You may have already heard that a woman invented the recipe for the ever-popular chocolate chip cookie, but have you ever heard the back story?
Well, since it’s Women’s History Month, it seems an opportune time to share it — while at the same time celebrating women’s achievements in the arenas of food science, food safety, food technology — and myriad accomplishments in other fields, too.
The story of the chocolate cookie begins in the 1930s, when Ruth Graves Wakefield and her husband, Kenneth, ran the Toll House Inn in Whitman, Massachusetts.
Ruth was in charge of making meals for the guests, and she quickly became well-known for her impressive baking skills. In fact, travelers came from all over New England to enjoy her bakery items.
Her go-to dessert to serve was chocolate butter drop do cookies, a popular recipe from colonial times.
On one particular day, in 1938, she went to bake them, as she normally would.
It’s not entirely clear what happened next.
One story says that Ruth lacked the baker’s chocolate she needed, so she took a piece of a Nestle semi-sweet chocolate bar and used an ice pick to chip off pieces of chocolate into the batter, thinking they would blend throughout the cookie dough and melt.
Of course, they held their shape — turning gooey and soft instead.
Another story says it wasn’t baker’s chocolate that she was lacking, it was nuts. So, instead of serving plain butter drop do cookies, she decided to add pieces of chocolate to substitute for the nuts.
There’s another theory, too — that one says that Ruth planned to make the chocolate chip cookies all along.
After all, she did have a degree in household arts, and worked as a food lecturer and dietitian.
Some say she had been experimenting with new desserts with a friend, Sue Brides, and that the cookies were a result of her meticulous recipe development.
Whatever the case, the new cookies became a guest favorite.
She called them Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookies, and regularly made them for visitors.
Their popularity grew throughout the Northeast.
She had originally published a recipe book in 1931; she added the chocolate chip cookie recipe in a 1939 reprint edition.
The recipe was then featured in the Boston Herald, and was later promoted on the radio show “Famous Foods from Famous Eating Places,” hosted by the brand character Betty Crocker, according to the New York Times.
After that radio show, the cookies became nationally known.
Nestle’s sale of chocolate bars skyrocketed.
Ruth sold the rights to Nestle to print her recipe, in 1939, and the company later hired her to be a consultant on future recipes.
It’s said the best perk of her job was free chocolate for life.
Nestle also started selling “chocolate morsels” — commonly called chocolate chips — that same year.
The company printed the recipe for the cookies on the back of its packaging.
In fact, that’s where you can still find it today — with a few changes to make it current.
Ruth and her husband sold the Toll House Inn in 1966.
The inn caught fire in 1984 — a sad ending to a place where culinary history had been made.
Still, the name lives on, through the recipe for a cookie that’s become a favorite for many.
By Shari Bresin
Shari Bresin is the Family & Consumer Science agent for the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Cooperative Extension Pasco County.
Original NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® Chocolate Chip Cookies
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 cups (12-ounce package) NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels
1 cup chopped nuts (Optional. If omitting, add 1 to 2 Tbsp. of all-purpose flour.)
Step 1: Preheat oven to 375° F.
Step 2: Combine flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in morsels and nuts. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.
Step 3: Bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.
Recipe and cookie image courtesy of NESTLÉ®. NESTLÉ® NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® are trademarks of Société des Produits Nestlé S.A., Vevey, Switzerland.
Published March 24, 2021
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