The Museum of Hoaxes
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Princess Caraboo, servant girl who became a princess, 1817
The Instant Color TV Hoax, 1962
The worms inside your face
The Berners Street Hoax, 1810
The Great New York Zoo Escape Hoax, 1874
Fake Photos of Very Large Animals
Mule elected G.O.P. committeeman, 1938
The boy with the golden tooth, 1593
Jean Gauntt, the Immortal Baby, 1939
The Sandpaper Test, 1960
The Neiman Marcus Cookie Recipe
During the 1980s a rumor began to circulate alleging that the luxury department store Neiman Marcus had once charged a customer $250 for a cookie recipe. The rumor was first reported in newspapers during the late 1980s. However, the tale was likely older than that. Pat Zajac, a Neiman Marcus spokeswoman in Dallas, when interviewed by the Chicago Sun-Times in 1992, said that the tale had been circulating since she came to work for the chain in 1986. The Chicago Sun-Times interview included this version of the rumor:

My daughter and I had finished a salad at Neiman-Marcus Cafe in Dallas and decided to have a small dessert. Because our family members are such `cookie monsters' 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,' which I already signed." The letter continued: "Thirty days later I received my Visa statement from Neiman-Marcus and it was $285. I looked again, and I remembered I had only spent $9.95 for two salads and about $20 for a scarf. As I glanced at the bottom of the statement, it said, `Cookie Recipe - $250.' Boy, was I upset!

The rumor went on to state that, in the spirit of revenge, the victim was giving away the $250 recipe at no charge to anyone who wanted it. A cookie recipe was then provided:

NEIMAN-MARCUS $250 COOKIE RECIPE

2 cups butter
2 cups sugar
2 cups brown sugar
4 eggs
2 tablespoons vanilla
4 cups flour
3 cups blended oatmeal (measure and blend to a fine powder in a blender)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
24 ounces chocolate chips
1 (8-ounce) grated Hershey bar
3 cups chopped nuts

Cream butter and both sugars; add eggs and vanilla. Mix together the flour, oatmeal, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Add chips, grated Hershey bar and nuts. Roll into balls and place 2 inches apart on a cookie sheet. Bake for 6 minutes at 375 F. Makes 112 cookies, but recipe can be halved.

Needless to say, the rumor was false. Neiman Marcus repeatedly denied that such an incident had ever occurred. In 1992 a spokesperson for the store said, "There has never been a Neiman Marcus Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe that we sold for $250. Never."

In fact, Neiman Marcus did not even serve chocolate chip cookies in its restaurants when the rumor first began to circulate. Nor was there a "Neiman Marcus Cafe" in any of its three Dallas stores. The restaurants in those three stores were called Zodiac, Zodiac at North Park, and The Woods. Neiman Marcus only began to serve chocolate chip cookies in 1997, and it did so as a humorous response to the rumor. It simultaneously posted the recipe for its cookies on its website, free of charge. Departing from the cookie recipe of the legend, Neiman Marcus did not include any oatmeal in its cookies, but did add 1-1/2 teaspoons of espresso coffee powder. On September 10, 2007, the store celebrated its 100th anniversary by giving away complimentary Neiman Marcus chocolate chip cookies in some of its stores.

Despite Neiman Marcus's efforts to debunk the rumor, the rise of the internet gave the tale an enormous boost. It became one of the most widely circulated email rumors during the 1990s.

Earlier Legends

The Neiman Marcus Cookie tale was a variant of the rip-off recipe legend that dates back to the 1940s (though possibly earlier). This legend has assumed a number of different forms, but it invariably tells of a person who asks a restaurant or a store for one of their recipes, and is later charged an outrageous amount for the information. The outraged customer is advised that she (it's usually a she) must pay the bill, and so, in revenge, she determines to share the expensive recipe with as many people as possible.

Meaning

The Neiman Marcus Cookie tale expresses popular mistrust of corporations. It serves to confirm the public's fear of the greed of corporations, and then offers a simple way to get even with the corporation, by allowing people to help disseminate the recipe. Nowadays this is as simple as clicking the forward button in their email program.

Neiman Marcus may have attracted such a rumor because of its reputation for high prices and catering to the wealthy. A popular nickname for the store is "Needlessly Marked Up."

Links and References
  • Iggers, Jeremy. (June 5, 1998). "Neiman's Cookie Recipe: Hit or Myth?" The Dallas Morning News.
  • Puzo, Daniel. (February 2, 1992). "Recipe sale exposed as just a hoax." Chicago Sun-Times.
  • Whitaker, Barbara. (July 2, 1997). "The $250 Cookie Recipe Exposed." The New York Times.
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All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.