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

Fork slicing into a Poor Man's Cookie.

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 cookie handwritten recipe.

Overhead image of a Poor Man's Cookie on a white plate.

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!

Side view of a stack of 3 Poor Man's Cookies on a white plate.

Six years ago: Lemon Burst Cookies

Fork slicing into a Poor Man's Cookie.

Poor Man's Cookies

These poor man's cookies are an old family recipe - spiced bar cookies with plump raisins and chopped walnuts.
4.41 (15 ratings)


For the Cookies:

  • cups (562.5 ml) water
  • cups (217.5 g) raisins
  • 8 tablespoons vegetable shortening
  • 3 cups (375 g) all-purpose flour
  • cups (300 g) sugar
  • teaspoons (1.5 teaspoons) baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoons (0.75 teaspoons) baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon (0.5 teaspoon) salt
  • ½ teaspoon (0.5 teaspoon) cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon (0.5 teaspoon) nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon (0.5 teaspoon) cloves
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • ½ cup (58.5 g) coarsely chopped walnuts

For the Glaze:

  • 1 cup (120 g) powdered sugar
  • 3 tablespoons warm water


  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a 9x13 baking pan.
  • 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.
  • While the raisin mixture is boiling, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves in a large bowl.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
Nutritional values are based on one serving
Calories: 210kcal, Carbohydrates: 37g, Protein: 2g, Fat: 6g, Saturated Fat: 1g, Cholesterol: 13mg, Sodium: 126mg, Potassium: 119mg, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 17g, Vitamin A: 20IU, Vitamin C: 0.5mg, Calcium: 15mg, Iron: 1.1mg

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This recipe was originally published June 15, 2009.