Half the fun of reading through vintage recipes is coming across ingredients that are totally unfamiliar to me. This simple sugar cookie recipe is a great example. What the heck is Nucoa? While the answer isn’t nearly as exotic as I’d imagined, it is part of a decidedly weird food story.
Nucoa is the brand name of an Oleomargarine, or margarine, first introduced in the early 1900s and popular in the United States through the 1950s and 1960s. A “healthier” version called Buttery Sticks was reintroduced a few years ago to mixed reviews.
Regardless, Nucoa had some terrific commercials:
What I wasn’t aware of was the battle between the dairy lobby and margarine producers that lasted for years. In the last part of the 19th century U.S. dairy farmers were successful in legislating a healthy tax on margarine products in the hopes of encouraging more butter sales. What they didn’t count on was that homemakers enjoyed the spreadability of the considerably cheaper butter alternative. The dairy lobby upped the ante by encouraging Congress to enact production restrictions that prohibited margarine manufacturers to add yellow dye or colorant to the naturally white product. It didn’t take long for margarine producers to create a work-around by supplying homemakers with “dye kits” so they could add colour to their margarine blocks if they so desired. It wasn’t until after World War II, when margarine became much more popular due to the lack of butter, that the U.S government repealed most of the heavy taxes.
Restrictions on margarine sales in Canada were far more drastic. In fact, margarine wasn’t even allowed for sale in Canada until 1948, expect for a really brief window during World War I. And even when sales were permitted, “butter coloured” margarine wasn’t – unless it was dyed a very bright yellow or even orange. Many Provinces upheld that law until well into the 1990s, with Quebec finally repealing their margarine dye law in 2008.
This recipe would have been clipped from a magazine by my grandma probably in the 1960s. If she had made the cookies she likely would have used either Parkay or Imperial margarines which were popular in our households. But today I’d think I’d happily substitute butter!