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Beyond the Guerrilla Cookies

April 29, 2012

Does the phrase “Guerrilla Cookies” mean anything to you?

If so, chances are that you are a University of Wisconsin-Madison alumni of a certain age with fond memories of a quirky bakery item that became all the rage during Madison’s Days of Rage that were part of the anti-Vietnam protests of the 1960s. You may not long for the smell tear gas in the morning, but you may still wax nostalgic over the blend of oats, wheat, soybean flour, raisins and assorted other contents that set Guerrilla Cookies apart from all the others.

Alumni got the chance to revisit some of their favorite menu items from Bucky Badger’s kitchen during Madison’s Main Course, the culinary fair that was part of the recent UW-Madison Alumni Weekend. The evening’s menu featured everything from Plazaburger sliders to Rennebohm’s grilled Danish, bringing back a flood of fond food memories for the several hundred who attended the event.

There were, of course, several Wisconsin culinary stalwarts that anchored the show. Robin Shepherd, interim provost and vice chancellor of the UW-Extension by day and noted beer authority by night, manned a table pouring samples of Peck’s Pilsner from The Great Dane Brewpub and the appropriately named Rathskeller, produced by Gray’s Brewing Co. in Janesville.

Babcock Dairy production manager Bill Klein offered an array of tasty cheeses. Peter and Sarah Botham, owners of Botham Vineyards, poured a selection of their locally grown wines, including the impressively smoky Field 3 made entirely from their own Millot grapes. And Jeff Sindelar, assistant professor with the UW-Extension department of meat science and muscle biology (seriously), had a table full of processed meats, including pepperoni, summer sausage and the always popular head cheese. (“It’s meat Jello!” he waxed enthusiastically during his brief presentation. Yum.)

But there’s more: brat bites from the Memorial Union Terrace, ice cream from the Babcock Hall Dairy Store, Morning/Brittany Buns from La Brioche, Porta Salad from Paisan’s/Porta Bella, and Mac ‘n’ Cheese pizza from Ian’s Pizza, a more contemporary offering.

Rennebohm’s grilled Danish was paired with the former drug store chain’s Hot Fudge Mary Jane, a sinfully rich fudge brownie topped with vanilla ice cream and hot fudge sauce dreamed up by former Renne’s store manager Mary Jane Klinker. Rivaling that was the Memorial Union favorite Fudge Bottom Pie, thought to be the brainchild of Carson Gulley, former UW head chef in the 1920s.

But it was the Guerrilla Cookies that attracted the most attention. Created by Ted Odell in the 1960s, the cookies’ wholesome, natural ingredients prefigured the granola bars that debuted a decade later. At the time the cookies had an anti-establishment mystique about them, something that Odell maintains to this day by refusing to share the recipe, according to Carl Korz, food manager for both the Memorial Union and Union South.

Many attempts at analyzing and recreating the cookies exist, including the samples Korz offered. But Odell turned on, tuned in and dropped out decades ago and apparently has greeted some queries with scathing responses. Guerrilla Cookies were an anti-establishment statement and never meant for commercialization, Korz recounts as Odell’s rationale.

Perhaps, or maybe their secret was simply never meant to be shared and, like the secret Plaza sauce, only meant to be enjoyed by those who remember fondly their days at the UW.

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