Leftovers: Be prepared, have a cookie

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With each passing year, boxes of Girl Scout Cookies grow lighter in our hands and heavier on our wallets. The boxes are either smaller, thus the cookies are too, or fewer cookies are in each box. Depending upon the flavor, it might even be both.

Regardless, Girl Scout Cookies are an American icon of normalcy and nostalgia, as well as an early lesson in capitalistic-commerce for our youngest sash-wearing, badge-earning, female entrepreneurs. 

Scouting organization was not initially part of my childhood. The little girls in my neighborhood belonged to a Brownie troop with meetings held at the Baptist church within walking distance of our elementary school. Holding hands, they strolled to the meetings every other Thursday afternoon. On Saturday mornings, the girls piled into cars and went to meetings with their moms. Brownie activities and an upcoming overnight trip were all they talked about at recess. 

Most of all though, I was Thin Mint green with jealousy over their nifty uniforms. 

In retrospect, Brownies was one of my earliest memories of otherness, but at the time, I didn’t quite know why. My mother, The Betty, was not in favor of my joining the troop and her reasoning rang hollow to me. “You have Hebrew school on Mondays and Wednesdays,” was one excuse. “Who will help your grandmother cook dinner?” was another. This was all very confusing coming from the woman who suggested I take piano lessons, a fun dance class, and participate in anything that might broaden my worldview. 

But after a week of hushed conversations with my grandfather, The Betty enrolled me in the troop and took me to Sears Roebuck to shop for all the necessary Brownie regalia. New white sneakers were not part of the uniform, but I got them anyway and was ready to go.

Specific details of why it didn’t go well escape me, but I didn’t fit in. Big paintings on the walls and those set in the beautiful stained glass scared me. There were prayers and songs I didn’t know, and the leader seemed unsure of what to say to me. After telling The Betty I didn’t like it, she gently insisted I give it a chance.

When I finally told my mother the overnight outing was being held at another church with lots of troops coming, she let me quit. But I had to complete my letters to the elderly and the home-science projects I had committed to. My grandfather helped me build an intricate working pulley out of legos and kitchen twine and it won second place at the overnight trip I did not attend. Months later, the troop leader mailed my science badge to our house even though she only lived a few blocks away.

As an adult, I learned scouts consider themselves secular but are expected to believe in a supreme being and perform their “duty to God.” Many, like the Brownies I wanted to run with, were part of a larger church-based council. There were other troops I was better suited for, but desire fell to the wayside.

The industrious history of Girl Scout Cookies started five years after the organization was born in 1912. One leader in Oklahoma made them in her kitchen, selling them for 26 cents a dozen as a service project. The original recipe was a sugar cookie, the fundraising project spread across the county, and it eventually became the machine it is today.

Always on top of marketing, the Girl Scouts have added gluten-free and vegan selections to their long-time kosher options, and local troops are able to set their own prices, within a suggested range. Flavors have come and gone, along with box colors, style changes, and cookie names. (Everything you’ll ever want to know about Girl Scout Cookies can be found online at www.girlscouts.org/en/cookies.)

According to a cookie map of the U.S., Thin Mints and Caramel deLites outsell all others in Maine. The 2021 going rate in Portland is $5 a box and the time to get your supply is running out since the season goes from January-April. Luckily, I got mine at a card table set up by a scout selling them in her front yard. With her dad standing by, I realized I didn’t even see them for sale in 2020. 

Just one more delicious thing we had to give up, that’s come back to us. 

While all scouting troops may not be the best fit for each aspiring girl, I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t like the cookies. The operation is transparent and pride is instantaneous as each box is handed over. This year, I’m sending a few boxes to each of my girls. 

I’ll keep one box of Thin Mints in the freezer, so I can grab a few after coming in from a walk in my brand new white sneakers.

Natalie Ladd is a Portland restaurant veteran, freelance writer, and connoisseur of all things Bruce Springsteen. She loves Boston sports, chewy red wine and has never sampled a cheese she didn’t like. She can be reached at natalie@portlandphoenix.me.