Celebrating Baltimore's Culinary Traditions: Otterbein's Cookies

Carrie Murphy

With the holidays on the horizon, I thought it would be fun to find out more about one of Baltimore's famous cookie companies: Otterbein's! I grew up enjoying the ginger cookies that come in the familiar red-and-white plaid bags. Otterbein's, a Baltimore-area institution, has been based in the area for over 100 years. 


When Adam Otterbein immigrated to Baltimore from Germany in 1881, he opened a bakery in Locust Point (in the building where Hilltop Carryout now is). He made all sorts of traditional German confections and baked goods, but it was his thin, hand-cut sugar cookies that really caught on in the city. Adam's son, August, and later his grandson, Joseph, ran the bakery at its South Baltimore location (pictured on the bags) until the late 50s.


The bakery is currently owned and operated by Mark Otterbein, who is the 4th generation to run the bakery. He told me: "I learned everything from my father. I'm from a family of nine and we were all involved in the bakery growing up." And the family affair has continued: Mark mentioned that his brother, sister, daughter and wife all help out at Otterbein's from time to time, with everything from deliveries to design.


Currently, Otterbein's manufactures five different types of cookies. There are the sugar and ginger varieties that are familiar to most of us, but there are also lemon sugar, chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin. Only the sugar and ginger cookies are the original recipes handed down from Adam Otterbein; Mark developed the additional (very tasty, might I add) flavors when he took over the company during the late 80s. Despite his innovation, his favorite is still the classic ginger cookie: "It goes good with beer." 


Otterbein's cookies are a familiar site in grocery stores around the area, including Giant and Wegman's. But it isn't only Baltimoreans that can enjoy the sugary goodness of Otterbein's: they have recently expanded to Pennsylvania and have been available in Virginia and Delaware for years. Otterbein's does particularly well in the DC area, but not due to any marketing efforts: Otterbein's doesn't advertise, so all that cookie business is due mainly to a long tradition of delicious, quality baked goods.


After eliminating the Otterbein retail store in 1996, Mark decided to go wholesale. He told me, "Because the cookies were so popular, especially the sugar and ginger cookies, I thought it would be a good idea." Otterbein's is now based in Baltimore County, on Rolling Road, where you can drop in to buy a tin or as many bags of cookies as you'd like.


A tin of Otterbein's cookies would be a perfect holiday gift for anyone on your list, but most especially for your Baltimore locavore friends. After all, it's important to support local businesses during the holiday season; I can't think of any business more local than Otterbein's, who've been bringing great cookies to Baltimore bellies for over a century. Visit Otterbein's website to learn more about the company and order up some classic Christmas cookies. 

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