History

The Doomsday Cookie

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Can a cookie save lives? The United States government thought so. In fact, they were on a mission to save lives one cookie at a time. I’m talking about the Doomsday Cookie. This ultimate survival food never spoiled, and fit perfectly in a bugout bag, or on the shelves of the fallout shelters of the 1950s and 1960s.

I remember the days of the Cold War as a restless and uncertain time for Americans. The nightly news documented unruly college campus protests taking place around the country, racial tensions, and sadly, the Vietnam War. Americans watched all these things from the comfort of our couches. War and turbulence seemed far away.

But playing in the background of the stormy fifties and sixties was a time many have only read about, and some have lived through. It was called the Cold War but it actually burned quite hot with proxy wars popping up here and there across the globe. Technically it was defined as ‘the state of political hostility that existed between the Soviet bloc countries and the US-led Western powers from 1945 to 1990.’

As a child, I sensed the tension but had no idea what was going on. At school, we were being taught to duck and cover under our desks in preparation for the inevitable nuclear attack that Russia was sure to wage on us. At school, a siren would blare, and all of us kids got to put down our pencils and duck and cover under our desks. Schools were stockpiling canned goods, and fallout shelters were being built in basements and government buildings. The unrest we had watched on television was paying us a visit, and it threatened to end life as we knew it in these United States.

School kids were told to donate any canned foods they had to add to the stockpiles of supplies kept at the public schools. So, we school kids regularly brought canned goods to the growing stockpiles of food kept there. If World War lll broke out during school hours, at least no one would go hungry.

Despite all this, times were good in America. People had jobs, cars, and plenty to eat. But the Cold War reminded people that we were very close to losing all of that. The homecooked dinners we enjoyed daily could soon be replaced with Hawaiian Punch and the Doomsday Cookie. That’s what our government planned to feed us as we hunkered down in our fallout shelters when the bombs began to drop.

During this time President Kennedy gave speeches and went on record in LIFE magazine urging citizens to begin preparing fallout shelters if they were able to do so. He also promised that public shelters would be in the works for those of us who didn’t have fallout shelters. They began to be built underneath municipal buildings, in parking garages, and were even carved into hillsides.

Folks all around the country worked to get prepared for the possibility of World War lll by stocking shelf-stable food items. Ladies’ magazines like Family Circle and Woman’s Day were bombarded with articles and ads on how to prepare for the bleak future that lay ahead. This information was of supreme importance; it was the solution for survival after a nuclear blast.

A big question on the minds of many was what they would eat when the time came to hunker down. Enter the Doomsday Cookie. It cost $0.37 to make and was made from bulgur wheat, which is high in fiber and has a pleasantly nutty flavor. It was shelf stable, meaning it could last virtually forever, and it was highly nutritious. Our government went into overdrive to produce it by the millions before it was too late.

The Doomsday Cookie had a starring role in the Cold War. It was going to get Americans through the devastating days that lay ahead. But Armageddon Entre, as it has also been called, had a more important job than any food that had come before; it was going to save lives when the bombs started falling. It was THE shelf-stable food, and that’s an understatement. It was going to save lives when the nuclear bombs started falling. It was the Cold War era’s nutrition solution for, during, and after a nuclear blast.

People had stocked up Tang, Campbell’s soup, canned veggies, fruits, and meats, but they all took a backseat to the Doomsday Cookie. That’s why American cereal companies, including Nabisco, Sunshine Biscuits, and Keebler were working overtime, and then some, to crank out the cookies on a scale unheard of in the history of our republic. All their hard work paid off and twenty million Doomsday Cookies hit the shelves of fallout shelters around the country in 1964.

The Armageddon Entree doesn’t taste any better than hardtack, which was flour, water, and salt, but spread some strawberry jam on it and it went down a little easier. Four Doomsday Cookies contained about 700 calories and the nutrients to sustain life.

We Americans today probably don’t give much thought to nuclear war, and if we do, we have the prepper shows to watch and books to read to learn how to get prepared. But folks back in the days of the Cold War were new to the idea of prepping and nuclear war.

It was the great unknown to them, so they did their best to follow the government’s instructions to the letter when it came to fallout shelters and how to stock them for survival. They believed that death and destruction were right around the corner. The building of the shelters served to shore up morale during precarious times.

People hurried to build fallout shelters in the mistaken belief that they would save them; they were very wrong. The shelters couldn’t take a direct hit from a nuclear bomb but they could house people until radiation levels fell to a normal range and it was safe to go outside. But the shelters undoubtedly gave folks a sense of hope. They had a place to run to if and when the bombs started falling, and they had the Doomsday Cookie to get them through it all. I’m not saying the Doomsday Cookie was all that tasty, but it was palatable and could be washed down with a large swig of Tang.

Grandma’s Pantry

Because doomsday survival was new to Americans back then, President Eisenhower established a campaign called Grandma’s Pantry. During this crusade, people were urged to keep enough food and water on hand for at least fourteen days in case of an ‘atomic emergency.’ It encouraged and educated people on how to stock their pantries and fallout shelters. Some called the campaign propaganda, but it provided valuable information to those of us living through perilous times.

The goal of Granma’s Pantry was to educate America’s mothers on how to prepare for the possibility of World War lll by educating them on shelf-stable foods that could keep them and their families alive, including the Doomsday Cookie.

Exhibits for Grandma’s Pantry were produced by the thousands and placed in grocery stores, department stores, and anywhere people were sure to see them. What did Grandma’s Pantry contain? A 14-day supply of all kinds of canned soup, Spam and other canned meats, water, Tang, Hawaiian Punch, canned vegetables and fruit, canned beans, peanut butter, crackers, cookies, and candy bars, and of course, the Doomsday Cookie. The cookies were packaged in tins of as many as 434 cookies. They were also called survival crackers.

Essential non-food items that every home and fallout shelter should contain include a battery-operated radio, an auxiliary light source such as a flashlight and extra batteries, and at least one first aid kit containing supplies like bandages, adhesives, and aspirin.

School kids of the day were told to donate any canned foods they had to add to the stockpiles of supplies kept at the public schools. So, we school kids regularly brought canned goods to the growing stockpiles of food kept there. If World War lll broke out during school hours, at least no one would go hungry.

Emergency Survival Crackers (1963 Radio Broadcast)

This news segment for Houston’s KPRC-TV, broadcast on January 15, 1963, tours the Houston Nabisco factory soon after it received a government contract to produce survival cracker rations, also known as “fall-out biscuits,” in the case of a nuclear event. The reporter details their nutritional value, as well as explains how they are produced and sealed for storage, before ending the segment with some light gallows humor speculating about their taste. Nabisco, earlier known as the National Biscuit Company, is a cookie and cracker manufacturer of products such as Chips Ahoy! Oreo, Ritz Crackers, and Wheat Thins. The company closed its Houston plant in 1999.

Multi-Purpose Food

General Mills had developed its own “fallout food offering” that consisted of synthetic protein, (whatever that is.) I’m glad I never had to taste-test it. It came in large white cans and was included in the Emergency Pak Food and Water kit. It was manufactured by a company called Surviv-All, Inc. in New York City. Compared to this offering, the Superstar Cookie must have seemed like a delicacy

How the Doomsday Cookie Came to Be

Bulgur wheat flour was chosen by the United States Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health, Education and Welfare as the perfect ingredient for the Doomsday Cookie.

Bulgur, a cracked wheat, is a whole grain that’s high in fiber, has a nutty flavor, and is shelf stable. It also has lots of vitamins and minerals like protein, Vitamin B6, and iron. Cracked wheat is made up of grains of wheat that have been crushed into small pieces. Bulgur is like cracked wheat except that it is steamed and dried during processing. Because of this, it cooks faster than plain cracked wheat. At the time of the Cold War, it was available in huge quantities for very little cost.

The government bought three million bushels of bulgur wheat to make Doomsday Cookies. By the end of 1964, twenty million Doomsday Cookies had been made and sealed up in airtight tins. They were then shipped to public buildings, government bunkers, and fallout shelters across the country.

Doomsday Cookie Recipe

  • 2 cups bulgur wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 cup water

Mixing bowl and spoon, sharp knife, cookie sheet, wax paper or freezer paper, clean straw, or other implement to poke holes in the cookies.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine salt and bulgur flour in mixing bowl. Pour in the water gradually, stirring as you pour. Knead the dough, it will be sticky. Add more flour if dough is too sticky. Then roll the dough out into no more than ½ inch thick so it will bake evenly.

  1. Cut into square biscuit shapes.
  2. Dock or poke holes in the dough with a fork or a straw.
  3. Bake in the oven for 30 to 40 mins.
  4. Allow to cool completely.

Tip: If you only have bulgur wheat and want to make it into flour, simply measure one cup of it into your food processor, grinder, or blender. Pulse it until you get a coarse flour and sift it through a mesh strainer to remove any large pieces. Store it in an airtight container in a cool dry place. It can also be used in many recipes like pancakes, breads, etc.

TV shows about prepping and the zombie invasion are popular today. I guess certain themes of life on planet Earth will live on forever. We are cautioned these days to get prepared and stay prepared in case the unthinkable happens, but preparedness was a way of life in the days of the Cold War.

Grandma’s Pantry always had plenty for everyone, at least that was the goal. She didn’t wait for an emergency or an enemy attack; it was too late to plan then. She knew she had to depend on herself, her garden, and a well-stocked pantry or fallout shelter. It’s a life lesson well worth learning.

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    • Our apologies, Em. Here's the rest of the instructions, which have also been added to the article. Thanks for letting us know it was missing.

      After rolling out the dough:
      1. Cut into square biscuit shapes.
      2. Dock or poke holes in the dough with a fork or a straw.
      3. Bake in the oven for 30 to 40 mins.
      4. Allow to cool completely.

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