It's really a shame that Ruth Wakefield, who created one of the most popular recipes of all time, isn't a household name. Here's what you need to know about Wakefield's story and how she invented the chocolate chip cookie:
Who Was Ruth Graves Wakefield?
Ruth Graves Wakefield was a chef who is best known for inventing one of the most iconic desserts in American history: the chocolate chip cookie.
Born in 1903, Wakefield was much more than a recipe developer: She was also a college-educated chef, dietitian, teacher, business owner, and cookbook author.
She and her husband, Kenneth, opened a tourist lodge in Whitman, Massachusetts, in 1930. The name of that lodge? The Toll House Inn (yes, that Toll House).
Wakefield, true to form, cooked all the food served at the inn. She quickly became known in the area for her inventive and uniquely delicious desserts.
How Did She Invent the Chocolate Chip Cookie?
How exactly Wakefield came up with the legendary recipe is up for debate.
Here’s the commonly accepted story:
Wakefield planned to make a batch of Chocolate Butter Drop Do cookies, a popular old colonial recipe, for her guests. It wasn’t until she began baking that she realized she was out of baker’s chocolate, though some versions of the story claim she ran out of nuts.
Without an integral ingredient, Wakefield would have to alter the recipe a bit. She instead used chopped Nestlé semi-sweet chocolate that had been given to her by Andrew Nestlé (yes, that Nestlé).
To her surprise, the chocolate didn’t melt during baking.
She wouldn’t know it until later, but Wakefield had just invented what would become the most iconic cookie in the country.
Sweet story, right? I mean, who doesn’t love a happy accident?
Here’s the thing: That popular tale might not give the inventor the credit she deserves.
Wakefield was not only a professional—she was also a perfectionist.
“Long-range planning and constantly studied personnel are reflected in an operating teamwork flawless in its unruffled perfection,” stated a promotional post-war booklet for the inn. “Confusion is unknown.”
She just wasn’t the type to keep an unstocked kitchen or do anything by accident, according to The Great American Chocolate Chip Cookie Book author Carolyn Wyman.
Even Wakefield herself said that she had always intended to create a new recipe.
"We had been serving a thin butterscotch nut cookie with ice cream,” she told the Boston Herald-American in 1974. “Everybody seemed to love it, but I was trying to give them something different. So I came up with Toll House cookie."
When Wakefield wrote her best-selling cookbook in 1938, Toll House Tried and True Recipes, she included the now-iconic chocolate chip cookie. At the time, she called her creation the "Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookie."
Wakefield and Nestlé
The chocolate chip cookie’s popularity skyrocketed during World War II, when local soldiers who were stationed overseas received and shared care packages containing the treat with soldiers from around the U.S.
Those soldiers then sent letters to their families requesting more cookies and, before long, Wakefield’s invention was a national sensation.
The demand for the cookies was intensified by praise from two of its biggest fans: General Mills home economist Marjorie Husted, a.k.a. Betty Crocker, and Boston-Herald-Traveler food editor Marjorie Mills, who published the recipe and featured it on her radio show.
Since the wildly popular recipe called for a block of Nestlé semi-sweet chocolate, the company saw a business opportunity.
Wakefield gave Nestlé the rights to her recipe, which is still printed on chocolate chip bags, and the Toll House name for just $1.
The ensuing marketing campaign made the chocolate chip cookie the household name it is today.
Wakefield, who died in 1977, said that she never saw that dollar (though she remained a consultant for Nestlé for many years)—but she did get free chocolate for life.
Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipes
The original Toll House cookie recipe seamlessly blends semi-sweet chocolate with brown sugar, eggs, butter, and a host of other common ingredients.
Over the years, though, bakers around the world have altered the recipe slightly to create completely new desserts.
Here are a few of our favorite twists on the classic chocolate chip cookie:
- Olive Oil Chocolate Chip Cookies
- All-Time Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Oatmeal-Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Flourless Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chip Skillet Cookie
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