Sunday, March 6, 2011


Last fall, in preparation for a children’s book I’m writing, I spent a lot of time researching America’s most famous Quaker, William Penn. I also mentioned the same W. Penn in a piece I wrote for my friend, novelist Leslie Pietrzyk’s blog. I described the founder of Pennsylvania as the “chubby, paternal looking Quaker on the oatmeal box.”
This week I decided to bake oatmeal cookies for some favorite cousins, even though I’m currently trying to lose weight (that’s another story). When I reached for that familiar cylindrical container, this question wormed its way into my cookie-obsessed brain. “Is that really supposed to be a picture of William Penn on the box?”
 I checked the Quaker Oats website. A “most commonly asked question” was: "Who is the man on the Quaker Oats box? Is it William Penn?"  Answer:  "The Quaker man is not an actual person. His image is that of a man dressed in the Quaker garb, chosen because the Quaker faith projected the values of honesty, integrity, purity, and strength."

Well! Guess I’ve got oats on my face—although the assumption is obviously made quite often. But, why do many of us think it is William Penn on the box rather than George Fox, generally considered the founder of the Society of Friends (a.k.a Quakers)? You can’t tell me that in 1877, when Quaker Oats former owners (Henry Seymour and William Heston) registered their trademark with the U.S. Patent office they weren’t thinking of a famous Quaker.

William Penn as a dashing teenager dressed in armor—yes, armor. Nice, but doesn’t make me want to eat hot cereal.

 Here we may have Penn as an older, more substantial patriarch.

 George Fox as a young man, looking quite overtaken by religious fervor. Doesn’t make me want to eat cereal either.

Here we may have a portrait of Fox—done quite a few years later.
(Note: Historians question the authenticity of the later portraits of both men. But they would have been out there when the Quaker Oats people were deciding on their trademark.)

The mature portraits of both men look more like the guy on the oatmeal box. Of course, don’t many of us gain girth and wisdom as we age? You can almost hear a sagacious voice emanating from the older men’s images saying, “Eat your oatmeal. It’s good for you.”

The bottom line: Oats are a delicious whole grain. William Penn and George Fox were important Quakers. The grandfatherly, apparently anonymous Quaker man on the box looks cheerful, comforting, and familiar. Now, here’s my favorite recipe for oatmeal cookies.
Aunt Helen’s Oatmeal Cookies
1 cup shortening
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 ¾ cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon soda
3 cups oatmeal (I use Quakers Old Fashioned)
1 cup raisins
Cream the shortening and sugars. Add eggs and beat well. Blend spices, soda, and salt with flour. Add flour mixture to shortening mixture, then add oats and raisins. Mix well. Drop generous tablepoons of dough on greased cookie sheet. I flatten each cookie slightly. Bake at 350 degrees for at least 12 minutes or until lightly brown. Let rest on cookie sheet 2 minutes before removing.

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