Cookies recipe

Gluten-free oatmeal cookie recipe

Chef’s Notes

Dr. Jessica B. Harris is an award-winning food historian, cookbook author and journalist specializing in the food and lifestyles of the African Diaspora. With this column, “My Culinary Compass”, she takes people around the world – via their taste buds – with recipes inspired by her extensive travels.

Cardinal points: True North.

Everyone has a place they call home, a place so ingrained in their DNA that it’s part of their matrix. Sometimes it’s a place in their present, sometimes it’s a place in their past. Although I am very much at home in the present, my true culinary north is the kitchen on Anderson Road in Queens, in the house where I grew up. I vividly remember its layout and how the table in the breakfast nook, where we ate dinner on weeknights, served as a prep area when my mother cooked. I learn to cook in this kitchen by watching my mother. I remember sitting on the bottom step of the running board that my little mother – dare I say – used to access the top shelves. I remember the radio where I would listen to children’s shows on Saturday mornings and watch mom intently making cookies and pie crusts and seasoned roasts and chopped vegetables. As she was a working mother with an active only child, my presence in the kitchen served two purposes: child care and instruction. Out of necessity, my mother became my culinary instructor, teaching by example and demonstration.

My mom was a master teacher because she was actually trained as a dietitian and had an associate’s degree in dietetics from Pratt University. She briefly worked in the field at Bennett College, an institution for African American women in Greensboro, North Carolina, and as a private dietitian for a wealthy family in New York. She loved food and had the best palate I know, but left the field when friends convinced her that being a dietitian was too close to domestic work. She became a secretary.

She practiced her culinary skills in our home kitchen and I was her apprentice and eventually her sous chef. I was a very strong-willed student and learned to chop and season with the best of them. I’ve mastered rotisserie chickens and created some of the classic African-American dishes that have found their way to our table. However, long before I was handling knives and mixing spices, our first bonding moments came when we baked cookies together.

Then she would pull out the shredded copy of the “Boston Cooking-School Cook Book” she had used at Pratt and we would decide what kind of cookies we were going to make. One of my favorites was an oatmeal cookie that had just enough crispiness to be crunchy and was simple to make. I would be in charge of greasing the cookie pans and assembling the few ingredients: oatmeal, sugar, butter, eggs and vanilla. Then we would bake the cookies.

I hadn’t thought of cookies or made them in over 60 years, until recently when I decided to pull out the venerable copy of the cookbook and make them. Because I am unable to follow recipes without experimenting, I replaced some of the oats with dried coconut and almonds and added a pinch of lemon extract (a family secret that gives shine to most baked goods). The results were delicious with enough past to make me nostalgic and a hint of present in my additions.

I served these to a friend and was amazed when she asked me about the ingredients and then informed me that they were not only incredibly tasty but also gluten free. I was thrilled to know that an adaptation of a cookie recipe from my true northern kitchen had combined my tastes from the past with the current dietary needs of some of my friends. Somehow, I know my mother is smiling.


Kara Birnbaum / TODAY


Preheat the oven to 325F.


In a medium bowl, whisk egg until fluffy.

Kara Birnbaum / TODAY


Slowly add sugar, whisking constantly, until well blended.


Add the melted butter, vanilla extract, and lemon extract, and whisk to combine.


Add rolled oats, almonds, coconut and salt, and stir until well blended.

Kara Birnbaum / TODAY


Using a teaspoon, drop mounds of the cookie mixture onto parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing them 1½ inches apart.

Kara Birnbaum / TODAY


Using a fork dipped in cold water, use the tines to spread the mixture in a circle shape.

Kara Birnbaum / TODAY


Bake until lightly browned around the edges, about 12 minutes.

Kara Birnbaum / TODAY


Let stand 10 minutes before carefully transferring cookies to a cooling rack; cool completely. store in an airtight container.

Adapted from “Boston Cooking-School Cook Book” by Fannie Merritt Farmer. Little Brown and company, 1931.