Urban Legends and Beliefs

The fabulous cookie recipe

The story: A woman and her daughter finished their salad at a Neiman-Marcus cafe in Dallas, Texas, and because they were both such cookie lovers, they decided to try the "Neiman-Marcus" cookie. The cookie was so excellent that the woman asked if she might have the recipe. The waitress rather haughtily informed her that the recipe could not be given away freely, but it might be bought for two-fifty.

The woman was thrilled, considering "two-fifty" to be $2.50 and a great deal. However, when she received her credit card statement, she was shocked to see that the Neiman-Marcus charge was $285.00 with "Cookie Recipe: $250.00" clearly marked on the bill.

The woman called the Neiman-Marcus accounting department to complain, and she was soundly rebuffed. She was told that the waitress had duly informed her that the recipe could be bought for "two-fifty" and she was naive to think that such a treasured list of ingredients could be purchased for $2.50. She was warned not to call the Better Business Bureau or the Texas Attorney General's office, and not even to think of trying to get even or to get her money back.

"All right," the woman told them, hatching a scheme to get revenge for such an exorbitant bill, "you've got my $250.00, now I'm going to have $250.00 worth of fun. I'm going to send your famous cookie recipe to every cookie lover in the United States who has an e-mail account."

An alleged recipe for Neiman-Marcus cookies is then provided to the e-mail recipient with the instructions that it should be sent on to every person he or she knows who has an e-mail address.

While many recipients of such an e-mail undoubtedly follow the recipe included and produce a good-tasting cookie, the recipe does not come from Neiman-Marcus. There is no "Neiman-Marcus cafe" at any of the famous department store's three Dallas-area outlets. In its restaurants, named the Zodiac, Zodiac at North Park, and The Woods, the staffs do not sell recipes, but give them away free to any customer who may inquire about a particular item on the menu.

There wasn't even a "Neiman-Marcus cookie" until quite recently when, in a good-natured response to the widespread urban legend, the company developed a chocolate chip cookie and freely gives away its recipe.

This popular urban legend of an ordinary woman getting revenge on a corporate giant has been around in one form or another since the late 1940s. It began shortly after the end of World War II (1945) with a woman being charged with an exorbitant bill after requesting the recipe for fudge cake from a railroad diner car. In the 1960s, the legend evolved to a woman customer receiving a bill for $350.00 from New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel for a dessert known as "Red Velvet Cake." In the 1970s, Mrs. Fields became the villain for having sold the recipe for chocolate chip cookies to a customer for $250.00. The story regarding Mrs. Fields became so widely circulated that in 1987 the company issued a public denial, insisting that all of their cookie recipes remained trade secrets. In each of the fictional instances, the urban legend had it that an ordinary person who had been taken advantage of by a haughty big business had gleefully taken her revenge by distributing the once-sacrosanct recipes to whomever wished to use them.

Sometime in the 1990s, the story shifted from Mrs. Fields as the malefactor to a cafe in a Dallas-area Neiman-Marcus store. The advent of the Internet caused the story of the vengeful woman and her defiant distribution of the cookie recipe to become one of the most popular of all the widely circulated urban legends.

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