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Toll House Cookies: A Long Secret History

You may have heard the story of how chocolate chip cookies were invented: in the 1930s, Ruth Graves Wakefield chopped up chocolate and added the bits to cookie dough without melting them, mistakenly thinking the chocolate would spread in the oven and produce chocolate cookies. It’s an interesting story, but it’s just not true. Wakefield was a renowned and accomplished baker who would never make such a mistake, nor would she take a shortcut with her cookies.

Back in 1930 Ruth Wakefield and her husband Ken bought what would become the Toll House Inn, intending to open a restaurant. It was in a good location, on the road between Boston and Cape Cod. With Ruth Wakefield’s experience as a Home Economist and her skillful cooking, high standards, and favorite family recipes, they were successful their very first year. Former employees attribute that success to Ruth Wakefield’s strict attention to detail and insistence on providing excellent service in addition to delicious meals. She had rules about every little thing, including the exact distance from the edge of the table the silverware should be. (She has a whole chapter on setting the table in her book.) In countless interviews, former customers raved about her sticky pecan biscuits (recipe below) that were set on every table for guests to nibble on while they decided what to order. Famous food critic Duncan Hines (yes, the cake mix guy) was particularly fond of her Indian pudding. Joseph Kennedy Sr. was said to drop by frequently for Boston Cream Pie. The restaurant was such a family favorite that Rose Kennedy had the Toll House Inn send weekly care packages to her sons overseas during WWII (JFK was partial to their Mary Jane Gingerbread.) In numerous newspaper articles from the forties on, customers and employees interviewed praised the gracious service and the wonderful desserts (they had their own separate menu!) Does this sound like the kind of place run by a woman who didn’t know what she was doing in the kitchen?

There are other tales of how the Toll House cookie recipe was invented, before we could ever buy chocolate chips at a grocery, that belittle Wakefield’s skills or even shift the credit for the cookie to a man. But Wakefield knew what she was doing. You can read the whole story of how the Toll House cookie came about, and see plenty of recipes for the cookies, its later variations, and even instructions for making Wakefield’s sticky pecan biscuits, at The Toast. -via Metafilter

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