If the sign-up sheets haven’t yet begun circulating in your office, don’t fret. They will soon.
The annual Girl Scout retail juggernaut is underway, spinning thousands of signatures into hundreds of millions of dollars in roughly six weeks’ time, a pace and margin of profit that is the envy of many CEOs.
What began in 1917 as a modest troop fundraiser in Merle Haggard’s Muskogee, Okla. has become both a model of entrepreneurship and training program in “Life Skills 101.”
According to the Girl Scouts, young girls and women learn five basic skills: “goal setting, decision making, money management [boxes are priced at $4 each], people skills, and business ethics.” And consistent with the times we live in, cookie sales in at least two national councils–Houston and Minneapolis–have gone mobile.
Girls Scouts and their moms have not baked cookies in decades, even though an enterprising troop leader in Chicago created an inexpensive cookie recipe in the 1920s.
Two companies, Little Brownie Bakers, a subsidiary of Keebler, and ABC Bakers, are licensed to bake the cookies and may choose to produce among eight varieties, three of which–Thin Mints, Trefoils, and Peanut Butter Sandwich cookies–are mandatory. And there is some autonomy among troop councils as to which varieties they sell (provided they sell “The Big Three”), and which names they use: “Samoas” aka “Caramel deLites.”
Other useful bytes of information about cookies:
- they have little or no trans fat and no preservatives or artificial flavors
- vegan “Thin Mints” are now available
- Little Brownie Bakers does not use any high fructose syrup in its cookies
- the packaging is sustainable.
Not all adjustments to the nutritional value of the cookies, however, have succeeded. For example, low-fat and sugar-free varieties didn’t sell well and are no longer produced. They are cookies, after all. And some varieties, “Snaps,” an iced oatmeal raisin cookie; “Double Dutch,” a double chocolate; and my own fleeting favorite, “Dulce de Leche,” will never see the inside of a cookie jar or sack lunch again.
That’s the way the cookie crumbles.
I was a Girl Scout in Arlington in the mid-1960s, and was one of the legions of young girls selling cookies. In those days, the operation was pretty low-tech. I would come home from school, change into my uniform, and hit the houses in my neighborhood unaccompanied (something I cannot imagine a Scout doing today), lugging my cardboard carton of 12 boxes of the Big Three. No driving around with a parent, no meet-ups with other scouts and mothers to sell cookies in front of a grocery store or library, no sign-ups sheets carried by my father to his office. Just me, my carton and my sales pitch.
To the list of life skills that cookie selling teaches, I would add: self–confidence; the ability to look an adult in the eye; perseverance (I refused to quit going door-to-door until every box was sold); the value of team work and how achieving something individually (selling my share) contributes to the greater good (troop camping trips).
In fact, it’s the camping trips I most remember from my years as a Girl Scout–the fun of being outdoors and hiking, telling ghost stories and sleeping in huge canvas tents with wooden floors. And cooking foil-wrapped dinners.
Most people have tried their hand at making “S’mores,” the campfire confection first recorded in “Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts” (1927). While S’mores are great, I prefer the campfire treat favored by my troop: a red apple (Fuji or Gala work best), cored and filled with the candy “Red Hots,” wrapped in foil and baked over a fire. Sweet, cinnamony, spicy, nutritious (well, sort of) and delicious.
For that treat alone, I would turn back the clock.
Were you a Girl Scout? Have a tale to add to “Cookie Chronicles”?
Please do so in the comments section below.
Amelia T says
I’m not a girl scout cookies fan but I’m impressed by their evolution to healthier alternatives and ingredients. I’ll have to try your recipe though — it does sound tasty!
Diane Kresh says
Thanks for your comment. I can assure you that the red hot apple is delish. Please let me know if you try it. I would love to hear what you think.
It sure is the season! Not great for my waistline! But it brings back great memories of my after school activities as a child. I pick up my granddaughters now after school and the aprons just don’t seem the same.
diane kresh says
Thanks for your comment. I have many happy memories of Girl Scout meetings after school. And hats off to the Moms who gave of their time to create such fun and safe environments for young girls.
Diane Gates says
I have fond memories of my years as a Brownie and a Girl Scout many moons ago. In my adult years, I was fortunate to share scouting with my daughter-craft and community projects, sleeping under the stars at a Girl Scout camp and the never again activity of visits to the latrine. Another memorable time, never to repeat activity, was the year I served as one of the Cookie Sales Moms. Boxes of cookies were in my car and house for months. I’m still a consumer of those cookies and supporter of the Scouts.
Thanks for the history nuggets, and for giving me a reason to pause, for a pleasant trip down memory lane.
diane kresh says
Nice story, Diane. Thanks for sharing. And great that you were able to enjoy Scouting with your daughter.
Thanks for reading the post and for taking the time to write to us.
Shari Henry says
Diane, thanks for sharing your memories and for conjuring up similar ones for so many of us. I was a Girl Scout in the late 60s and early 70s in Fairfax. I think what is perhaps lost in history (something younger women can’t imagine anymore) is how few activities were available for girls to participate in just a handful of decades ago. Indeed, we learned teamwork, goal setting, and perseverance required to achieve results. Fewer sports and other activities had opened up to girls, so we also learned important networking skills and the importance of having another female’s back – something boys-becoming-men had enjoyed opportunities to do for years.
I must admit, though, that my greatest motivation came from a very base level but intense competitive spirit. The quote outside your door accompanied by the fierce and beautiful little girl resonates with me: “Every success story starts with a kid who hated to lose.” I was raised in a large family by a high school football coach who taught his daughters that competition was as okay for girls as it was for boys. In fact, he encouraged it. So, for me, each year that I received the ruled ledger with the photos of cookies across the top, ready to be filled out with orders, I got a small thrill, and began to set goals in hopes that I would be able to make a sizable contribution to the team. I think I carry that same spirit within me today. And I’m grateful for it.
Oh, and though Thin Mints, Trefoils, and Do-Si-Dos are my favorites, Samoas are remarkably yummy when microwaved for about 15 minutes and topped with a little bit of vanilla ice cream.
diane kresh says
Thanks for your comments. How true, how true that there were few activates for girls. My father taught me to throw a hardball and bought me my first baseball mitt when I was 10. I still have it.
Your recipe for Samoas’s sounds great, too. I’m thinking a “Deconstructing GS Cookies” is an APL program just waiting to happen.
Gretchen Robertson says
I was a Girl Scout in Colorado during the 1940’s when WWII’s sugar rationing made sweets of any kind a much sought-after commodity. The Girl Scouts had some sort of arrangement with the ration board and as a result there were two types of cookies available: the regular trefoils we know and a cocoa based “chocolate” trefoil. No Thin Mints. No Samoas. No. Peanut butter anythings. We did not take preorders. Instead, I would come home after school, put my alotted number of boxes in my red wagon and go door to door. Because my darling 5-year-old sister with the Shirley Temple curls put up such a screaning fuss, I took her with me. Great idea. She would go up to the door holding a box of cookies, smile a big dimpled smile and we cleaned out that wagon long before the sun even thought about going down.
diane kresh says
We LOVE your story. And what a great way to co-opt the talents of your younger sister. Pure genius.
Thanks for contributing your story and for your support of Arlington Public Library.
Jane Wendelin says
I was a Girl Scout from 1960 – 1971 in Wheaton, MD, second grade through high school. Cookies were 50 cents/box and the troop got a nickle. My selling partner was Bonnie Dieux whose mom was our leader. Bonnie’s dad worked in a men’s clothing store called Raleighs – pretty posh place. He allowed us to set up a table there. I liked that better than the door to door routine. I was the ‘Cookie Mom’ for my daughter’s troop for 9 years in Arlington. I think I moved over 10,000 boxes during my tenure. What continues to amaze me is that in a period of less than 3 months, women and girls raised more than $4 million for the DC council every year. I always buy from any girl scout who approaches me.
diane kresh says
When I sold cookies, they too were priced at .50 a box. And how well I remember Raleighs … a Washington institution. I still buy cookies from the Girl Scouts and like to enjoy a shortbread cookie (or two) with a cup of hot tea.
Thank you for sharing your story and for your support of Arlington Public Library.