Wednesday, 28 November 2007

The magical cookie recipe

One of America's favourite urban legends of the 1980s became one of its most readily-believed myths of the '90s, thanks to the Internet. And then died at the turn of the 21st century, again thanks to the Internet.

Hardly a week used to go by without some online discussion forum or another being told the story:

A customer thoroughly enjoys her desert after a meal at a Neiman Marcus Cafe somewhere in the USA, and asks for the recipe.

The waiter says there will be a charge of "two fifty". The customer pays for the meal by credit card, doesn't pay attention to the amount, and is shocked to find on her bill a "cookie recipe" charge of 250 dollars!

Now, in revenge, she is spreading the recipe to everyone she knows.

The story usually ends with the line: "So... Here it is. Please run a few copies and pass it on to someone else. I paid for it, now you can have it for free."

The recipe is quite legitimate, and makes adequate cookies, but has nothing to do with Neiman Marcus. it seems that, at some point in the life of both the recipe and the legend, someone put the two together, giving the legend a kind of credibility that is hard to dispute at first site.

The Internet was an ideal vehicle for spreading this kind of legend, not only because it is the perfect word-of-mouth medium, but also because those users reading the message were so pleased with their power to do something to help the wronged customer extract revenge. In many cases, the story was presented as an example of "Internet justice", and as punishment for a company that charges exorbitant prices for minor requests.

One user of an urban legends forum on the Internet offered users of a cooking forum $500 for proof of the original incident, such as a credit card slip. Not one of hundreds of users, who had sworn to the truth of the incident, responded.

Thanks to the Internet-powered word of mouth around this and similar challenges, and the ease of debunking the story by doing a very ordinary Internet search, the story is now universally known as an urban legend. The best stories about the story are by David Emery at, and the inevitable Snopes explanation byBarbara Mikkelson. In a great piece of research, she also delves into the origins of the legend, and its precursors in the 1960s.

The most fascinating aspect about the legend is that Neiman Marcus never did have a cookie recipe when the legend began circulating, but decided to create one (fully acknowledging the urban legend, but pretending that the cookie inspired the myth, and not the other way round) to take advantage of the legend. They even offer it online ... at no cost!

1 comment:

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