History of Chocolate Chip Cookies

The history of chocolate chip cookies, to me, is far more important than who invaded whom and when. 🙂 The cookie came into being by accident.

In 1930, dietician Ruth Graves Wakefield (1905-1977) and her husband, Kenneth, purchased a Cape-Cod style house halfway between Boston and New Bedford, Massachusetts, just outside the town of Whitman. The house, built in 1709, had once been a “truck stop” of sorts, where travelers could rest, change horses, have a nice meal, and pay any necessary tolls for using the road. Ruth and Kenneth soon turned their new home into a lodge, “The Toll House Inn.”

Ruth’s skill in the kitchen, particularly at baking and making mouthwatering desserts, drew in visitors from all over the northeast. One of her favorite recipes, which dated back to Colonial days, was for Butter Drop Do cookies.

One version of the recipe called for Baker’s chocolate, and, finding herself without, Ruth chopped up a bar of Nestle Semi-Sweet Chocolate and added the tiny bits to her dough. The chocolate was supposed to melt and spread through the dough. It didn’t. That day in 1937, the history of chocolate chip cookies began.

(Note: that’s one version of the story.  Another version is that she didn’t have any nuts, so she chopped up some chocolate.  Yet another version says that a chocolate bar broke and fell in the dough.  Whatever happened, the rest is chocolate chip cookie history.)

The chocolate kept its shape during baking, but melted just enough to have that nice gooey texture we all love. The new cookies were a hit, and Ruth’s recipe for “Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookies” was published in newspapers throughout New England. Sales of Nestle’s Semi-Sweet Bar took off.

In 1939, the chocolate chip cookie hit the big time when Betty Crocker (who didn’t really exist, but had her own radio show) featured them on the air in her “Famous Foods from Famous Eating Places” series.

Ruth, being the smart businesswoman that she was, approached Nestle and struck a deal. Nestle got to print her recipe (which later became the Toll House Cookie Recipe) on all their Semi-Sweet Chocolate Bars, and Ruth got free chocolate for life. Lucky girl.

To make it easier for the consumer, Nestle introduced a scored Semi-Sweet Bar that included a small chopper. In 1939, they abandoned that idea in favor of the “morsel,” i.e., the chocolate chip. The history of chocolate chip cookies began a new chapter.

During the 1940s, Ruth sold the rights to the name “Toll House” to Nestle. Nestle subsequently lost the trademark rights to the name in 1983. “Toll house” is now, legally, a generic word for a chocolate chip cookie.

The cookie has gone on to become the most popular cookie worldwide, and the official cookie of its home state, Massachusetts.

As for Ruth, she went on to publish cookbooks, including Ruth Wakefield’s Recipes: Tried and True, which made it through 39 printings. A revised, paperback copy of Toll House Tried and True Recipes is still in print.

Ruth and Kenneth sold the Toll House Inn in 1966. It burned down on New Year’s Eve in 1984.

Of course, I like my own recipe so much, that I think it deserves its own chapter in the history of chocolate chip cookies!

 

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