for spiced bar cookies full of plump raisins and walnuts. | browneyedbaker.com

These poor man’s cookies (actually bar cookies!) is a recipe that my great Aunt has been making for as long as I can remember. It’s her “signature dish”. Well, one of a few. She also makes a killer Jello that has baby food in it (secret ingredient!) and a mean broccoli casserole.

As you can see, this is not a cookie, but rather cookie bars! I always wondered about the name and the recipe’s origin, and then when going through a ton of my grandma’s old recipes, I found a yellowed newspaper clipping of a recipe for Poorman’s Cookies, which was nearly identical to my aunt’s, save for a few quantity changes. There wasn’t an explanation in the clipping about the origin of the recipe, so I am taking this for what it is – a beloved old-fashioned recipe.


Poor Man's Cookies - An old family recipe for spiced bar cookies full of plump raisins and walnuts. | browneyedbaker.com

The preparation of this cake starts with boiling the water, raisins and shortening for 20 minutes. Doing this results in raisins that are nice and plump, and water and shortening that have boiled down to a syrup. When this mixture is first added to the dry ingredients the batter will have the consistency of paste, but don’t worry, once the eggs are added the batter takes a familiar, cookie dough-type texture.

We used to eat these in true bar form – on Sundays when my aunt would make these, everyone would wander in and out of the kitchen, poor man’s cookie in hand. You could definitely cut larger pieces and serve them with a fork as a simple piece of cake. I often forget what a recipe FEELS like until I smell it after years of going without. When I took these out of the oven last week, I was overcome with the smell of my aunt’s kitchen and, with it, Sunday dinners at my grandma’s house.

I love recipes that make you feel as cozy as your favorite fleece blanket, and these poor man’s cookies definitely fit the bill. I need to make them more regularly!

Poor Man's Cookies - An old family recipe for spiced bar cookies full of plump raisins and walnuts. | browneyedbaker.com

Six years ago: Lemon Burst Cookies

Poor Man's Cookies

Yield: 24 bars

Prep Time: 45 minutes

Cook Time: 25 to 30 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

These poor man's cookies are an old family recipe - spiced bar cookies with plump raisins and chopped walnuts.


For the Cookies:

2¼ cups water
1½ cups raisins
8 tablespoons vegetable shortening
3 cups all-purpose flour
1½ cups sugar
1½ teaspoons baking soda
¾ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon cloves
2 eggs, slightly beaten
½ cup coarsely chopped walnuts

For the Glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
3 tablespoons warm water


1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a 9x13 baking pan.

2. Combine water, raisins, and shortening in a medium saucepan. Boil over medium heat, covered, for 20 minutes. Remove from heat, remove the lid, and let cool for 10 minutes.

3. While the raisin mixture is boiling, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves in a large bowl.

4. Pour the slightly cooled raisin mixture over the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until mostly combined and moistened (the batter at this point will have the consistency of a paste). Add the beaten eggs and again stir with a spoon, until thoroughly combined. Stir in the chopped walnuts.

5. Spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until deeply browned and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out mostly clean with some moist crumbs attached.

6. While the cookies are baking, prepare the glaze by whisking together the powdered sugar and warm water in a small bowl. As soon as you take the pan out of the oven, drizzle the glaze over the cookies and quickly spread into an even layer.

7. Cool to room temperature before serving. Store leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days.

Note: You can substitute unsalted butter for the vegetable shortening.

This recipe was originally published June 15, 2009.


52 Responses to “Poor Man’s Cookies”

  1. Meghan on June 15, 2009 at 8:18 am

    It’s so cool that your found that clipping! I love spice cake but have never made it from scratch myself. Your aunt’s version looks delicious. My aunt makes a famous buttercream frosting that I’ve been thinking about trying to duplicate recently…she just adjusts the amount of ingredients to taste so I’ve been hesitant to try!


  2. Avanika(YumsiliciousBakes) on June 15, 2009 at 8:21 am

    The ‘cookies’ look great! I love finding new methods of making the same thing, so this boiling the raisins part has me intrigued.
    Ooh, and I simply love the paper you have for writing recipes on. Very cool!


  3. Risa on June 15, 2009 at 9:09 am

    I love old recipes. It is great that you still have the newspaper clipping.


  4. Michelle on June 15, 2009 at 9:58 am

    Meghan – I know what you mean about things going by taste – many of my grandma’s recipes are the same. There are just ingredients listed and then it’s “by feel”. Very difficult!

    Avanika – Glad you like the recipe, and that paper for writing recipes came in a recipe book I got as a gift – “The Recipe File” – http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1841727628


  5. Heidi on June 15, 2009 at 10:05 am

    Old recipes are the best! My grandmother made something we called “Pool Cake” which was actually a pound cake with cherries. I thought we at it at the pool, but when I asked my 87 year old grandmother she told me she got the recipe from a lady at the pool and that’s how it got its name. I’m going to blog about it sometime this summer.


  6. Michelle on June 15, 2009 at 10:10 am

    Heidi – That is such a cute story! My grandma has a recipe for pound cake with cherries and walnuts that she used to make around Christmas, so I’m anxious to see the “Pool Cake”!!


  7. ashley on June 15, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    we totally have a fab chocolate cake recipe that’s a fam secret. maybe one of these days i’ll blog about it! anyway – your ‘cookies’ look good! 🙂


  8. stephchows on June 15, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    Oh wow, I’ve never heard of such a process!! I’d be tempted to add some amaretto in the first step and spike the raisins hehe. My family signature dish would have to be the ravioli recipe passed down on my dad’s side. It’s SO GOOD!! And a total family affair when we make them 🙂 We’ll make a good 14 dozen at a time and freeze them for later 🙂


  9. Michelle on June 15, 2009 at 2:27 pm

    stephchows – I love the idea of Amaretto to spike the raisins! I may try that next time!


  10. Kerstin on June 15, 2009 at 10:50 pm

    I always enjoy reading about family recipes. The spice cake looks fantastic and I love the raisins in it!


  11. Jen on February 6, 2010 at 11:05 pm

    Funny thing about this recipe is that growing up we always ate “Bachelor’s Cookies” which was actually a chocolate cake baked in a 9×13 pan. I remember asking my dad’s wife at the time why it was called “cookies” when it was actually cake, and she said it was because Bachelor’s could only be bothered to have one pan in their house, so they would just fit this recipe into whatever pan they had in the house – and they can’t be bothered to make actual “cookies” … batches? What?! Haha, anyway, just a little random (and probably false) background. Very Random…


  12. steve johnson on July 18, 2010 at 9:07 am

    comment! about old fashiond spice cake” i made this cake last week’ and it was so nice and tender…nice cake thaks////////////


  13. steve johnson on July 19, 2010 at 9:16 pm

    thanks again for a stunning cake i made this cake twice now and found 2 and half cups of water left my batter just a bit wet so my currents sank, so the second time i made it i reduced the water to 2 cups and ad, a tbs of golden syrup to the boilin currents and ts of cinnamon to it and, then when my cake cool down i cut it and put in betty crockers vanilla icing wel, wot a cake best ever thanks a lot……………


  14. Ann on March 11, 2011 at 8:27 pm

    Hi, Michelle and Others…Looking at the newspaper clipping, my guess is that the name is “Poorman’s” rather than “Poor Man’s”….and I would further guess that “Poorman’s” was an eatery somewhere–Restaurant, cafeteria, et al. Or maybe a family’s last name. Whaddya think?

    Can’t wait to try the cake, looks yummy!



  15. laby on September 1, 2011 at 9:30 pm

    Turned out great! Next time I might try it with diced apples.


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  17. eleanor on September 25, 2011 at 4:14 pm

    The cake was delicious. First time I tried it. The only problem now is that my husband and his co-workers want more. It was very high and fluffy, I think Id like it in a lil larger pan so it could be spread a bit thinner. I want a good choc. frosting this time.


  18. eleanor on September 25, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    I have to write out the spice cake recipe as my printer for some reason will not do the job. I did print out the no bake chocolate peanut butter and oatmeal cookies but the cake will not respond to my printer…Oh well back to the old fashion way, write it by hand. Its worth it to me. thanks again


  19. susan on October 7, 2011 at 10:06 am

    Oh my goodness! I cook once a week for a men’s rehab. I wanted a comfort autumn dessert and found yours while looking for spice cake.
    It is absolutely delicious. I doubled the recipe and it worked great. The men loved it. A big hit, warm, smells wonderful while baking and even better the next day. Thanks for sharing. Next timeI will drizzle a little burnt sugar frosting on top for an added touch of sweetness. Loved it.


  20. Jerry Ayers on October 17, 2011 at 10:33 pm

    Excellent! It’s Fall and baking time and I’ve been craving a good old fashioned spice cake! This is the perfect ticket! Gonna keep this at the front of the recipe box. Delicious! I hope your Aunt is pleased that you are honoring her wonderful gift and talents by sharing such a great story and perfect cake recipe.


  21. Heather on November 1, 2011 at 6:43 pm

    I made this today and it turned out beautifully!

    Thank you so much! I love old recipes!!!! ;o)


  22. Holly on December 29, 2011 at 5:42 am

    Thank you for the scrumptious cake! I’ve looked for years for a recipe like this but until you posted this one, I had nothing even close. The flavor & texture of this cake reminds me of Persimmon cookies I used to make when I lived in California (they’re hard to come by in SC!). Absolutely delicious!! The only thing I had to change was that I let the raisins sit too long & they absorbed too much of the liquid & I had to add extra water in order to make the batter. (My flour could have been too dry also). But all in all, it was a lucious, moist & easy cake (we felt it needed no frosting but I think I might try it sometime with a good vanilla buttercream). Thanks so much for sharing this great cake!!


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  24. Tapati on April 6, 2012 at 10:45 am

    My aunt had a version of this and she put icing on top of the bar-type cookies it made. It had no eggs, making it cheaper to make during the Depression for city dwellers with no chickens.

    Poor Man’s Cookies

    This is a Depression-era recipe handed down from my Aunt Laura Bilderback,
    my father’s sister.

    1 stick of margarine (or butter)
    1 C sugar
    1 C water
    1 C raisins*
    1/2 tsp. salt

    Cook 10 minutes in saucepan, medium flame, and cool for 10 minutes.

    Stir in:

    2 C flour, 1 tsp. baking soda, 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1/8 tsp. nutmeg

    Pour in greased 9×13 pan and bake 20 minutes at 350 degrees.
    Frost with powdered sugar or cream cheese frosting. (optional)

    *other fruit options, fresh or dried, include apple, pineapple, chopped
    dried apricots, candied ginger, dried cherries or cranberries, and currants. Shredded
    carrots and coconut would also work. You can also experiment with adding
    cardamon to the spice mix, perhaps by decreasing cinnamon and adding 1/2
    tsp. cardamon like I do.


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  26. Jenny on April 18, 2012 at 11:32 am

    My mom also made a version of this cake and put a thin powdered sugar glaze on top of it. Love it!


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  29. Laura J on December 4, 2013 at 12:49 am

    This recipe is essentially an Irish Boiled Cake, if you omit the nuts. The idea was that it is quick and easy to make, and uses traditional mixed spice, so it was something to make for tea. My Irish grandmother remembers her mother making this cake to have on hand in case someone would drop in for a cup of tea. You didn’t frost it though, you baked it in a loaf pan and buttered the slices before you served them.


    • Edie H on October 12th, 2015 at 10:19 pm

      This has been in my family for as long as I can remember, so yummy!
      1C SUGAR
      1C RAISINS
      1 C WATER
      1 t CINNAMON
      1/2 t CLOVES
      1/2 t NUTMEG
      1/2 t ALLSPICE

      2 C FLOUR
      1 t BAKING SODA

      Sorry for the caps, I copied and pasted from my computer recipe file.


  30. Michelle on March 11, 2014 at 6:09 am

    Can i add dry fruits which have been soaked in rum for the last 3 months into this recipe…will it alter the taste of the cake


    • Michelle on March 12th, 2014 at 3:42 pm

      Hi Michelle, It will certainly alter the flavor of the cake, as the rum-soaked fruits will taste different than raisins, but that’s not to say that it won’t be good!


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  33. Cat S on March 29, 2015 at 5:08 pm

    A couple of your commenters were correct – it is a Depression-era bar cookie for those without the “fancy” ingredients some required, hence the “poor man’s”. My mother got it from her mother in Pennsylvania. They put a thin glaze on top. This is how it has been handed down to me –
    Poor Man’s Cookies
    1 cup raisins
    1 1/2 cup water
    1 stick margarine (1/2 cup)
    1 egg
    1 cup sugar
    2 cups all-purpose flour
    2 teaspoons baking powder
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon allspice
    1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
    1 teaspoon cinnamon
    In small pan, cook raisins and water for 4 minutes. Turn heat off, stir in margarine until melted, let cool to room temperature.
    Mix/beat egg into dry ingredients, then stir in raisin mixture. Mix until smooth. Grease a 9″x13″ pan and pour mixture into pan. Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
    Ice with a thin water and powdered sugar glaze while still warm.
    Mix together a cup of powdered sugar with enough warm water to make a mixture slightly thicker than milk. (May add a bit of vanilla flavoring and/or a half teaspoon of melted butter.) Spread while cookies are warm.


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  36. Bella B on October 12, 2015 at 12:42 am

    That is so wonderful that you have the newspaper clipping! I have a lot of those from family members, too. These look so moist and yummy!
    xoxoBella | http://xoxobella.com


  37. Mary F on October 12, 2015 at 6:55 am

    This is my father’s favorite cookie. I make it for him at Chrismas every year. I use my aunt’s recipe, which is the same as the one posted my Cat S. I might need to try this one out now and compare the two 😉


    • Michelle on October 12th, 2015 at 9:30 am

      The one Cat posted seems to be the same one I see everywhere else… I’m not sure where my aunt got her recipe!


  38. Leia on October 12, 2015 at 8:10 am

    As soon as I saw the title of the post I knew exactly what the recipe was! These are some of my favorite “cookies”. I like the fact they are not wet looking like so many bar cookies. I have copied the other recipes from other posters as well. Every now and then a certain food smell propels me back to my Grandmothers’ kitchen. She was an amazing cook and could take a few ingredients and make them into delicious meals. Thanks for the memory jog.


  39. birthday cupcake on October 12, 2015 at 10:45 am

    Poor man’s cookies are so rich of energy and power, for a great day


  40. Germaine on October 12, 2015 at 10:55 am

    My Aunt used to make this all the time and top it with a caramel icing but she called it Boiled Raisin Cake – Thanks for the memories – how we loved this cake growing up. I may have to hunt for her recipe and ask my mom about it. Again thanks


  41. Char R on October 12, 2015 at 12:33 pm

    Oh my gosh! I haven’t thought about this recipe in years!
    I remember the first time I tried this cake….a sweet elderly neighbor
    offered me a piece when I was visiting one day. She was kind enough to
    give me her recipe and I’ve shared it with others many times since then.
    You’ve reminded me that I need to make it again, using this
    recipe. Thanks for bringing back a sweet memory!


  42. Mary Anne Paul on October 12, 2015 at 1:20 pm

    I google everything! So I googled these cookies and found the below info. I love the history of food! Thanks Michelle for posting this recipe!

    “The cookies came from a 1930 radio program called Jake and Lena. The mother of the submitter changed to the name to Poor Man’s cookies because they contained no eggs, milk or nuts. Despite the name, the cookies are rich in taste!”


  43. Michelle G on October 12, 2015 at 4:03 pm

    Love reading old recipes and trying them out and l will try this one soon
    Would you be kind enough to put up the recipe that is in the newspaper clipping so l can try that one as well please


    • Michelle on October 20th, 2015 at 11:11 am

      Hi Michelle, I no longer have it, but I believe my mom does. I’ll see if she can dig it up!


  44. Joe on October 12, 2015 at 6:37 pm

    My grandma always made a poor man’s cake that was similar but not glazed every holiday. She baked the layers in round cake pans and stacked them like a layer cake with no frosting. It was so good and I always remember her cracking walnuts to add to the cake. Whenever you would leave her house she would wrap a small slice in plastic wrap and send it home in a paper lunch bag for breakfast the next day. What I wouldn’t give to have one of those sweetly wrapped slices for tomorrow’s breakfast.


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  46. BJ Morton on October 19, 2015 at 10:40 am

    I made these exactly as called for in this recipe and they turned out wonderful. I did have to make 1/2 more glaze for the top but otherwise followed to a tee. I took them to an office luncheon and they were very well received. Mine looked as pretty as the picture up above. Wish I’d taken a picture. I will make these again.


  47. Robin on July 10, 2016 at 12:35 pm

    Wasn’t this recipe originally listed as Old Fashioned Spice Cake?


    • Michelle on July 11th, 2016 at 9:02 pm

      Yes, but I decided to give it the name my aunt always used for it.


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