Bunhill: Tough cookie

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The Independent Online
AN intriguing story is whizzing around the world's computer screens, courtesy of the e-mail service - a kind of bulletin board for anyone with a home computer and a modem. Last week it reached a chum in Bologna in northern Italy.

The anonymous message purports to be from a customer of Neiman Marcus, the department store chain in America affectionately known as 'Needless Mark-up' because of its high prices. He or she claims to have eaten some fantastic cookies in the Dallas store's cafe, asked for the recipe, and been told it would cost 'two fifty'.

The customer agrees and is given the recipe, but is astonished to find a charge for dollars 250 on the next Visa bill, rather than the expected dollars 2.50. Having asked the store for a refund, but to no avail, the customer decides to get even by broadcasting the supposedly highly secret and valuable recipe of Neiman Marcus cookies. Hence the message on e-mail, complete with recipe.

It all seems rather convincing. But when I ring the company to check it out, Liz Barrett, the media relations manager, responds: 'Oh no, not again] We've had a ton of inquiries about this in the last two weeks.'

'You're kidding,' she exclaims, when I say the story has reached home computers in southern Europe.

The story, she tells me, has been doing the rounds for years - since at least 1988 (she sends me a cutting from the Dallas Morning News to prove it) - and has attained the status of urban myth.

'It's not true, but it won't die. We don't even accept Visa. It just perpetuates itself. It's such a bizarre story that we would charge dollars 250 for a cookie recipe. We don't sell our recipes. We give them away.'

Apparently a similar mythical story was told in the 1930s about a woman who dined at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York. She was so taken by the Red Velvet Cake that she asked for the recipe. When she checked out of the hotel, she had been charged dollars 100 for the recipe. The Mrs Fields cookie company was plagued by a similar myth. Still, I like the story so much that I offer you the recipe for the mythical Neiman Marcus cookie.

2 cups butter

2 cups sugar

2 cups brown sugar

4 eggs

2 tbsps vanilla

4 cups flour

3 cups blended oatmeal

1 tspn salt

1 tspn baking powder

2 tspns baking soda

24oz chocolate chips

1 8oz Hershey bar

3 cups chopped nuts

Cream butter and both kinds of sugar, add eggs and vanilla. Mix with flour, oatmeal, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Add chips, grated Hershey bar and nuts. Roll into balls. Bake for 6mins at 375F (175C). Makes 112 cookies.