Remember This: Biting into those crispy little Mama's Cookies after school
Or wearing one on every finger?
Karen Bells | WCPO contributor
7:00 AM, Oct 4, 2017
For many Cincinnatians, there was only one cookie brand that ever really mattered. You can keep your Famous Amos, you can keep your Nilla Wafers, you can even, gasp, keep your Oreos.
They'd happily give them all up for another taste of the beloved brand Mama's Cookies. By today's standards -- when you can get a cookie the size of a hockey puck packed with nuts, candies and the kitchen sink -- Mama's Cookies might not sound that impressive. They were small, cracker-thin, crisp and a bit dry. They had no icing or frosting or sprinkles or chocolate chips or gooey filling. They came in a few simple flavors: sugar, devil's food, lemon, macaroon.
But, boy, were they popular.
"Oh, I wish they were still around," said Judy Sceifres of Fort Thomas. "They were perfect."
Their simplicity and lack of cookie bells and whistles were actually selling points for Sceifres and others.
"I don't like icing on cookies," she said. "I'll scrape the icing out of an Oreo and give it to my grandkids and just eat the cookie part."
Mama's Cookies were distributed for decades by Oakley-based Shur-Good Biscuit Co., a distributor of cookies, crackers and other snack foods. Founded in 1928, Shur-Good sold Mama's Cookies until the manufacturer stopped producing them in 1984, then found a manufacturer to help bring the popular item back for a short while beginning in 1997.
Shur-Good was acquired by the North American arm of Parmalat Finanziaria in 1999 and stopped selling Mama's Cookies somewhere along the line.
Finding precise information about the demise of the cookies can be difficult, but finding people who loved them is as easy as, er, pie.
Part of their appeal -- at least for the moms buying them -- was likely that they were inexpensive compared to other cookie brands. Because of how thin they were, a package of Mama's also held more cookies than did many rival brands with bigger, fluffier treats.
Those qualities are cited by a surprising number of Cincinnatians who, like Jill Schleibaum of Eastgate, grew up in families with lots of siblings where money was tight.
"In our large family with eight kids, there was not a lot of money or a lot of time for Mom to bake," said Schleibaum, who grew up on the West Side. "We didn't get dessert after dinner, but Friday and Saturday nights were treat nights."
And treat night usually meant Mama's Cookies, often in her favorite flavor, devil's food.
"They were small enough that we could have more than one cookie, which we loved," Schleibaum said. "There was a lot of value for the money with Mama's Cookies."
Unlike many fans, however, her fascination with Mama's didn't come from "The Uncle Al Show." ("I don't know why, but I just never liked Uncle Al," Schleibaum said, admitting to a kind of heresy in this city.) The long-running children's show, which aired from 1950 to 1985 on WCPO-TV, featured Mama's Cookies as a sponsor, and kids in the audience and skits were often seen munching on the little crispy cookie rings.
Bob Horn of Palm Coast, Florida, realizes how lucky he was: He enjoyed four Mama's Cookies (chocolate or sugar) with a glass of milk pretty much every day after school when growing up in Wyoming, just north of Cincinnati.
"They were good for dunking, because they didn't soak up the milk quickly," he said. "They were just part of growing up."
Sandra Foster of Goshen remembers seeing the cookies often on "The Uncle Al Show" when she was growing up in Norwood and hearing the catchy song that accompanied it, a variation on the folk song "Shortnin' Bread": "Mama's little baby loves shortnin', shortnin', mama's little baby loves shortnin' bread."
Foster's three kids also loved Mama's Cookies and learned to eat them the correct way -- some would say the only way: poking their fingers through the square holes in the middle and eating the cookies off their fingers. Lucky kids would sometimes sport a cookie ring on each of their eight fingers (darn thumbs were too thick for cookie-spearing).
Foster and her kids also enjoyed creating winter treats for squirrels and birds, spreading the thin cookies with peanut butter and coating them with bird seed to hang outside.
Josh Sneed, one of the owners of retro-focused Cincy Shirts, included a Mama's Cookies T-shirt in the collection after a "mad hunt" to obtain the hard-to-find company logo. The cookies instantly remind Sneed of his childhood. He loved not only the taste but the whole look and feel of Mama's, especially the fact that each flavor had a unique package color.
Like many others, Brenda Armstrong has plenty of happy memories growing up in Price Hill eating Mama's Cookies. She wishes someone would bring the brand back.
"It was one of the good things about childhood -- a real treat, savoring them, dunking them in a glass of milk," said Armstrong, who now lives in Butler County, Kentucky. "I'm 56 years old, and it's something I still haven't forgotten."