FF – I heart Toll House Cookies

Many years ago, I figured out if I learned to bake, I could have freshly-made cookies any time the mood struck. Okay, in all honesty, I was way more interested in having unrestricted access to cookie dough, but regardless – the result was, I started honing my culinary skills pretty soon after I hit double digits.

I have a very fuzzy memory of sitting at the kitchen table in my childhood home, copying my favorite recipe onto an index card. I also have less fuzzy photos of said card (shown with a much more recent cookie from a batch a few days ago) –

Toll House Cookie recipe card, with water

Toll House Cookie recipe card, back

I did know that a lady baker at the Toll House restaurant invented the recipe (again, fuzzy memories of reading about the cookie origin, and being psyched it was so close to home), but I didn’t actually look into it until I saw a post a couple of days ago from A Mighty Girl. It was then I decided to poke around the interwebz a bit, and I found the following –

The Woman Who Invented the Chocolate Chip Cookie
She was a gifted cook and a savvy entrepreneur. And, despite what you may have heard, she didn’t invent it by accident.
By Carolyn Wyman

Part of the reason for Wakefield’s relative obscurity is that her main focus during her lifetime was on her restaurant, not her personal brand. Ruth Wakefield’s Toll House was one of Massachusetts’ most beloved restaurants, renowned for its classic New England food, colonial decor, and exceptional service. Wakefield ran a tight ship: She and her husband, Ken, were almost always on the premises to greet customers and oversee the multibuilding operation. Waitresses trained for three months before getting their full workload of two tables, which might not seem like much unless you know that Wakefield’s expectations included silverware placed one thumbprint away from the edge of the table, orders memorized, uniforms “neatly pressed, stocking seams straight, shoes clean,” as laid out by the restaurant’s seven-page service manual. “No military machine or factory production line was ever geared to more smooth-running cohesion,” the restaurant’s post-war promotional booklet intoned. “Long-range planning and constantly studied personnel are reflected in an operating teamwork flawless in its unrolled perfection. Confusion is unknown.”

In short, this is not the kind of place where things happened by accident. And yet if you have heard anything about Ruth Wakefield before, it’s probably that she invented the chocolate chip cookie in a panic or a pinch, deciding to substitute pieces of chocolate cut up from a bittersweet candy bar she had on hand when she ran out of nuts for a cookie she served at her restaurant. Or you may even have heard that Wakefield spilled chocolate morsels into her cookie dough unintentionally, after a nearby mixer started running amok.

Versions of these stories are all over the Internet and also in almost every other article or book written about the chocolate chip cookie, along with the equally bogus corollary that Wakefield expected the nut-sized nuggets of chocolate to melt into the cookies’ crumb and was surprised when they stayed intact. But every part of this tale is utterly specious. Not only was Wakefield highly organized, she also had a college degree in household arts—in other words, she understood how chocolate and cookie dough behaved when heated. And she gave several (admittedly hard to find) newspaper interviews and one speech about how she invented the cookie on purpose.

“We had been serving a thin butterscotch nut cookie with ice cream. Everybody seemed to love it, but I was trying to give them something different,” Wakefield told the Boston Herald-American in 1974. Like any smart restaurateur, Wakefield was always looking for ideas to improve her business.

Check out the rest of this excellent article over on Slate.

As a belated birthday present to Ruth (who would’ve been 112 on June 17th), I’m doing my part to share the real story of the chocolate chip cookie creation. And since the cookie in the photo is the last of that batch, I’m thinking I should make some more…

4 comments

  1. Thanks for highlighting this woman’s accomplishment, Traci. Do you suspect, like I do, that the reason these bogus “accidental invention” stories are based in misogyny? After all…(sarc alert) how could a WOMAN come up with an original recipe? If she had been male.. we would have been celebrating her culinary genius. not attributing it to an accident. .
    Okay.. and now I am craving yummy melted chocolate bits in buttery, browned cookies… so much for my low carb diet!

    • Funny you should say that, Lorraine – the very next paragraph of the Slate article says, “I think the persistence of the “dumb luck” story says less about her than it does about us, specifically about pervasive sexist attitudes. That Ruth Wakefield invented the chocolate chip cookie by dint of training, talent, and hard work may not appeal to people who like their women quiet, passive, and unassuming. But people who knew Wakefield know she was a gifted cook and a shrewd entrepreneur—the furthest thing from a shrinking violet.” So yeah, probably, sad to say.

      Sorry about the craving. *grin*

  2. How is this woman not known far and wide as a saint, for inventing the food of the gods?

    Now I’m craving choc chip cookies…drat! I’ll have to visualize my bathroom scale, to cancel that out… 😉

    • Good question, thinky!

      Makes me even happier that my “Welcome to the group” cyber cookie of choice was always chocolate chip. In the future, I might add some kind of linky thingy about Ruth to my hospitality posts.

      And as I said to Lorraine, sorry about the craving. Would a batch of e-cookies help? 😉

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