(Costs a) Fortune Cookie

FALSE: Woman gains revenge after being charged $250 by Neiman Marcus for a cookie recipe.


Claim:   Woman gains revenge after being charged $250 by Neiman Marcus for a cookie recipe.


FALSE


Examples:
[Collected on the Internet, 1996]

My daughter & I had just finished a salad at Neiman-Marcus Cafe in Dallas & decided to have a small dessert. Because our family are such cookie lovers, we decided to try the "Neiman-Marcus Cookie". It was so excellent that I asked if they would give me the recipe and they said with a small frown, "I'm afraid not." Well, I said, would you let me buy the recipe? With a cute smile, she said, "Yes." I asked how much, and she responded, "Two fifty." I said with approval, just add it to my tab.

Thirty days later, I received my VISA statement from Neiman-Marcus and it was $285.00. I looked again and I remembered I had only spent $9.95 for two salads and about $20.00 for a scarf. As I glanced at the bottom of the statement, it said, "Cookie Recipe - $250.00." Boy, was I upset!! I called Neiman's Accounting Dept. and told them the waitress said it was "two fifty," and I did not realize she meant $250.00 for a cookie recipe. I asked them to take back the recipe and reduce my bill and they said they were sorry, but because all the recipes were this expensive so not just everyone could duplicate any of our bakery recipes....the bill would stand. I waited, thinking of how I could get even or even try and get any of my money back.

I just said, "Okay, you folks got my $250.00 and now I'm going to have $250.00 worth of fun." I told her that I was going to see to it that every cookie lover will have a $250.00 cookie recipe from Neiman-Marcus for nothing. She replied, "I wish you wouldn't do this." I said, "I'm sorry but this is the only way I feel I could get even," and I will.

So, here it is, and please pass it to someone else or run a few copies.... I paid for it; now you can have it for free. (Recipe may be halved):

2 cups butter
4 cups flour
2 tsp. soda
2 cups sugar
5 cups blended oatmeal**
24 oz. chocolate chips
2 cups brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 8 oz. Hershey Bar (grated)
4 eggs
2 tsp. baking powder
3 cups chopped nuts (your choice)
2 tsp. vanilla

Cream the butter and both sugars. Add eggs and vanilla; mix together with flour, oatmeal, salt, baking powder, and soda. Add chocolate chips, Hershey Bar and nuts. Roll into balls and place two inches apart on a cookie sheet. Bake for 10 minutes at 375 degrees. Makes 112 cookies.

** measure oatmeal and blend in a blender to a fine powder.
 


[Collected via e-mail, June 2009]

A little background:

Woolworths (South Africa), if you don't know already, is a very expensive clothing and supermarket outlet (they sell a typical R50 T-shirt for R150). My daughter and I had just finished lunch at a Woolies Cafe in Hyde Park, Johannesburg. Because both of us are such biscuit lovers, we decided to try the 'Woolies Cookie'. It was so excellent that I asked if they would give me the recipe.

The waitress said with a small frown, 'I'm afraid not, but you can buy the recipe.'

I asked how much, and she responded; 'Only two fifty - it's a great deal'

I agreed to that, and told her to add it to my bill.

Thirty days later, I got my Visa statement, and the Woolworths charge was R485. I looked at it again, and I remembered I had only spent R49.95 for two sandwiches and about R120 for a scarf. At the bottom of the statement, it said, 'Cookie Recipe - R250.00'. That was outrageous!

I called Woolworths Accounting Department and told them the waitress had said it was 'two fifty', which clearly does not mean 'two hundred and fifty Rands' by any reasonable interpretation of the phrase. Woolworths refused to budge. They would not refund my money because according to them; 'What the waitress told you is not our problem. You have already seen the recipe. We absolutely will not refund your money.

I explained to the Accounting Department lady the criminal statutes which govern fraud in the state of Gauteng. I threatened to report them to the Better Business Bureau and The Attorney General's office. I was basically told: Do what you want. Don't bother thinking of how you can get even, and don't bother trying to get any of your money back'

I said, OK, you've got my R250, and now I'm going to have R250 worth of fun. I told her that I was going to see to it that every cookie lover in the world with an e-mail account gets a R250 cookie recipe from Neiman-Marcus for free. She replied, 'I wish you wouldn't do that.' I said, 'Well, perhaps you should have thought of that before you RIPPED ME OFF!' and slammed down the phone.

So here it is! Please pass it on to everyone you can possibly think of. I paid R250 for this, and I don't want Woolworths to EVER make another cent from this recipe!

WOOLIES COOKIES (Recipe may be halved as this makes heaps)

2 (500 ml) cups butter
680 g chocolate chips
4 (1000 ml) cups flour
2 (500 ml) cups brown sugar
2 tsp. (10 ml) Bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp. (5 ml) salt
2 (500 ml) cups sugar
500 g Grated Cadbury chocolate
5 (1250 ml) cups blended oatmeal
4 eggs
2 tsp. (10 ml) baking powder
2 tsp. (10 ml) vanilla
3 cups (375 ml) chopped nuts (optional)


Measure oatmeal, and blend in a blender to a fine powder. Cream the butter and both sugars. Add eggs and vanilla, mix together with flour, oatmeal, salt, baking powder, and bicarbonate of soda. Add chocolate chips, grated Chocolate and nuts. Roll into balls, and place two inches apart on a cookie sheet. Bake for 10 minutes at 180 C.

The above quantities make 112 cookies. Enjoy!

PLEASE KEEP THE RECIPE AND SEND IT TO EVERY PERSON YOU KNOW WHO HAS AN E-MAIL ADDRESS!

This is not a joke-it's a true story.
 
Origins:   What we have here is a golden oldie of an urban legend, the ultimate "strike a blow for the little guy" tale, and in that aspect lies its appeal: by forwarding it on, we can be armchair heroes.

Though its present incarnation casts the Neiman Marcus chain of department stores as the bad guy, this legend has been around for at least 70 years or so, and it's been told of various companies (and various confections) during its long history. Here's a fine example from a 1948 cookbook, Massachusetts Cooking Rules, Old and New, which lists not only the recipe for "$25 Fudge Cake" but also gives the following explanation for the name:
This friend had to pay $25 upon the receipt of the recipe from the chef of one of the railroads. She had asked for the recipe while eating on a train. The chef gladly sent it to her, together with a bill for $25, which her attorney said she had to pay. She then gave the recipe to all her friends, hoping they would get some pleasure from it.
Sound disturbingly familiar?

The 1960s saw this tale mutate into a villainization of New York's famed Waldorf-Astoria hotel over a dessert known as "Red Velvet Cake." A woman who'd dined at the hotel later wrote to ask for the recipe. The recipe arrived ... along with a bill for $350, a bill her lawyer assured her she had to pay. Her way of getting even was — you guessed it — to distribute the recipe far and wide.

($350 was a shocking figure for those times. Just to give an idea of the relative worth of things back then, the grocery budget at my house was $50 a week for a family of four. Faced with a $35 dentist bill, my mother would for the next two weeks stand over me as I brushed my teeth at bedtime, making sure I wasn't half doing the job and thus sentencing the family to the poor house.)

Cartoon of the legend

By the late 1970s, this legend had shifted to Mrs. Fields and chocolate chip cookies. Indeed, this version proved so fiendishly popular that in 1987 the following notice signed by Debbi Fields was displayed in her stores:
Mrs. Fields recipe has never been sold. There is a rumor circulating that the Mrs. Fields Cookie recipe was sold to a woman at a cost of $250. A chocolate-chip cookie recipe was attached to the story. I would like to tell all my customers that this story is not true, this is not my recipe and I have not sold the recipe to anyone. Mrs. Fields recipe is a delicious trade secret.
You rarely hear this tale told of Mrs. Fields these days — the 1990s saw it shift yet again, this time to point a finger at Neiman-Marcus. One possible reason for this shift could have been a double misremembering of names as the legend was briefly told of the department store Marshall Fields: Mrs. Fields to Marshall Fields (similar name) and Marshall Fields to Neiman Marcus (similar-sounding name plus both are department stores).

Two decades after it spiked in popularity through forwarded e-mails, the Neiman-Marcus cookie story evolved and spread on a new medium: Facebook. In early January 2016, tens of thousands of Facebook users re-shared the well-worn tale anew; while much changed between its appearance in 1996 and re-appearance in 2016, the "two-fifty" aspect of the tale remained intact. Precisely why the decades-old tale was received so readily by a social media audience was unclear, but the legend's reinvigorated popularity might have been partly generational.

As the latest in a long line of victims, Neiman Marcus has fielded numerous inquiries about the following tale (which I've excerpted from the rather lengthy canonical version):
My daughter & I had just finished a salad at Neiman-Marcus Cafe in Dallas & decided to have a small dessert. Because our family are such cookie lovers, we decided to try the "Neiman-Marcus Cookie". It was so excellent that I asked if they would give me the recipe and they said with a small frown, "I'm afraid not." Well, I said, would you let me buy the recipe? With a cute smile, she said, "Yes." I asked how much, and she responded, "Two fifty." I said with approval, just add it to my tab.

Thirty days later, I received my VISA statement from Neiman-Marcus and it was $285.00. I looked again and I remembered I had only spent $9.95 for two salads and about $20.00 for a scarf. As I glanced at the bottom of the statement, it said, "Cookie Recipe - $250.00." Boy, was I upset!! I called Neiman's Accounting Dept. and told them the waitress said it was "two fifty," and I did not realize she meant $250.00 for a cookie recipe.
(Neiman Marcus refuses to strike down the bill; then comes the usual exhortation from the writer to pass this along to as many as possible.)

Especially in the particular case of Neiman Marcus, the legend is even more improbable than usual in that:
  • There was no such thing as a "Neiman-Marcus" cookie when this tale began circulating about that company. They developed a chocolate chip cookie in response to the rumor.
  • There is no "Neiman Marcus Cafe" at any of the chain's three Dallas-area stores. Instead, the restaurants are named Zodiac, Zodiac at North Park, and The Woods.
  • Neiman Marcus does not sell recipes from its restaurants. The department store gives them away for free to anyone who asks and openly published their chocolate chip cookie recipe on their web site).

As to why this legend has taken on a life of its own despite persistent and detailed
debunkings, it's a classic David and Goliath story. It is, after all, the little guy smacking the big, heartless corporation a swift one right across the nose, something many people have often longed to do. This bit of netlore invites — nay, demands — participation. Painless participation too. One tap of the "Forward" key and someone who always saw herself as part of The Forces for Good (but who could never find the time to change the world) gets to enjoy that wonderfully warming self-righteous feeling that comes from Striking a Blow. All it takes is either a couple of pins and a bulletin board or e-mail capability and your good deed of the day is done and finished before the morning's first coffee has cooled. Would an anonymous, forwarded-a-million-times e-mail lie to you?

Barbara "just desserts" Mikkelson

Last updated:   6 January 2016

Originally published:   3 November 1999

Sources:

    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   Curses! Broiled Again!
    New York: W. W. Norton, 1989.   ISBN 0-393-30711-5   (pp. 219-226).

    de Vos, Gail.   Tales, Rumors and Gossip.
    Englewood: Libraries Unlimited, 1996.   ISBN 1-56308-190-3   (pp. 19-20, 38).

    FOAFTale News.   "More Cookie Bills and Recipes."
    December 1995   (p. 10).

    FOAFTale News.   "And That Cookie in the Globe . . ."
    June 1996   (pp. 9-10).

Also told in:

    Barreca, Regina.   Sweet Revenge: The Wicked Delights of Getting Even.
    New York: Harmony Books, 1995.   ISBN 0-517-59757-8   (p. 163-165).

    The Big Book of Urban Legends.
    New York: Paradox Press, 1994.   ISBN 1-56389-165-4   (p. 180).

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