Scotcheroos are a delicious no-bake dessert bar made with rice cereal, chocolate, butterscotch, and peanut butter. They are sweet, crunchy, and addictively good. But where did this treat originate from? Let’s take a look at the history and origins of the Scotcheroo.
What are Scotcheroos?
Scotcheroos are essentially crispy rice cereal bars with a peanut butter base and a chocolate and butterscotch drizzle on top. The traditional recipe calls for:
- Crispy rice cereal (like Rice Krispies)
- Peanut butter
- Brown sugar
- Chocolate sauce
- Butterscotch sauce
To make Scotcheroos, the peanut butter, brown sugar, and butter are combined together and mixed into the crispy rice cereal until fully coated. This mixture is then pressed firmly into a baking pan and chilled until set. Finally, melted chocolate and butterscotch sauces are drizzled over the top in stripes or swirls. The bars are then cut into squares and enjoyed!
Origins in the 1930s
Scotcheroos first emerged in the 1930s in the United States. During the Great Depression, creative home cooks experimented with making tasty treats from simple, affordable ingredients like peanut butter, sugar, and Crisco (hydrogenated vegetable shortening). Peanut butter itself had become more mainstream and popular in the 1920s.
The earliest known published recipe for “Scotcheroos” appeared in a 1936 edition of the Sioux City Journal in Iowa. This early recipe was simple, calling for just three ingredients: butter, brown sugar, and peanut butter blended with Rice Krispies cereal. It did not yet have the iconic drizzled chocolate and butterscotch topping.
The treat was called Scotcheroos because the crispy rice cereal resembled traditional Scottish oatmeal shortbread. Scottish oatmeal cookies had been popular in America since the late 1800s. The name “Scotcheroo” was a cute play on this idea, evoking familiar shortbread in a new crispy and crunchy bar form.
Rise to Popularity
While Scotcheroos originated in the 1930s, the dessert bars became much more popular and widespread in the 1950s and 1960s. They were a hit at potlucks and featured in many American community cookbooks. The concept of mixing Rice Krispies with peanut butter was popularized in recipes like Hello Dollies and Haystacks around this time too.
By the 1960s, the now-classic recipe with chocolate and butterscotch drizzle was firmly established. For example, a 1964 edition of the Le Mars Globe Post in Iowa published a Scotcheroos recipe identical to what we know today – crispy rice cereal base with melted chocolate and butterscotch drizzled over top.
Scotcheroos grew especially popular in the Midwest, where Rice Krispies were mass-produced. But the treat made its way across the whole country over the decades thanks to magazine articles, fundraising cookbooks, church gatherings, and more.
Why Were Scotcheroos So Popular?
There are several reasons why Scotcheroos became such a hit:
- Kid-friendly. The sweet, crunchy bars had cross-generational appeal but were especially loved by kids and teens.
- Cheap to make. Scotcheroos only require simple, affordable pantry ingredients. This was important, especially during the Great Depression and war rationing.
- Easy to make. Scotcheroos are no-bake and come together quickly. The recipe was very accessible for amateur home bakers.
- Great for gatherings. The bars were portable and perfect for potlucks, bake sales, picnics, and community events.
- Adaptable. The basic Scotcheroos recipe was easy to tweak and personalize with different mix-in ingredients.
Scotcheroos checked all the boxes – tasty, budget-friendly, easy, and crowd-pleasing! The combination clearly resonated with generations of Americans.
Evolution of the Scotcheroo
While the classic recipe has stayed largely the same, there have been some updates and trends over the decades when it comes to Scotcheroos:
- New cooking formats. Microwave and stove-top methods emerged as alternatives to the simple no-bake recipe.
- Different cereal bases. Cheerios, Chex, and other cereals have sometimes replaced Rice Krispies.
- Flavored and “extreme” drizzles. Peanut butter, maple, salted caramel, and other drizzle flavors became popular, sometimes stacked high.
- Mix-ins. People have customized Scotcheroos with add-ins like oats, pretzels, toffee, M&Ms, and more.
- Gluten-free. Rice Chex is often substituted for Rice Krispies to make gluten-free Scotcheroos.
While new variations continue to emerge, the classic no-bake Scotcheroos remain the gold standard in most families and community cookbooks.
Now well over 80 years old, Scotcheroos are still a staple dessert bars at potlucks, bake sales, and family gatherings, especially in the Midwest. They evoke nostalgia for many who grew up making them with their families.
People remain so enamored with Scotcheroos that there are now Scotcheroos fan clubs, festivals, and contests dedicated to the iconic bars:
- The Scotcheroos Festival in Sumner, Iowa since 1993
- National Scotcheroos Day on October 6th
- The Great Minnesota Scotcheroos Throwdown contest
Scotcheroos have also gone mainstream. Mass brands like Rice Krispies, Smucker’s, and Jif all offer Scotcheroos recipes online to capitalize on their popularity. And you may spot packaged Scotcheroos for sale right beside the Rice Krispies treats in some grocery stores.
This vintage 1930s recipe remains near and dear to the hearts of generations of Midwesterners and Americans coast-to-coast. It represents nostalgia, community, and simple homemade goodness. The iconic bars are bound to continue delighting people for decades to come.
Interesting Facts About Scotcheroos
- Scotcheroos are the official state treats of both Iowa and South Dakota.
- The largest ever Scotcheroos dessert weighed over 425 pounds and was created in Jordan, Minnesota in 2001.
- Scotcheroos are sometimes nicknamed “Carmelitos” in the recipe. The origin of this name is unclear.
- Families often have closely-guarded secret Scotcheroos recipes passed down for generations.
- Packaged Scotcheroos products never took off widely, as people prefer homemade. But they are sometimes sold as fundraising items.
- Peanut-free recipes substitute soy butter or sunflower seed butter for peanut butter to accommodate allergies.
The Best Scotcheroos Recipes
Want to bake up a pan of Scotcheroos at home? Here are some top-rated classic Scotcheroos recipes to try:
Original No-Bake Scotcheroos
This recipe stays true to the simple, no-bake origins of Scotcheroos with just 4 ingredients:
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup light corn syrup
- 1 cup creamy peanut butter
- 6 cups Rice Krispies
Combine the sugar, corn syrup, and peanut butter together in a pan over low heat. Remove from heat and mix in the Rice Krispies until fully coated. Press into a greased 8×8 pan, chill, and cut into bars. Drizzle with melted chocolate and butterscotch chips.
This upgraded recipe takes the flavor up a notch with brown sugar, extra mix-ins, and a high-quality chocolate drizzle:
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1 cup packed brown sugar
- 1 cup peanut butter
- 6 cups Rice Krispies
- 1 cup salted peanuts
- 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
Melt together the butter, sugar, and peanut butter. Remove from heat and mix in cereal, peanuts, and chocolate chips. Press into a pan, chill, and drizzle with melted semi-sweet chocolate. Sprinkle with sea salt before serving.
Pack even more texture, flavor, and mix-ins into your Scotcheroos:
- 1 cup smooth peanut butter
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- 6 tablespoons butter
- 3 cups Rice Krispies
- 2 cups mixed nuts
- 1 cup toffee bits
- 1 cup butterscotch chips
- 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips
Combine peanut butter, brown sugar, and butter. Mix in remaining ingredients except chocolate chips. Press into a pan, chill, drizzle with melted chocolate chips, and cut into bars.
How to Make Scotcheroos Dairy-Free
To make dairy-free and vegan Scotcheroos, you simply need to swap the butter for a vegan-friendly oil. The peanut butter, cereal, and drizzles are already dairy-free in the original recipe.
Instead of butter, use:
- Coconut oil
- Vegetable oil
- Sunflower oil
- Grapeseed oil
Use anywhere from 1/3 cup to 1/2 cup oil in place of the butter. Make sure to use creamy peanut butter and dairy-free chocolate chips for the drizzle.
With these simple tweaks, you can enjoy deliciously crispy, nostalgic Scotcheroos without the dairy.
Scotcheroos are clearly more than just a dessert recipe – they are a slice of Americana. The sweet, crunchy bars have been a community dessert staple for over 80 years now, especially in the Midwest where they originated. Their simple, affordable ingredients made them accessible during the Great Depression. But their crowd-pleasing texture and flavor is what helped them stand the test of time.
While new recipes continue to put creative spins on Scotcheroos, the nostalgic appeal of the basic homemade bars remains unmatched. These crispy, peanut buttery treats punctuate memories of school bake sales, church potlucks, and family gatherings for generations of Americans. Scotcheroos are bound to keep delighting old and new fans alike for many years to come.