Not all ooop's are disasters

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.

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Comments (12)

  1. WalkinOnSunshine

    Well this was a very interesting story! I love reading how things got started. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m thinking of heading out to get the fixins for some choco chip cookies.

    March 11, 2017
    1. SEC

      you too huh, see you at the store

      March 11, 2017
      1. WalkinOnSunshine

        You betcha!

        March 11, 2017
        1. SEC

          March 11, 2017
  2. EyeVey

    Very interesting! Now I’m going to have to dig out my grandmother ’s recipe and go get the ingredients!

    March 11, 2017
    1. SEC

      I seem to have started something here

      March 11, 2017
      1. EyeVey

        Or, I might send my son to Trader Joe’s for their Dunkers!

        March 11, 2017
        1. SEC

          your choice there

          March 11, 2017
  3. Munkyman

    I find the story given most plausible, I find the bar falling in to be a little too close to the Reese commercial & highly improbable. I don’t think she would have tried to replace nuts with chopped up chocolate & expected it to reproduce any of attributes of having nuts in a cookie. I don’t see why she couldn’t have been experimenting with the things you could add to a basic cookie, instead of nuts or fruit as was popular lo those many years ago.

    March 11, 2017
    1. SEC

      ayup, this is a quick journey through the varied legends

      March 11, 2017
      1. Munkyman

        I just marvel at the need for it to be anything other than professional curiosity paying off. These legends arise because she couldn’t possibly have been curious & innovative.

        March 11, 2017
        1. SEC

          heavens forfend curious & innovative?

          March 11, 2017